Shaun Ossei-Owusu combines his study of 19th-century law with current Philly politics

Penn Law’s Ossei-Owusu joined the Penn faculty this fall from Columbia Law, and is bringing current trends in Philadelphia’s justice system to the classroom alongside legal history, criminal law and procedure, and civil rights.

Presidential Assistant Professor of Law Shaun Ossei-Owusu joined the Penn Law faculty in the fall of 2019 from Columbia Law, where he was an Academic Fellow and a Kellis E. Parker Teaching Fellow. His research and scholarship focus on legal history, criminal law and procedure, civil rights, and the legal profession. His most recent article, “The Sixth Amendment Façade: The Racial Evolution of the Right to Counsel,” was published in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review earlier this year.

Shaun Ossei-Owusu
Penn Law’s Shaun Ossei-Owusu

Originally from New York City, Ossei-Owusu says that he initially wanted to go to law school, “but I took some classes in legal studies that really got me interested in graduate education. I decided to hold off on law school, and I taught for a year in North Philadelphia at a charter school and did a master’s here at Penn. So I’m very familiar with the city, and I think that experience concretized the belief that higher education was the place for me.”

Ossei-Owusu is currently working on a book, tentatively titled “The People’s Champ: Legal Aid from Slavery to Mass Incarceration.” The research goes further back in history than his recent Sixth Amendment paper, which focused primarily on the early 20th century and forward. 

“In the larger book project, I’m arguing that although many historians and legal scholars trace the origins of legal aid to Progressive Era-organizations like the New York Legal Aid Society that began out of concerns for southern and eastern European immigrants and evolved into the organizations that exist today, I maintain there’s an earlier history of organized assistance that stretches back a century earlier.”

In his classes on the legal profession itself, Ossei-Owusu looks at legal culture and brings current local politics into his teachings. “We talk about Big Law. What does the glass ceiling look like for women who go to corporate law firms? What does it mean for racial minorities? ...We have a week on progressive prosecution, which has become a pretty relevant theme here in Philadelphia with Larry Krasner, who is considered to be the leader of the movement.”

Read more at Penn Law News.