Brooklyn Law School Dean Nick Allard delivers powerful message at law forum
Chuck Otey's Pro Bono Barrister: Words to University of Toledo Law Forum Give New, Better Meaning for BLS’s Relevance, Viability Going Forward
When barrister Nick Allard, a partner in Patton Boggs — the top-ranked Washington, D.C. firm — took over a “challenged” Brooklyn Law School (BLS) back in 2011, observers here wondered how he would bring about the changes needed to bring BLS into the 21st century.
An even more pressing question, voiced often in “Pro Bono Barrister,” was why a major partner in one of the most powerful law firms anywhere would take on the task of rejuvenating a Brooklyn law school in the midst of a national crisis that seemed to be sapping the life out of this profession, which is so vital in our everyday lives and the embodiment of our constitution, which pledged us all to the “rule of law.”
Almost four short years later, that question has, shall we say, become moot.
Allard’s success since then has stunned observers and injected a new can-do spirit to the Joralemon Street institution and its numerous distinguished alumni who are very much aware that the legal profession is under siege in many quarters, not the least of which is the so-called digital revolution.
Allard’s revealing, down-to-earth update on progress at BLS — delivered last year at the University of Toledo Leadership Conference — is the best available report on the school’s brightened outlook. It also provides some insights into the man who has affably and effectively marshaled the school’s assets — tangible and spiritual — and put it on the road to a remarkable recovery.
As a BLS graduate (class of 1967), this writer (In truth, one grad who inveighed strongly against Allard’s proposal to reduce the school matriculation term by a full year!) has kept an eye out for the happenings and new programs put in place by Allard in his comparatively short term.
Recently, we were pleased to come across Allard’s candid, comprehensive analysis reflecting on his tenure and times at BLS. His views and easygoing approach to his day-to-day duties are reflected in a fluid and fact-filled address that was initially offered to a University of Toledo Law School audience composed largely of other law school deans from throughout the country. They were there seeking guidance in these turbulent times.
Titled “A Dean Grows in Brooklyn,” Allard’s breezy essay is substantial and rich in relevant detail.
Of course, it’s longer — more words — than we have room for here in “Pro Bono Barrister.” As a result, we can only reprint here — in our allotted space — the first several pages of the full document. Our readers should go to www.brooklaw.edu/dean-grows-brooklyn for the complete article, which has become a must-read for lawyers and educators throughout the profession:
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A Dean Grows in Brooklyn
By Nicholas W. Allard, Joseph Crea Dean and Professor of Law, Brooklyn Law School
(Editor’s Note: The following article by Brooklyn Law School President and Dean Nick Allard will appear in the forthcoming Winter 2015 University of Toledo Law Review, Volume 46, Deans’ Leadership in Legal Education Series.)
“Most of you have been doing this dean thing a long time, haven’t you? Five years? A decade or, perhaps, two? Not me. I’ve only had this job since 2012, when my wife and I packed up our lives and moved back to our native New York from Washington, D.C., where we were living and working for the past 30 years. I’ll admit it. I’m a rookie.2
“Coming to Brooklyn Law School was thrilling, though, looking back, I guess you could say I was blissfully clueless. I did not know much and suspected even less. Sure, I had decades of experience in law and higher education, along with some idea of the range of matters that I’d have to handle as dean of a law school — collaborating with faculty, managing staff and facilities, working with a board of trustees, fundraising, schmoozing, teaching and counseling students, dealing with weak coffee in the cafeteria and trying to resist all the food on the hustings.3 But I was confident I could handle just about anything that came my way. After all, I was used to negotiating complex matters. I’d spent most of my career in the nation’s capital with a track record of problem-solving. I worked with some of the finest law firms, leading public servants, and some of the best educational institutions in the world.
“But, frankly, nothing quite prepared me for the email I received one afternoon that first week on the job two years ago. It was from a 9-year-old — a daughter of a member of the faculty. She wrote, politely, articulately and persuasively, about a dog, or, more accurately, her lack thereof.
“In her email, she asked that she be allowed to have a pet dog in the law school housing where her family lives, even though BLS policy forbids pets. She explained that she had recently moved to Brooklyn, had not yet made a lot of friends, and would love the company of a dog, which she promised to love and care for. Moreover, she promised to make sure the dog would never bother anyone. ‘Please, Dean Allard,’ she wrote, ‘let me have a dog.’
“I handled tough matters in my career, but I never had to tell a lonely 9-year-old she couldn’t have a dog. And, as it turns out, I had to dig very deep into my reservoir of life experience to handle such a skilled advocate.
