Law school prepares to launch dean search

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Gregory Maggs has served as interim dean of the GW Law School since January, after former dean Paul Schiff Berman stepped down.

The search for the next head of the GW Law School will begin this month, with plans to pick the top three candidates by the spring, Provost Steven Lerman told professors last week.

Faculty will likely select a national firm to help lead the search this fall, said professor Roger Transgrud, who helped steer the school’s last dean hiring in 2010.

It will be the school’s first time hiring a search firm, a method that’s commonly used among universities to broaden their applicants, often to the world outside of academia. Still, Trangsrud said the committee will likely interview top officials from other schools, rather than leaders of top companies or law practices.

“The dean of a Top 25 law school is almost certain to come from the professoriat, so the need is not as strong for a firm. But most feel that it couldn’t hurt,” said Trangsrud, who holds an endowed chair as a professor of complex litigation and civil procedure. He was an interim dean in 2004, and also led the committee that picked the school’s former leader, Paul Schiff Berman.

The search will be a test for the law school after it experienced turmoil last fall. Berman abruptly resigned from the deanship in November after just 18 months in the position. Faculty say he left the deanship because he was about to face a vote of no confidence, and the discontent pushed him into a role in the provost’s office leading GW’s online learning operation.

The law school has been under the temporary direction of Gregory Maggs since January.

The field of candidates will take shape over the next semester, and will likely draw interest from legal heavyweights. The law school is ranked No. 21 in the country, and boasts top research programs in international and intellectual property law.

Some faculty members have floated the school’s Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Christopher Bracey, a recently appointed administrator with a bevy of research credentials, as a solid internal candidate. In 2010, only one GW professor made it to the top eight candidates.

Candidates will be vetted by a GW-led search committee, which will likely include a trustee, a law school graduate, a member of the provost’s office and a member of the dean’s advisory committee.

The committee will narrow down the applicants starting this winter, Trangsrud said. Off-campus screening interviews will likely start in January and finalists will make campus visits in February and March – similar to last year’s search for a leader of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences.

Nationally, this year’s challenges for law schools include the declining number of legal jobs available and the plummeting number of applications to law schools across the country, Trangsrud said.

He noted that a dean needs to be a strong fundraiser and communicator, adding that the school’s size – one of the largest law schools in the country with more than 2,000 students – makes this more difficult. The school boasts an operating budget of about $80 million, and tries to fundraise up to $10 million a year.

The school has also struggled with fundraising since Berman left, said Rich Collins, associate vice president for law development. Fundraising increased under Berman’s leadership, part of the reason he was selected for the deanship. But, fundraising has also slumped because of a poor legal job market, Collins added.

The University of Alabama’s law school, tied with GW’s at No. 21 – according to U.S. News and World Report rankings – will also conduct a dean search this year, after its dean of 10 years retired suddenly over the summer.

GW will also conduct a search for the dean of the nursing school, after Dean Jean Johnson announced she would retire at the end of the academic year. The University may start a search for a new business school dean this year, as well.

Lerman declined to comment on plans for the law school search because he said details were not yet available.

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