Professor Frances Lee Watson

2023 American Inns of Court Professionalism Award for the Seventh Circuit

Professor Frances Lee Watson has been selected to receive the prestigious 2023 American Inns of Court Professionalism Award for the Seventh Circuit. Until her retirement in late 2022, Watson was a clinical professor of law at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law. She will receive the award during the 2023 Seventh Circuit Judicial Conference.

In addition to being a professor, Watson directed the Wrongful Conviction Clinic, a “live client” clinical course that was a founding member of the Innocence Network. In this role, she supervised law students representing clients seeking post-conviction remedies in state and federal courts. Two of the clinic’s cases became the subjects of an episode of the CBS news program 48 Hours.

“Over three decades, Professor Watson has been a tireless advocate for people of limited means who face criminal charges,” writes Karen E. Bravo, dean and Gerald L. Bepko professor of law at the law school, who nominated Watson for the award. “Through her work in the law school’s clinic programs, she has made a significant impact on our students, many of whom chose public service career paths because of Professor Watson’s mentorship.”

Watson has received many teaching awards. Beyond the university, she received the Indiana State Bar Women in the Law Recognition, the Michael McDaniel Indiana Public Defender Commission Spirit of Justice Award, and the Justice Award from the Justice through Science organization. A member of the Indianapolis American Inn of Court, Watson also serves on the board of directors of the Indiana Abolition Coalition. She is also a member of the American Academy of Forensic Science, the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis Forensic Science Advisory Board. She previously served as a board member for the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, the Marion County Criminal Justice Planning Council, and the Children’s Law and Policy Initiative of Indiana.

Watson began her career as a deputy public defender in Indianapolis, then became assistant corporation counsel for the city of Indianapolis. She became a visiting assistant professor at the law school in 1990 and a clinic supervisor two years later. She served as Marion County’s chief public defender from 1993 to 1995, then returned to the law school.

Watson earned a summa cum laude undergraduate degree from Ball State University in 1976 and a cum laude law degree from Indiana University McKinney School of Law in 1980.