“I emailed her back, and empathized with her plight. I mentioned that I had lived in Washington, D.C. for a long time and had left many friends there, and admitted that I too was trying to make new ones. I explained that while I was getting ready to become the dean I had lived in the very same building and hoped that she and her family would like it as much as I did. But, I continued, I thought the law school residence was a better place for humans than for dogs. I closed my email by inviting her and her family in for a meeting to get to know each other and discuss her request. The precocious child emailed back, ‘I can fit you in Monday between 3:45 and 4 p.m.’ I’m no dummy. I took the slot.
“On the day of the meeting, in the presence of her mother, I heard the young girl argue her case in One Dog Lover v. BLS. I patiently explained the policy reasons behind the school’s ban on pets. ‘I really want a dog,’ she replied. I made a tactical retreat. ‘I wanted a dog as a kid too, and my parents said no,’ glancing sheepishly at her mother. ‘My folks gave me a goldfish instead. Perhaps you would like a pet fish? You don’t have to get up early and walk a fish, or clean up after its mess.’ ‘No. I want a dog,’ she replied, crossing her arms and digging in. Strike two. I tried several other lines of attack, all with the same result. Finally, I resorted to a risky, desperate tactic. ‘How do you feel about people who smoke cigars?’ I asked. ‘Yuck, disgusting,’ she shot back. ‘Well, I understand how you feel, but you know, you may think I am a bad person, but at the end of a long day of meetings with faculty, students, alumni and smart children, sometimes I want to put up my feet and smoke a cigar. But we live in a ‘smoke-free’ school building, and so I don’t smoke. We all have to obey rules meant to help different people live together, even if we don’t like the rules.’ ‘I want a dog,’ she countered, simply and calmly. I was done. I turned to her mother: ‘Not sure what to tell you here. She’s a tough, capable advocate. I recommend she go to law school.’
“I’m happy to say that two years later, the child has adjusted rather well to her new Brooklyn home, even without a canine companion, and her dad’s star shines even more brightly on our faculty.4 And me? Well, I’ll be honest. I’m in heaven on earth. I am the dean of the best (and yes I know only) law school in the biggest most vibrant borough, in the greatest city, in the leading state, in the best country on the planet. That’s my opening line in most of my talks to prospective students, current students, alumni and anyone else that listens and allows me to get away with the hyperbole. I’ve had a long, rewarding and rather eventful b.l.s. (before law school) career before my still recent BLS (Brooklyn Law School) career, but today and every day that I am dean I feel like a very lucky guy. And here’s why.
“Law schools are places of unbridled energy, intellectual curiosity and unwavering purpose, preparing leaders in law, government, commerce and education. Law schools’ dual mission is to offer students both practical, real-world experience and rigorous academic work that prepares graduates to be ready to be effective as new lawyers, and the intellectual firepower to be leaders advancing new — as of now, unknown — issues in the future. Faculties make time not only for serious scholarship, but also for meaningful teaching and mentorship. It is a community of thinkers, doers, leaders and motivated bright pupils and I am truly proud to be part of it. You all know that, but for newcomers, it is a welcome, inspiring revelation.
“Sure, I am struggling with the challenges which you all share of being a law school dean. Every one of you reading this whimsy knows it’s not easy. Law schools have been the punching bag of the media for the past couple of years, with complaints about the high cost of a legal education, the loss of legal jobs and declining applications to law schools. I may be a newcomer to the field, with joyful exuberance and optimism, but I get that it’s not easy. I have been accused of many things during my long lobbying and political career, but being naïve is not one of them.
“From time to time I have heard the aphorism that the law dean feels like a fire hydrant. Perhaps that’s true, but if you go into this job with the mindset that you are put upon and burdened and that you are entitled to people’s gratitude for your efforts, you’re setting yourself up for a pretty miserable ride.5 Sure, it’s difficult, but the personal satisfaction and psychic benefits are what put a spring in my step. You might say, ‘Well, Nick, you have only been pushing the rock up the hill for a couple of years; just wait.’ I’ll admit I do sound like someone in the honeymoon stage of a relationship. Not a day goes by that I don’t feel deeply privileged to be serving as a law school dean. But, seriously, despite all the clouds of doom, serving as a law school dean is energizing and, thankfully, given the constant demands and frustrations of the job, unceasingly rewarding.
“True, if you do not like people, and prefer introspection to engagement with others, then you might not enjoy being a law dean. But if you derive any inkling of warmth from other people, this position is heaven on earth. Every day you are in touch with students, faculty, staff, trustees, alumni and the members of the bar, and the larger community. What could be better?”
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