Let me begin with an overall culture question: Now that you are at least fourth on everyone’s lists of top law schools, you don’t have the same pressure to strive and innovate. How do you keep the creativity flowing? First of all, if an idea’s really good, we are willing to find a way of getting it started right away. In a lot of institutions, even wealthy ones, if someone has a good idea, they’ll say, we should raise endowment money for this and then launch. That’s the norm. But here, for the most part, we have not done things this way. For example, we’re spending something like $4 million a year on our Loan Repayment Assistance Program; it would cost $80 million to endow the program. My hope is that we’ll raise that during the course of the campaign, but if we had waited to endow it first, that would mean that five, ten years’ worth of students would not receive this benefit. We’d rather act while the community is excited, otherwise we might miss the moment. This was the approach of my predecessor, John Sexton, now NYU’s president, and it’s something I’ve followed. It is part of our institutional DNA. We also stave off any sense of complacency by hiring faculty who are bubbling with ideas about things they want to do. The question is how to transmit this approach to a whole institution, and make sure it’s part of the infrastructure. We’re involved now in a strategic planning process that is partly focused on formalizing some of these values.
Speaking of strategy, your faculty recruitment has been extremely successful. What specialties are you aiming to strengthen now? We’re not focused on going area by area. If you say you’re going to have a search in this particular specialty, the best person might not be available. You’re better off being flexible. Since I started, we’ve added 19 full-time members to the faculty—two clinical, 17 academic, 11 women and eight men—and it’s a spectacular group. (Please see the timeline on page 54, which shows these faculty arrivals.) I’m really proud of each of them. I pay a lot of attention to natural turning points, like when the people we want have kids getting ready to go to college. Or, on the other side, people often want to move before their kids start kindergarten. In the lateral market (as opposed to the entry-level), almost all the hiring gets done after people have been visiting for a semester or a year—fortunately, that immersion works well for us. Since NYU Law is a terrific place to be, the more time a potential colleague spends here, the more likely he or she will want to be here permanently.
Why is there so much competition right now for legal scholars? It’s a good question. This is actually a very good time for legal scholars; very good work is being done. There are terrifically strong people coming into the market and there are a number of institutions trying to be as good as they can be, and in order to make significant strides, you have to be in the lateral market on a regular basis, even if you do some entry-level hiring as well. We’ve done extremely well in this competition.
How can you leverage the Law School’s location more aggressively— both to attract new faculty and to add to the vitality of the student experience? There are faculty members in other places who might think it’s daunting to raise kids in the city, but I’m a big fan of it. My wife, Vicki Been, is on the faculty here, we have two kids, and we live six blocks from Van Hall in the West Village. For new hires, we can help with housing, provide in-house expertise about schools, and help make connections for spouses looking for new jobs. We spend a lot of time and energy on making this work for the whole family.
In terms of campus life, being in the city is a huge substantive advantage because leaders in every field are based here, or have reason to pass through. In just one week last year, we had a major speech by Louise Arbour, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Archbishop Desmond Tutu shared some powerful stories, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined the the 10th anniversary celebration of the Brennan Center.
In terms of curriculum, we’re now creating transaction-based courses in a number of different areas that we will offer to at least half our students every year. A full-time faculty member will apply the theoretical construct, and then every week, the principal in an important deal being analyzed will come and present—and we’ll use new cases each year. We’ve designed an innovative business ethics curriculum in collaboration with the Stern School of Business. These courses will do for students interested in business and in corporate transactional careers what the clinics have done for those interested in litigation careers. It’s almost impossible to create these kinds of partnerships anywhere other than in New York. Weekly, I also bring in successful alumni who are doing something other than practicing law in a traditional setting for intimate conversations with groups of students. It’s eye-opening for the students to see a path to becoming a major real estate developer, or the president of a football team, or a hedge fund manager. Finally, our faculty in the international area works closely with the United Nations and the Council on Foreign Relations.
The Law School—and you—have been responsible for many financial-aid innovations. Do you plan to expand the range of assistance you provide going forward? Yes. I’m a big believer in education as an avenue for opportunity, partly because it connects with my own history of coming to the United States from Argentina. Our capital campaign will support the initiatives that will ensure that the Law School is always a place of opportunity. Students who take summer jobs that are public service-oriented are guaranteed financial assistance. Today, we’re looking at not only the need coming in, but need going out, primarily in connection with public-service jobs. When I became dean, I expanded the Loan Repayment Assistance Program so that someone who takes a public-service job and stays with it for ten years has his or her whole debt burden paid by the Law School. We’re also focused on setting up funds for postgraduate fellowships with public-service employers. We’re creating funding vehicles so people can go to leading organizations with financial support from us, getting them started in their careers.
