PUBLISHED:January 23, 2012

The Second Half: a Look at Dean David F. Levi's Successful First Term and His Playbook for the Years to Come

Accolades for David F. Levi poured in from all sectors of the Duke Law community with the news, in mid-November, that he had accepted a second term as dean. His new term begins on July 1.

“David has done a fabulous job in the four-plus years he has been at Duke — faculty hiring has been strong, student morale is high, and there is enormous energy around various initiatives he has undertaken,” said Katharine T. Bartlett, the A. Kenneth Pye Professor of Law and Levi’s predecessor as dean.

“We could not have a more capable individual leading us at this time,” said Peter Kahn ’76, a member of the Board of Visitors and Duke University trustee who served on the dean search committee that recruited Levi to Duke Law in 2007 from his position as chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California.

“Having taken over an already strong law school from Kate Bartlett, Dean Levi in his first term has brought us to new heights despite having to deal with a very difficult economic climate for student placement, faculty recruitment, and fundraising,” said Kahn, a partner at Williams & Connolly in Washington, D.C.

By all accounts, Levi’s leadership of Duke Law has not only helped the school to survive the economic downturn but to thrive. Outstanding faculty hires, new programs focused on developing professional skills and leadership traits in students, exciting new graduate degree programs for lawyers and judges, and impressive fundraising successes have created a sense of tremendous excitement and momentum that extends from first-year students to the faculty and administration to the alumni and broader community.

For his part, Levi is grateful for the opportunity to be of continued service to the “remarkable” Duke Law community. “The faculty are extraordinary scholars and teachers, and it is their dedication to their fields, their students, their colleagues and their profession that makes all the difference and makes Duke such a great law school. Our students are also wonderful young professionals who are determined to succeed as lawyers and civic leaders. Helping them to do so is one of the great joys of being dean.

“Our loyal and talented alumni provide daily support, encouragement, and advice. Coming to know them has been a delight. Finally, our dedicated and superb staff and administrators permit us to develop in new ways and meet the challenges of a dynamic and changing profession.”

Building frontcourt depth

Since joining the Duke Law faculty as dean and professor of law after a long career in public service as a U.S. attorney and federal judge, Levi has, indeed, forged an impressive record. “He immediately threw himself into the difficult work of being dean and has not slowed down,” said James E. Coleman Jr., the John S. Bradway Professor of the Practice of Law, who co-directs the Center for Criminal Justice and Professional Responsibility, one of five new research centers launched during Levi’s tenure.

Chief among his achievements has been a significant expansion of the Law School’s faculty; he quickly identified Duke’s ability to recruit and retain top entry-level and lateral scholars, professors of the practice, and writing and clinical faculty, as a golden opportunity during a time of recession-mandated hiring freezes elsewhere.

More than a dozen leading and emerging scholars and professors of the practice have joined the governing faculty during Levi’s tenure, bringing exceptional depth of experience in law practice, business, and policymaking to their classes. He also annually recruits an impressive roster of visiting scholars who offer students specialized and topical curricular offerings and perspectives. Notable among these is U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, who for the past three years has taught a weeklong seminar titled Current Issues in Constitutional Interpretation to upper-year students. Justice Antonin Scalia joined the 2011 faculty of the Duke-Geneva Institute in Transnational Law.

“Dean Levi has been incredibly supportive of faculty scholarship and scholarly activities, and that support has included generous funding of a wide range of scholarly roundtables, conferences, and workshops,” said Curtis A. Bradley, the Richard A. Horvitz Professor of Law and Professor of Public Policy Studies. “To take just one example, he has enthusiastically supported the Project on Custom and Law that Professor [Mitu] Gulati and I organized this year, which includes both a series of workshops by leading scholars from around the country as well as an all-day symposium at which Duke faculty will present works in progress relating to the intersection of custom and law.”

He also has made time for scholarship of his own, regularly teaching classes relating to ethics, jurisprudence, and legal history (read more, Page 20) and has published several articles on judicial decision-making and the legal profession; his Duke Law Journal article, “Autocrat of the Armchair,” a review of Judge Richard Posner’s book, How Judges Think, was honored by Green Bag on its list of “Exemplary Legal Writing 2009.”

Levi has initiated the addition of two unique LLM offerings at Duke Law: the LLM in Law and Entrepreneurship (LLMLE) and the Master of Laws in Judicial Studies for sitting judges. Launched in the 2010-2011 academic year, the one-year LLMLE blends rigorous academic study of the legal, business, institutional, strategic, and public-policy frameworks and considerations that apply to entrepreneurs and innovation with a hands-on practicum in a Research Triangle-area startup.

The Master of Laws in Judicial Studies is the only graduate degree program at a major law school devoted to the education of judges. Set to welcome its inaugural class this summer, the program is designed to address a need for advanced educational opportunities for judges and to support scholarly research on judicial institutions and judicial decision-making.

The Judicial Studies degree represents one of two core areas of programming of the Duke Center for Judicial Studies, which also focuses on the scholarly study of the judiciary. The center builds on the strength of the Duke Law faculty in judicial studies, empirical studies, the study of institutions, international and comparative law, public law, legal strategy, and law and economics. Other new interdisciplinary research centers at Duke Law include the Center for Law, Race and Politics, the Center for Criminal Justice and Professional Responsibility, and the Center for Sports Law and Policy.

Maximizing opportunities

While maintaining and enhancing the rigorous academics that have long been the hallmark of a Duke Law education, Levi has taken various steps to maximize job opportunities for all students and to ensure they are prepared to distinguish themselves — from day one — in practice, in public service, in business, and as leaders. He has introduced integrated externships and skills-based classes (read more, Page 12), clinics, and programs, and targeted investment in specialized academic programs, such as the LLM in Law and Entrepreneurship; increased summer and post-graduate fellowship support for students interested in government and public interest positions.

