Reflections on Being a Law School Dean in an Interconnected World
After reaching a certain level of
momentum, a law school can pretty much run itself. Even in the absence of
leadership, the law school will continue to function as it has in the past;
students will come each year, and classes will be held.
A sort of inertia results, in which nothing changes, things continue as
they always have. Inertia is a
dangerous thing in education and it is the responsibility of the law school’s
dean to prevent it. A law school
dean is charged with contributing to the development of a vision that will guide
the law school in a positive direction. For
this reason, one of my first steps when I became the Dean of American
University’s Washington College of Law (“WCL”) in 1995 was to define the
goals of the institution. Establishing clear goals is crucial to keeping the law school
community focused in a common direction, and to providing us with inspiration
and ample opportunity for reflection. In
a decentralized law school environment, the only way a school can move forward
is to ensure that everyone is aware of the institution’s objectives and is
contributing creatively to their development.
To enable every member of the community to contribute to the fullest
extent possible to the development of goals, it is essential to foster an open,
participatory environment in which means to achieve objectives are discussed and
debated. At WCL, we have
accomplished this through frequent faculty and senior staff meetings, in which
everyone is encouraged to share his or her point of view.
WCL’s administration has also cultivated a dynamic atmosphere where no
idea or proposal is seen as too far-fetched to be considered.
In this essay, I will share our institution’s goals and some of the
ways in which our community has sought to attain them.
The goals we established for WCL are: (1) to break down barriers and
build new relationships, internally and externally, at home and abroad; (2) to
provide quality legal education that is student centered; (3) to create a
renowned academic center addressing
key issues of our time; (4) to develop a rich scholarly life; and (5) to make
public service and pro bono activities
a prominent part of WCL life. Below,
I will touch briefly on each of these goals and how we have sought to implement
To Break Down Barriers and Build New Relationships, Internally and
Externally, at Home and Abroad
This goal takes on new meaning in
a global reality, in which even “domestic” lawyers will, at some point in
their careers, address issues of international law. In such a reality, it
is not enough for a law school merely to teach international law; students must
learn to engage with people from other cultures and legal traditions and to
resolve conflicts in this multicultural environment. At WCL, we have incorporated this multicultural model in many
We allow our students numerous
opportunities to study abroad in countries with different legal systems – and
not just to take U.S. courses in these programs. They study Israeli law in Israel, European Union Law in
France and Switzerland, and Chilean law in Chile.
Additional opportunities exist in Mexico, Canada, and Hong Kong.
We encourage students who participate in study-abroad programs to
supplement their classroom experience with an externship in a local law firm,
court, or nongovernmental organization. Realizing
that not everyone is able to study abroad, we have also created a multicultural
environment within our own institution. For
that purpose we bring visiting scholars from all over the world to teach at the
We also have in addition a
tremendous wealth of diversity in our International Legal Studies
LLM Program. The more than 160 lawyers from over 60 countries that
participate in this program give JD students increased exposure to different
legal traditions. JD and LLM
students take classes and participate in extracurricular activities together,
creating wonderful opportunities for exchange.
Maintaining contact with international LLM graduates can also be a means
to create a global network for academic and professional exchange. In fact, many of our former LLM students return to WCL and
lend their expertise as speakers at conferences, visiting lecturers, and adjunct
Besides breaking down barriers between members of different
nationalities, we have also broken down barriers along racial, ethnic, gender,
and other lines. We created a
full-time Office of Diversity Services (“ODS”), charged with the
responsibility of ensuring the well-being of minority students and fostering an
appreciation for diversity and a sense of community among all members of the
student body, faculty, and staff. ODS
was recognized this year by the American Bar Association as a program
representative of best practices. A
write-up on ODS appears in the American
Bar Association Resource Guide: Programs to Advance Racial and Ethnic Diversity
in the Legal Profession. The
write-up makes particular mention of our annual Sylvania Woods Conference on
African Americans and the Law, the Minority Student Welcome that we hold each
year for new minority students, and our Minority Affairs Advisory Group.
Recognizing that we still have a long way to go to achieve gender
equality in our society and around the world, we also increased efforts to break
down barriers along gender lines. During
my tenure as dean, we created a Master of Laws (LLM) program specializing in
Gender and International Law¾the
only program of its kind in the world. In
addition to teaching about gender issues in the classroom, we became more
dedicated to working for gender equality through new initiatives in our Women
and International Law Program. We
started the Transforming Women’s Legal Status in Latin America Project, which
seeks to address the problems of gender bias in Latin American legal systems and
legal education traditions. It
accomplishes this by fostering and supporting the work of Latin American legal
scholars and women’s rights advocates in an effort to integrate women’s
human rights into legal education and doctrine.
To Provide Quality Legal Education That is Student Centered
WCL has enlarged its faculty,
appointing 20 new full-time positions since 1995. These additions enabled us to renew our commitment to
student-centered teaching with a current student-faculty ratio of 18.7:1, down
from 27:1, increasing opportunities for interaction between faculty and
students. Additionally, each
student in our first-year class takes one of his or her first-year courses in a
section of 45 students, a unique offering in a school of our size.
