UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Christopher C. French, director of the Trial Advocacy Program and professor of practice at Penn State Law in University Park, passed away on Saturday, September 10, 2022. He taught at the law school for over eight years, in addition to regularly publishing books and law review articles. French’s work was published in law journals around the country. His dedication to his practice, academic work, and teaching style made him an esteemed colleague with faculty and a favorite professor among students.
Vice Admiral (Ret.) James W. Houck, interim dean of Penn State Law and the School of International Affairs said, “Chris French was an enormously talented practicing lawyer, law school teacher, and legal scholar. His versatility was extraordinary. He did so many things, so well. He demanded a lot from himself, and in turn gave a lot to the rest of us. We’re going to miss him tremendously, both as a professional and as a friend.”
Students commented across social media in an outpouring of condolences and fond memories of French as their professor and mentor. They noted how he took care to remember their home states during their first year of cold-calling, how his high expectations and dedication helped them become better lawyers, and how he took a genuine interest in his students.
French taught several courses at Penn State Law, including Contracts, Evidence, Insurance Law, Torts, and Trial Advocacy. As director of the Trial Advocacy Program, French, along with 20 local judges and lawyers, would guide groups of 50-60 students to learn about the court process. The program concluded with students participating in mock trials.
During French’s time as director, Penn State Law mock trial teams were widely successful. In February 2022, the Black Law Students Association Mock Trial Team won the Mid-Atlantic Region Constance Baker Motley Mock Trial Competition. The following month, one of the Penn State Law mock trial teams won the Midwest Region of the American Association for Justice Student Trial Advocacy Competition.
“Chris French was a brilliant, hardworking member of our faculty. He was beloved by students in the many courses he taught at Penn State Law, and in our Trial Advocacy program,” said Jill Engle, associate dean for academic affairs and professor of clinical law. “He managed our trial teams, in which students competed all over the country in mock trials that showcased the important litigation skills Chris taught them in his Trial Advocacy course.
He was also a diverse and productive scholar who contributed much to the legal literature on insurance law and related topics. He was a friend, role model, and mentor to many, and he will be greatly missed.”
Kit Kinports, Polisher Family Distinguished Faculty Scholar and professor of law, said, “Chris was a beloved teacher and a mentor and role model for many students, both the first-year students in his Torts and Contracts classes and the upper-level students in Trial Advocacy and on the Mock Trial teams.”
Christopher French holding his book, New Appleman Pennsylvania Insurance Law, 2019 Edition.
IMAGE: Penn State Law
Remembered by 3L Students
William Manson commented on how his time in French’s Contracts, Trial Advocacy, and Insurance Law classes helped him to mature and to always strive for his best. “I am deeply saddened by his passing. He was so important to me because he pushed me to be better. I had him for one and a half years, and I am a better person and student now than I was when I walked into his classroom for the first time. He played an integral part of that maturation. The last time we spoke, he told me he was proud of the work I had put in and how much I had grown up since we first met. Hearing him say that was, quite legitimately, one of the prouder moments of my time here.”
Jeremiah Parlock took French’s Contracts and Trial Advocacy classes, in addition to being a witness for the mock trial team. “Professor French had an obvious passion for teaching students, and I always felt like he personalized the learning experience for each student that reached out to him. The most memorable impact that he had was he always tried to make sure that students not only understood the law, but also knew how it applied to the real world. He went out of his way to ensure that students could use the law in a practical fashion. Professor French went above and beyond for students. I will always remember the lessons he taught, the investments he made in students, the impact he had on me and all the students who were fortunate enough to pass through his classroom,” said Parlock.
Katherine Ryalls had French as a professor for Torts and Trial Advocacy. She said, “Professor French was a pillar at Penn State Law. He would start every email and every class the same way with a simple, ‘Hello folks.’ He was stern, thorough, and he definitely instilled the fear of cold-calling in every first-year student that had him. But he was more than willing to help every student in order to ensure they understood and grasped the material. He believed in his students even when they doubted themselves, I know that for a fact. He was a ‘lawyer’s lawyer’ and a mentor to so many. His effect and lasting legacy on the law school will never go unnoticed and he will be missed.”
Grief Counseling Information
Students seeking individual support during the grieving process can call Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at 814-863-0395. A CAPS Chat counselor will be in the Katz Building on Thursdays in Room 009A from 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.
For faculty and staff seeking individual support, please contact Health Advocate, the Penn State Employee Assistance Program.