Isabelle R. Gunning

Mayor Tom Bradley Professor of Law/ Director of Critical Race, Gender and Sexuality Studies Concentration

Professor Isabelle Gunning

B.A., Economics, 1977, and J.D., 1980, Yale University

Member, California State and District of Columbia Bars


Isabelle Gunning (she/her/hers)  is a racial/social justice activist, scholar, and teacher who has focused for years on conflict resolution and dialogue, specifically, how to bring together stakeholders from across the political, economic and social spectrum who do not agree with each other to talk about and resolve the difficult problems that confront us as a society. She was motivated to study law in order to support progressive changes in our larger society. Following a clerkship with Chief Judge William Bryant of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, she served as a staff attorney with the Public Defender Service in Washington, D.C., and later with the Southern Africa Project of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Professor Gunning taught for six years as a member of the faculty at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law before her appointment to Southwestern in 1992.

"I want my students to see that there are certain assumptions in the law that we are all impacted the same way under similar circumstances—and that is not always the case."

Active in the larger realm of legal education, Professor Gunning served on the Board of the Clinical Legal Educators Association and was one of the three founding editors-in-chief of the Clinical Law Review. She also served on the Executive Committee of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) Section on Gay and Lesbian Issues, as Co-Chair of the AALS Section on Clinical Legal Education Scholarship Committee, and as a member of the American Bar Association’s (ABA) Skills Training Committee.  She has served as a law school site evaluator for the ABA and AALS. Under the auspices of the ABA’s African Law Initiative, she has traveled to Ethiopia and Tanzania to speak on clinical legal education, and under the auspices of the National Institute for Trial Advocacy and the Black Lawyers Association of South African, she has traveled to South Africa to teach trial advocacy.

Professor Gunning’s interests in conflict resolution, multicultural dialogue, and the search for and creation of shared values in the context of racial and other socially defined power and hierarchy dynamics form the crux of much of her scholarship.  Her earlier scholarship used a Critical Race Theory lens in the context of International Human Rights and Feminism to explore cross-cultural dialogue around culturally challenging practices. She also writes in the area of alternative dispute resolution and explores the impact of race on the ability of ADR practices to provide fairness and justice for subordinated communities. She has also written on lawyers from a broad range of religious and spiritual backgrounds dialoguing together to explore the creation of shared values across religious/spiritual differences.

Professor Gunning’s interest in alternative dispute resolution and conflict resolution has also guided much of her community service and professional work. She has served in the past as a  pro bono mediator through the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s Dispute Resolution Services Gay and Lesbian Mediation Project, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Martin Luther King Jr. Dispute Resolution Center, and the  Asian Pacific American Dispute Resolution Center.  More recently, she has served as a facilitator for community dialogues for a number of organizations, including Days of  Dialogue (a Los Angeles-based organization for community dialogues on challenging contemporary community issues like policing); Trust Talks (a limited series of community dialogues on homelessness sponsored by the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations and the Downtown Clergy Council); and Community Healing Forums (faith-based community dialogues related to socially relevant events, e.g., #MeToo and Say Their Names). She is also licensed as a practitioner/spiritual counselor by her home church, the Agape International Spiritual Center.

Professor Gunning was appointed in 2015 as a Commissioner to the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations, which works to develop programs that proactively address racism, homophobia, religious prejudice, linguistic bias, anti-immigrant sentiment, and other divisive attitudes that can lead to inter-cultural tension hate crimes, violence, and aggressions. From 2016 through 2018, she was elected and served as the President of the Commission, and during her tenure presided over the hearings, which led to the report and related video of the LACCHR “Redefining Policing with our Community” (2020).

Professor Gunning is a board member of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and has served as the So Cal Affiliate’s president and Affiliate’s representative to the National ACLU Board.

In addition, Professor Gunning has over 15 years of experience serving as a labor arbitrator and civil service hearing examiner in workplace disputes.

Selected Achievements

Commissioner and President, Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations, May 2016 to May 2018. During my tenure as president, I presided over the hearings which lead to the report and related video of the LACCHR “Redefining Policing with our Community” (2020).

Presenter, “Addressing Bias in Dispute Resolution: ADR’s Potential and Limitations in Advancing Equity and Justice for Disenfranchised Individuals and Communities,” panel. Part of the “ADR at the Roots: Exploring Diversity and Equity in the Field” Symposium sponsored by the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution, Pepperdine Caruso School of Law. April 23, 2021, Los Angeles, California.

Presenter, “Widening the Lens of Justice: Unmasking the Many Layers of Racial and Social Inequities,” Symposium sponsored by Southwestern Law Review and Southwestern Law School Black Law Students Association.  Presenter on Panel 3: “Criminal Justice: Strides Towards Progressive Policing and Prosecution,” February 5, 2021. Southwestern Law School, Los Angeles, California.

Moderator, “A View from the Bench—Overcoming and Eliminating Bias: A Conversation with California Supreme Court Justices Leondra Kruger and Martin Jenkins,” Joint Presentation by Black Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Law Library. February 22, 2021, Los Angeles, California.

Presenter and Moderator, “Racial Bias in Policing: Defund Defend or Reform?” part of the Los Angeles Law Library Public Interest week events. October 29, 2020, Los Angeles California.

Presenter, Los Angeles County Department of Human Resources Virtual DIAlogue Series, “Civil Unrest and Societal Inequities.” Presented to over 1000 County Employees on the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations report on “Redefining Policing with Our Community.” June 25, 2020, Los Angeles, California.

Facilitator, Community Dialogues-“A Community Healing Forum: Say Their Names” (done virtually via Zoom) sponsored by Agape International Spiritual Center and Common Peace.  June 8 and June 13, 2020, Los Angeles, California.

Facilitator, 2nd Annual Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Civilian Oversight Commission Conference, “Community Policing Conference: Redefining Public Safety,” small group discussions on “Where Do We Go From Here?” St. Anne’s Conference Center. November 16, 2019, Los Angeles, California.

Facilitator, “Reclaiming Civility and Tolerance in the Face of Violence: A Leadership Dialogue,” dialogue sponsored by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Days of Dialogue -Institute for Nonviolence and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, (dialogue gathered a range of Los Angeles leaders including Los Angeles Police Chief, County Board of Supervisors and others). Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. November 29, 2018. Los Angeles, California.