Unlike other large law schools, we also ensure that no class has more
than 100 students. Personalized interaction with teachers is critical in
today’s world, since technology is rendering obsolete academic institutions
that do not provide it.
At WCL, we are using technology not to replace
student-teacher interaction, but to enhance it.
For example, our ABA-approved International Externship Program¾the
first program of its kind in the U.S.¾uses
technology to enable students to work in externship placements anywhere in the
world, under supervision from WCL faculty.
While at their field placements, the students communicate with their
faculty supervisors and other students via distance-learning technology,
allowing them to share their experiences with the law and culture of their host
countries. During the Summer of
2000, students externed at the International Center for Trade and Development in
Geneva and with the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights in
Cambodia, the Center for Women's Rights in Poland, and the Asia Foundation in
Taiwan, among others.
Faculty are using innovations in
technology in regular courses as well. Professor
Daniel Bradlow is using Internet and teleconferencing capabilities in his class,
Selected Issues in International Business Law, to allow his students to simulate
the negotiation of a joint venture agreement with students at the University of
We are also placing a renewed
focus on the basics of legal education. One of the most exciting developments
taking place at the law school is the revamping of our writing program.
We are doing this to place greater emphasis on one of the most important
skills a lawyer can have—writing. We
created a full-time, tenure-track position to direct the new writing program,
and we hired Penelope Pether, a legal educator of the first order, to bring this
program to life. We also hired
three full-time writing instructors: Susan Maxon Aldridge; Susan Thrower; and
Arlene McCarthy. They each bring
unique backgrounds, knowledge, and experience to what will be one of the most
exciting new writing programs in U.S. law schools.
For the first time, a large portion of our first-year class will be
taught writing by full-time WCL faculty, increasing opportunities for students
to consult with teachers individually. The
scholarly and practical expertise that our new writing faculty bring to WCL will
also allow us to become national leaders in developing writing across the
We are implementing other
innovations in our basic curriculum as well, in the realization that we cannot
teach law as we did in the past if we are to prepare our students for
tomorrow’s world. We are
continuing an innovative program in one of our first-year sections, begun last
year. Faculty in the program
team-teach the traditional courses to show students the connections between
these subjects, which are normally taught in isolation from one another.
The curriculum was supplemented with segments that included international
law, intellectual property, environmental regulation, client interviewing and
counseling, and legal history. I am
proud to be one of the teachers in the innovative section, teaching
international law. By introducing first-year students to cases like the Paquete
Habana case, decided by the US Supreme Court in 1900, we show them the value
of customary international law in domestic court decisions.
This program has been so successful that the faculty is working together
to extend it to an additional first-year section this year.
The constant changes in the world
around us demand that WCL adapt its curriculum in order to reflect an
ever‑changing reality. Numerous
new courses were introduced last year, such as Intellectual Property Law,
Economic Regulation of Business, International Telecommunications, Expert
Scientific Evidence, Global Corruption and the Rule of Law, Government
Liability, Theories of Pedagogy, Comparative Trademark Law, and State
Constitutional Law. New courses
scheduled in the coming academic year include: Advanced Issues in International
Business Transactions; Lobbying and the Legislative Process; Legal Aspects of
Work and Parenting; Health Care Transactions; National Economic Policy; and
Global Public Interest Practice.
To Create a Renowned Academic Center Where We Address the Key Issues
of Our Time
We continue to develop our reputation as a
renowned academic center addressing key issues of our time, hosting and
sponsoring numerous conferences, seminars, and symposia throughout the year, and
especially during our annual Founders’ Celebration in March and April. We do
this to broaden our faculty’s scholarship by exposing them to a wealth of
different points of view. We also
feel that it is essential for our students to participate in such programs,
since hardly an issue or problem our society faces does not contain a legal
component. WCL was founded over a
century ago by two pioneering women¾Ellen
Spencer Mussey and Emma Gillette¾who
believed that knowledge of the legal system was a key to achieving equality in
society. We hold the Founders’
Celebration each year to honor their memory and to continue our commitment to
using legal education to bring positive change to society.
Last year’s Founders’ Celebration was the
most successful ever, including 25 events that brought over 1000 visitors to the
law school. We dedicated last
year’s Founders’ Celebration to the theme of pro bono service, to
focus the legal community’s attention on this important aspect of the
profession. Our Founders’
conferences drew nationally and internationally recognized jurists and policy
makers to WCL, including: U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshevsky; Ken
Starr; Judge Albert Sachs of the Constitutional Court of South Africa; Professor
Charles Ogletree of Harvard University; Mrs. Thurgood Marshall; world-renowned
child psychiatrist Stanley Greenspan; Kadar Asmal, the South African Minister of
Education; Jerome Facher (attorney for Beatrice Foods in the case upon which A
Civil Action was based); and D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams.
