After 40 years as an insurance company lawyer, Robert Yass came to the UConn School of Law to earn an LLM in Human Rights and Social Justice. He also graduated with a new perspective on insurance.
Applying his previous profession to his new degree, Yass wrote a paper calling for study of whether factoring credit scores into home insurance rates is racially discriminatory. He also developed the new course Insurance and Discrimination, which he is teaching this semester as an adjunct professor at UConn Law.
“By creating this class, I felt I could really offer something valuable that blends my professional and academic background,” Yass said. “I hoped it would appeal to both insurance students and human rights students.”
After graduating from New York Law School in 1977, Yass worked as an attorney at The Hartford and Travelers until retiring in 2018. He then followed his wife, Mary-Jane Eisen ‘19, who had been a professor at St. Joseph University, to UConn Law. They graduated together, she with a JD, in 2019.
At UConn Law, Yass was deeply impressed by professors like Jamelia Morgan, and her course on Critical Race Theory that had not been taught when he first attended law school. What he learned built on his years of community service with the Jewish community of Greater Hartford.
“Returning to an academic environment really was transformative for me,” Yass said. “As my graduation approached, I realized I could develop something that could be really functional and academically interesting for a wide variety of students.”
When he conceived the idea of the new class, he consulted with Professor Peter Kochenburger, deputy director of the Insurance Law Center at the UConn School of Law, whom he has known for 20 years.
Kochenburger and Yass met as counterparts working in two of Hartford’s largest insurance companies: Yass at The Hartford and Kochenburger at Travelers. Kochenburger said Yass was an impressive professional and advocate, and the two formed a friendship.
Kochenburger was thrilled with the idea for the class, which he views as part of a broader move toward examining issues of inequality in insurance. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners, for whom Kochenburger has served as a consumer representative, recently formed a subcommittee to address issues of race.
“Bob was very uniquely poised to teach this class, and I’m just very impressed by this new way he’s found to be a resource in insurance,” Kochenburger said. “There’s an increasing recognition of the link between insurance and issues of equality and justice, and Bob has done a wonderful job developing a class that explores that.”
On October 21, 2020, Connecticut Insurance Commissioner Andrew Mais was a guest speaker in Yass’s class. Mais told the class that while a career in insurance law is often not a lawyer’s first choice, there are few careers that offer more opportunity to help people.
Dean Eboni S. Nelson, who welcomed Mais to the law school, said equality in insurance is part of a broader fight toward justice.
“I’m so glad we’re having this conversation,” Nelson said. “I am hopeful that we are moving toward a more just and equitable society.”
Yass is not sure exactly what the academic future holds for him. He said he has found teaching to be an engaging, challenging experience, and he plans to teach the class again in the spring.