Several of your centers, like the Center on Law and Security, are really shaping the public debate in certain areas. How do these centers contribute to the intellectual life of the Law School and its place in the larger society? I see the centers as a way of amplifying the voice of the faculty in the public discourse. We are also working to make the centers more relevant to students by involving them in the research or getting them involved with preparing and arguing cases that stem from the centers’ activities.
You’ve been busy with curriculum reform. Are you planning more changes? We’ve done four major rounds of curriculum reform since I started as dean. I see the whole Law School as a work in progress, and I think that’s actually what makes it exciting: We’re not self-satisfied. We led the way going back more than 20 years to the transformation of law school curricula, especially when it comes to the first year. Students need to understand institutions and government—not just the courts, but administrative agencies, too. So we introduced the Administrative and Regulatory State class for the spring term of the 1L year, and also introduced at least one smaller class for each first-year section. We have a set of first-year electives now, motivated by students who made it clear that they wanted to take International Law in the first year, in part to prepare for summer internships overseas, but after some discussion it became clear that there was a need to include other choices, too. So Property, Corporations, Constitutional Law, Taxation and International Law are now offered, and that started with the Class of 2009. It’s good for students to be able to start exploring areas of our enormously deep curriculum sooner, so that they can take full advantage of that richness, and it also makes it easier for them to write their law journal notes, or large papers, in their second year. We will continue to reexamine the curriculum, especially the interaction between the first-year and upper-year courses.
You mentioned that you have an overall strategic planning process under way. Will that help you consider these sorts of changes, and direct the flow of ideas? Yes. We had a terrific retreat in early December. We got together trustees and alumni, administrators, students and faculty to talk about these sets of issues. There was a consensus that we should focus on preparing lawyers for leadership careers as problem-solvers and high-level advisers in a fast-changing, global, legal and business environment. We also want to encourage them to be leaders in civic life, in part by leveraging our unique public interest culture. We discussed ways to foster cross-fertilization across disciplines and areas of law, and everyone agreed that our New York location provides enormous opportunities, both for our current students and faculty, and in terms of attracting the best people to study and teach.
Many of your newest female alumni are working at big firms, but women a few years out leave firms at a worrisome rate. Can law schools help ameliorate this? Recently, I gathered a group of alumni who are presiding partners at major law firms together with NYU graduates for a conversation around these issues. The first large law firm that does a good job fixing this problem is going to have a huge comparative advantage, because there’s enormous talent out there, so this would be a good business decision. I was on a panel a few years ago with a hiring partner at one of the major law firms here, and he was very proud that half his first-year associates were women. He was looking forward to the time when they would have the first class of partners that was half women, and I said, That’ll never happen unless you restructure the way your firm operates. I asked this partner, Could you imagine lawyers having dinner with their families and working after dinner? He said no. I predict that will change, and I’d like to help in that process. Huge talent is being left on the table. That’s one reason I’m interested in having students see all other career options: so that even if they go to a firm, and that might be a very good decision to make, they know there are ways one can make transitions.
Speaking of transitions, so far you have managed to continue your academic work while serving as dean. Do you plan to keep it up? Absolutely. I think I have a distinctive perspective on some issues that shouldn’t be put on hold for however long I do this job. For example, the world has split into people who are fans of costbenefit analysis and against serious environmental regulation, and people who just knock down cost-benefit analysis. But it’s counterproductive to just say this type of analysis is evil and that we shouldn’t be trading other goals against the environment, unless one is prepared to go to zero contaminants, which no one is. So you have to decide where you draw the line. I just finished writing a book about this called Retaking Rationality: Using Cost-Benefit Analysis To Defend the Environment and Protect Public Health, coauthored with a former student of mine, Michael Livermore ’06. My next project is an article tentatively entitled “Climate Change and Future Generations.” I also teach a four-credit environmental law course every fall; it’s important for me to be able to have some kind of normal professor-to-student relationship. So, through my academic work, I’m preserving a path to my post-deanship time on the NYU School of Law faculty.
—Kelley Holland, a former editor at Business Week and at the New York Times, now writes a management column for the Times.