4. To Develop a Rich
Scholarly Life Within Our Institution
We continue to encourage our
faculty to engage in research and writing on issues that are shaping the society
of the future. Our faculty publish
in the most prestigious journals in their disciplines, author and edit
widely-used legal textbooks and treatises, and participate in the national and
international arenas as experts, litigators, and consultants on cutting-edge
legal issues. In addition to a
monthly internal speakers’ series for faculty, we also host a monthly external
speakers’ series that brings prominent outside scholars and experts to the law
school to discuss contemporary legal issues in an open forum.
Last year, for example, Professor Mathias Reimann, of the University of
Michigan School of Law, and Harvey James Goldshmid, General Counsel of the
Securities and Exchange Commission, were among those participating in the
To further enrich the scholarly
life of our institution, we recently established a Doctor of Juridical Science (SJD)
program, and we plan to admit our first students this academic year.
Candidates will work under the supervision of a committee of faculty
members to produce a dissertation of publishable quality based on original
5. To Make
Public Service and Pro Bono Activities
a Prominent Part of WCL Life
An essential duty of every member
of the legal profession is to address inequalities in society, both at home and
abroad. A commitment to pro
bono lawyering has always been a cornerstone of WCL’s mission.
We respect the right of every individual in our community to choose his
or her own cause, but we encourage everyone to commit him or herself to some
form of public service. With the
dedication of the 1999-2000 academic year as the “Year of Pro
Bono,” WCL renewed and expanded upon this commitment by creating numerous
exciting pro bono programs in the past
year. For example, the Marshall
Brennan Fellowship Program was begun with the support of the Arca Foundation and
the families of late Supreme Court Justices Thurgood Marshall and William
Brennan. Thirty students have
committed their time, energy, and imagination by teaching Constitutional Law to
D.C. public high school students and students at Oak Hill, D.C.’s juvenile
corrections facility. “Linking
Communities for Educational Success” (LINK), a student-initiated program, was
founded to support the students and community of Johnson Junior High School in
their pursuit of academic, social, and community development.
LINK addresses these needs through a holistic approach that includes
tutoring, mentoring, adult education, a scholarship fund, social activities, and
acquisition of educational resources.
WCL’s pro bono efforts reach far beyond the borders of the U.S.
Our faculty and students are active in supporting the research efforts of
the War Crimes Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.
Students in our International Human Rights Law Clinic provide needed
legal services to indigent refugees fleeing political persecution.
They also represent individuals, families, or organizations alleging
violations of recognized or developing human rights norms before various
domestic and international tribunals.
In the Joint Research Program in International Environmental Law¾a
partnership between WCL and the Center for International Environmental Law
students work as volunteers and research assistants to strengthen international
environmental law, policy, and management throughout the world.
These are just a few examples. Students
are using their non-legal skills as well. For
the second year in a row, a team of students planned an “Alternative Spring
Break” in Honduras. Twelve
students in 1999 and twenty-two students in 2000 traveled to the Santa Barbara
region of northern Honduras, where they helped to rebuild homes and other
buildings destroyed by Hurricane Mitch in 1998.
During our annual Founders’ Celebration, we hosted a number of events
related to the theme of pro bono, and
we focused on both local and global perspectives on public service. Conferences relating to this theme included “Poverty Kills:
An International Conference on Poverty and Human Rights Law” and “Historical
Perspectives on Pro Bono Lawyering.”
We also created the Peter M.
Cicchino Awards for Outstanding Advocacy in the Public Interest last year.
Peter Cicchino was an Assistant Professor at WCL who joined our faculty
in 1998 after a distinguished career in public service.
He founded and directed the Lesbian and Gay Youth Project of the Urban
Justice Center and served as a staff attorney for the ACLU.
He died in July of 2000 after a prolonged illness, but we will continue
to honor his memory through this award. The
Peter Cicchino Awards will be given annually to three persons: one to a current
second or third-year student; one to a graduate whose work is primarily in the
U.S.; and one to a graduate whose work is primarily outside the U.S. or deals
with international law. We hope
that this award will call attention to the accomplishments and dedication of
individuals like Professor Cicchino, who will encourage others¾both
locally and abroad¾by
As we begin the 21st Century, we are experiencing a deep
transformation in our entire society. It
is not “business as usual” for lawyers or for anyone.
For example, the advent of the Internet and other communications
technologies dramatically changed the world in which we live.
The flow of information drastically altered traditional barriers between
societies and individuals. In
today’s world, hardly any problem can be solved by domestic action alone.
As a result of this new reality, we must change the way we train lawyers,
preparing them to practice in a world where traditional legal distinctions
between domestic and international, and between various disciplines, are
At WCL, we have attempted to reconceptualize legal education for this new
world reality through implementing the goals I have outlined above. I believe that our success in recent years is a result of a
recognition of WCL’s vision by applicants, students, and members of the legal
have clearly defined goals to provide guidance, and these have enabled us to
move forward as an institution, rather than staying in the same place.
As result, our law school is a fluid, changing entity that continues to
be relevant even in a rapidly transforming world.
I hope that the lessons we have learned will benefit others confronting
the challenge of defining a vision and building an institution that is truly
engaged with the world.