National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy


Robert D. Dinerstein, J.D.


Robert Dinerstein is professor of law, Director of the clinical program (1988-96 and 2008-present), Associate Dean for Experiential Education (2012-present) and Director of the Disability Rights Law Clinic (2005-present) at American University's Washington College of Law, where he has taught since 1983. He was the law school's associate dean for academic affairs from 1997-2004. He specializes in the fields of clinical education and disability law, especially mental disabilities law (including issues of consent/choice, capacity and guardianship), the Americans with Disabilities Act, Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, legal representation of clients with mental disabilities, the interaction between disability and the criminal justice system, and disability and international human rights.

Dinerstein has made numerous presentations on clinical legal education and disability law, among other topics, and has published a number of books, articles, chapters and other writing on these subjects. Among his recent publications in the disability law area, he is the author of “Guardianship and Its Alternatives,” in ADULTS WITH DOWN SYNDROME (Siegfried M. Pueschel, ed., 2006); “Implementing Legal Capacity Under Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: The Difficult Road from Guardianship to Supported Decision-Making” (Human Rights Brief, 2012); and “On Torture, Ill-Treatment and People with Psychosocial and Intellectual Disabilities: Some Thoughts About the Report of the Special Rapporteur,” in TORTURE IN HEALTHCARE SETTINGS: REFLECTIONS ON THE SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON TORTURE’S 2013 THEMATIC REPORT 219-226 (Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law Anti-Torture Initiative) (2014).

Dinerstein is the author/editor of two books. He is co-editor and co-author, with Stanley Herr and Joan O’Sullivan, of A GUIDE TO CONSENT (AAMR, 1999). In the area of legal education and lawyering, he is co-author, with Ellmann, Gunning, Kruse and Shalleck, of LAWYERS AND CLIENTS: CRITICAL ISSUES IN INTERVIEWING AND COUNSELING (Thomson West 2009). He has written extensively on issues of clinical pedagogy and lawyering, in particular, client-centered counseling. He has also written and presented on the US Department of Justice’s record of enforcement of the rights of persons with disabilities under several administrations.

Dinerstein was appointed by President Clinton in 1994 to serve on the President's Committee on Mental Retardation (now called the President’s Committee on People with Intellectual Disabilities), on which he served until 2001. Internationally, he has consulted for the World Health Organization (Ghana and Malawi) and the Open Society Foundations (Ghana) regarding the revision of mental health laws and was a signatory to the Montreal Declaration on Intellectual Disabilities, adopted in Montreal, Canada in October 2004. He also has consulted with the Open Society Foundations regarding disability rights clinics and disability rights curricula in Latin America and Southern Africa Domestically, he has consulted for the Ford Foundation, Public Welfare Foundation and the US Department of Health and Human Services and the US Department of Education on issues related to legal services, disability law and poverty law. With Hadar Harris, he is co-principal investigator for the Disability and Human Rights Fellows program, which receives support from the Open Society Foundations.

Prior to joining AU, Dinerstein worked as an attorney in the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, Special Litigation Section, where he handled federal court cases on the rights of people in institutions for people with psychosocial disabilities, people with intellectual disabilities and juveniles. In addition to the Disability Rights Law Clinic, which he founded (and which handles special education, admission/commitment of people with intellectual disabilities, guardianship, Department of Mental Health grievances, ADA, and other cases), he teaches a seminar on law and disability and has taught interviewing and counseling, legal ethics, the supervised externship seminar, and the criminal justice clinic (which he directed from 1989-1995).

Dinerstein is actively involved in organizations related to legal education nationally. He was a member (elected) of the Council of the American Bar Association Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar (2006-2011), and previously was on the section’s Standards Review Committee. He has been a member of 17 ABA-AALS joint site inspection teams, chairing four teams. Within the Association of American Law Schools, he was a member of the membership review committee and has, among other things, chaired the sections on clinical legal education, law and community, disability law and law and mental disability law, as well as the committees on clinical legal education, sections and the annual meeting, and the planning committee for the 2006 clinical teachers’ conference. He has been a member of a number of other planning committees, including for the AALS New Teachers’ Conference.

Dinerstein currently sits on the boards of directors of the Quality Trust for Individuals with Disabilities, Inc. (founding board member & president), Equal Rights Center (president), and the New Hope Community, Inc., and in the past has served on the boards of Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, Inc. (founding board member, 1986-2015), Advocates for Justice and Education, the District of Columbia Bar Board of Governors (elected; 2002-05), Society of American Law Teachers (elected), Mental Disability Rights International (founding board member; now called Disability Rights International), Legal Counsel for the Elderly, and the Maryland Disability Law Center. He also is a member of the steering committee for the Jacobus tenBroek annual disability law symposium sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind.

Among his many awards, Dinerstein has received the Paul G. Hearne Award for Disability Rights (ABA, 2013); (with Shalleck) the Egon Guttman Casebook Award (2011-12) for LAWYERS AND CLIENTS; the William Pincus Award for his contributions to clinical legal education (2010); American University Awards for Scholar-Teacher of the Year (2013), Outstanding Teaching in a Full-Time Appointment (2009) and Faculty-Administrator Award for Outstanding Service to the University Community (2002); and the Pro Bono Service Award from the International Human Rights Law Group (1988; now called Global Rights).

He has an A.B. degree from Cornell University and a J.D. degree from Yale Law School.

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Selected Publications:


Curriculum Vitae


NARPA Home

Robert Dinerstein is a professor of law at American University’s Washington College of Law (WCL). He specializes in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the rights of people with intellectual disabilities (mental retardation) and mental illness, disability laws in general, homelessness, civil rights, criminal justice, lawyer-client issues, and clinical legal education. Prof. Dinerstein was the law school’s associate dean for academic affairs from 1997-2004, and previously directed WCL’s clinical program (1988-1996), nationally recognized for its excellence.  Currently, he is director of the law school’s Disability Rights Law Clinic, in which law students under his supervision represent individuals and families with disabilities in a number of different legal settings.

Prof. Dinerstein was a member of the Clinton transition team in 1992 and was appointed by President Clinton in 1994 to serve on the President’s Committee on Mental Retardation (on which he served until 2001). Prior to teaching at American University, he worked as an attorney in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, Special Litigation Section, where he handled federal court cases on the rights of people institutionalized in mental hospitals, mental retardation and juvenile institutions, prisons, and jails. In addition to serving as treasurer and board member of the ERC, Prof. Dinerstein currently serves on the board of directors of several organizations, including the Quality Trust for Individuals with Disabilities, Inc. (president), Mental Disability Rights International, and Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, Inc. (treasurer). In the past, he has also served on the boards of the District of Columbia Bar Board of Governors (2002-2005), Society of American Law Teachers, Maryland Disability Law Center, Fair Employment Council of Greater Washington, Legal Counsel for the Elderly, and D.C. Law Students in Court, Inc.

Prof. Dinerstein has long been actively involved in national legal education activities.  He is an elected member (since 2006) of the Council of the American Bar Association’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, and has served on important committees of the section (including the Standards Review Committee) and the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) (including the Membership Review Committee and Committee on Clinical Legal Education), as well as serving as chair of  the AALS Section on Clinical Legal Education and chair of the 2006 AALS Clinical Teachers’ Conference.

Prof. Dinerstein has written numerous law review articles and chapters on clinical legal education and disability rights, and is coauthor and coeditor of A Guide to Consent (American Association on Mental Retardation, 1999), which addresses issues of capacity and consent in the lives of people with mental retardation. He is a graduate of Yale Law School and Cornell University.