Renee Knake Jefferson

Renee  Knake Jefferson
  • Trustee
  • Term ends Jan. 1, 2031

Renee Knake Jefferson was appointed to the Board of Trustees by Governor Whitmer in December 2019 to complete the term vacated by Nancy Schlichting. She was elected to an eight-year term beginning on January 1, 2023.  Jefferson currently serves as a professor of law at the University of Houston Law Center and is the Joanne and Larry Doherty Chair in Legal Ethics. In addition to her teaching role, she is the director of Outcomes and Assessments and a member of the Diversity, Inclusion and Equality Committee. She teaches Constitutional Law, Professional Responsibility and a seminar on Gender, Law, Leadership and Power. 

Prior to joining the University of Houston in 2016, Jefferson spent a decade at Michigan State University, receiving tenure at the College of Law and also teaching at the Eli Broad College of Business and the Honors College. While at MSU, she was the director of the 21st Century Law Practice Summer Program in London and co-founder of the ReInvent Law Laboratory for Law, Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship. She also is an elected member of the American Law Institute. In 2015, she was a scholar-in-residence at Stanford Law School's Center on the Legal Profession and a visiting scholar at the American Bar Foundation. She was named the Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University in 2019.

Jefferson is an award-winning author of three casebooks — Professional Responsibility: A Contemporary Approach; Legal Ethics for the Real World: Building Skills Through Case Study; Leadership, Law, and Pipelines to Power — along with more than 30 scholarly articles including publications in the Fordham Law Review, Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics, Illinois Law Review, Ohio State Law Journal, Washington & Lee Law Review and the Washington Law Review. She also is the author of Shortlisted: Women in the Shadows of the Supreme Court (NYU Press 2020) and Law Democratized: A Blueprint for Solving the Justice Crisis (NYU Press 2024).

An internationally recognized expert on legal ethics, Jefferson has been invited to speak throughout the United States and in countries such as Australia, Canada, England, Guatemala, Mexico, and the United Arab Emirates. She is regularly contacted to assist in legal matters involving lawyer discipline and judicial ethics, and has testified before Congress and the Federal Judiciary about reforms to rules governing financial disclosures as well as sexual harassment and other workplace misconduct.

Before her academic career, Jefferson practiced law at Mayer Brown in Chicago and Hunton & Williams in Richmond, where she specialized in commercial litigation, telecommunications and labor/employment law. She also worked as an assistant city attorney for Charlottesville, Virginia. She received her Juris Doctor degree from the University of Chicago Law School.

She is married to Wallace B. Jefferson, who is the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas and an alumnus of the James Madison College at Michigan State, as is her stepson, Samuel Jefferson. Her children James and Grace learned to walk at Spartan Marching Band practices and now attend East Lansing public schools. 

Twitter: @MSUJefferson