Monday, January 08, 2007

Dean David F. Levi

Judge LeviDuke University has named David F. Levi, Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, as the next dean of the Duke Law School. Having been the beneficiary of online welcomes (such as this list of intriguing suggestions) to my new job as a law school dean, I welcome Judge Levi.

Judge Levi's transition to academia and to the deanship of the Duke Law School deserves close examination. As Doug Berman observes, Judge Levi has never been a law professor. Brian Leiter believes that no other "major law school has chosen a sitting judge as Dean in at least a half century, perhaps longer." Neither the definition of "major" nor the exact amount of time at issue obscures the essential point: it is very rare to see a law school name a sitting judge -- or any other nonacademic lawyer -- as its dean.

Judge Levi brings great talent and experience to Duke. He is an accomplished author, having cowritten Federal Trial Objections. He logged seven years as a prosecutor before becoming a federal judge. For sixteen years he has served on the federal bench, the last four as the chief judge of his district. His unique contribution to the academy, however, lies in the very fact that he has spent his career on the bench and not on campus. Though this is perhaps a statement against my own professional interest, and that of every other law school dean who entered a career in management through a strictly academic path, I hope that other judges and practicing lawyers will join Judge Levi among the ranks of law school deans.

I wish Judge Levi and Duke Law School every success. When Judge Levi completes what will surely be a triumphant transition to life as Dean Levi, perhaps the idea of naming a judge as a law school dean will seem less unusual. I endorse Nancy Rapoport's observation that the work of a law school dean demands skills that are neither typically found among law professors nor readily honed over the course of a career in legal academia:
[Search] committees and faculties that focus more on the dean's "faculty" attributes than on the dean's "deaning" talents will be missing some very good candidates. Yes, the dean must blend with the faculty in terms of his or her teaching and research talents, but deaning is managerial by nature. Deaning involves a learned set of skills -- skills that many wonderful professors don't have and aren't that interested in pursuing.
As a judge, David Levi made hard decisions. He presided over a huge caseload and became intimately familiar with many aspects of legal practice. As Duke's official announcement observes, Dean Levi's judicial experience has prepared him well to "align[] the highest standards of academic scholarship with a real commitment to . . . making law school relevant to the changing world of legal practice."

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