First-year students have benefited from the 2009 introduction of the yearlong Dean’s Course, which Levi designed to introduce them to universal characteristics valued and modeled in the profession, and an expansion in the ranks of Legal Analysis, Research and Writing faculty — with a corresponding reduction in class sizes.

“Effective communication, including written analysis, is critical to all aspects of law practice,” said Senior Lecturing Fellow Sean Andrussier ’92, who co-directs the Appellate Litigation Clinic and teaches Legal Analysis, Research and Writing as well as Appellate Practice; before joining the faculty in 2009, Andrussier worked at large law firms as a litigator.

“Dean Levi values effective communication. He understands that students need enhanced legal writing skills to be the most effective lawyers they can be, whether they’re drafting agreements, evaluating legal issues for clients, or advocating before judges,” Andrussier said. “The dean also appreciates that students need opportunities to develop these skills, and so he has supported a variety of writing opportunities for students from the moment they arrive here through the third year.”

“One of the things I think David does particularly well is promote this hybrid of a high-quality, rigorous scholarship with experiential learning,” said Professor Lawrence Baxter, a leading scholar of administrative law and financial regulation who served on the faculty from 1986 to 1995 and returned as a professor of the practice in 2009, after more than a decade in the private financial sector. Baxter offered the Duke in D.C. program as a specific example; the “integrated externship” program pairs full-time externship placements for students within congressional offices and agencies in and out of government with a weekly class examining federal regulation and policymaking from a scholarly perspective.

“This takes experiential learning to a new level, weaving the practical and the scholarly aspects of the endeavor together, so when students are engaging in an experience, they are still bringing a scholarly, academic mindset to bear on it,” said Baxter, who regularly teaches semester-long Duke in D.C. sections focused on financial regulation. “It helps them approach practice with ivory tower analytical minds. The best lawyers at leading law firms have that ability. The finest judges, too, have always displayed it. But it’s not something that comes without a lot of work and preparation in law school.

“And that is the aspiration we have for Duke students — and why David has set us up so well for it. He’s helping us move to the next level where the divide between the practical and the academic is just irrelevant.”

The Law and Entrepreneurship LLM program, which combines classwork with a semester-long placement in an entrepreneurial enterprise, offers an example of integrated learning in another context.

“There is a huge demand for the kinds of course work that we are developing for the LLM coming from the JD students,” said Levi. “The program already is enriching the entire school, and that’s what we hoped would happen.

“The LLM program — and classes that emerge from it — is about building a different kind of lawyer,” Levi said. “We’re building a lawyer who has all of the skills a traditional lawyer has — they are problem solvers. But in addition, they have the intention and skills to be decision-makers as well as wise advisers.”

Keeping pace with the dynamics of the legal economy and legal profession is challenging even for top-tier law schools at the best of times, Levi observed.

“Since we live in a time of high volatility, it’s been a significant challenge,” Levi said.

But even the somewhat contracted employment landscape faced by students and new graduates “has had its silver lining,” he added, as it has motivated students to bring their values, interests, and goals more to the fore in their job searches, and demanded greater strategy and initiative from them in a much tougher environment.

Like the deans who preceded him at Duke, Levi has put a premium on building and strengthening ties to the far-flung alumni community. His outreach has brought substantial returns as alumni volunteer their time as mentors to students; recruit on campus and hire recent Duke Law graduates and students; teach courses and offer lectures; and support scholarships, fellowships, programs, and professorships. And wherever possible, Levi has leveraged his knowledge of and contacts in the professional community across the country and shared his insight on such matters as clerkship success.

“Dean Levi was an invaluable resource as I attempted to navigate my way through the clerkship process,” said Sarah Boyce ’12, the editor in chief of the Duke Law Journal, who will clerk next year for Judge Jeffrey Sutton of the United States Court of Appeal for the Sixth Circuit. “His time spent on the district court in California gave him a familiarity with the federal judiciary that helped demystify what would otherwise have been an extremely intimidating experience. I can’t say enough about his patience with my endless and often last-minute questions, and I’m quite confident I wouldn’t have the clerkship I secured had he not graciously offered to call Judge Sutton on my behalf. I really don’t think the importance of his experience prior to coming to Duke can be overestimated.”

Staying on offense

Levi’s approach to navigating his first term as dean and his view for the future is to embrace opportunities for change, optimism, and leadership.

“The biggest opportunities are in the development of our faculty,” he said. “The excellence of our faculty, the range of our faculty, and the dedication of our faculty — our scholarly and teaching faculties — this is the most important thing at our school. It’s what makes us so distinctive. So excellence is what we’re after in teaching and scholarship.

“As I often tell our alumni, we’re looking for people who can shoot and who can defend.”

Expanding Duke’s international programs and reputation will be another priority, Levi said. “To benefit from our international alumni in the ways that we do from our domestic alumni — in part to provide opportunities for our students who want to work internationally — is an important challenge, one that we can meet, and one that draws upon our strength in the international arena.”

Making sure that every Duke Law student has an academically (and personally) balanced experience is an ongoing priority, he added. “I want students who come here to feel good about their education and when they get into practice feel they are well prepared, thanks to the range of opportunities we have made available.”

Engaging alumni promises to be a highlight of his coming term, he said. “The alumni have been delightful. Their passion for Duke is great, and one of my challenges is to convince more of them that the passion they feel for Duke and the true gratitude they feel can be expressed in many ways, including through gifts and donations.”

Noting his gratitude to the entire Duke Law and Duke University communities for the opportunities and support that has been extended to him, Levi said he is looking forward to another productive term.

“I am excited to think what we will accomplish together in the years to come, and I am grateful to be part of something so good, both in its accomplishments and aspirations.” — Frances Presma