A Growing Law School Stays Small

Law Dean Katharine Bartlett says new construction, faculty hires point to growth even as the size of the school's student body remains the same

Katharine T. Bartlett recently signed on for a second five-year term as dean of Duke's law school. Bartlett, the A. Kenneth Pye Professor of Law and a member of the full-time law school faculty since 1983, is a leading national expert on family law and gender in the law. She spoke with Dialogue about her plans for the coming years.

DIALOGUEWhat distinguishes Duke from other law schools?

BARTLETT:  Four years ago, Duke identified four priority areas, and we've been very successful in building a presence in those areas. We are also a smaller school than our closest competitors and have built a strong community where students are academically challenged yet feel like each other's colleagues. We work hard on developing skills like collaboration and teamwork, which you need a strong community to foster. Another thing we are most known for, and with very good justification, is that we are an incredibly interdisciplinary law school, much like Duke more generally. No other law school has as many bridges to other schools and departments.

DIALOGUEWhen you say "we're smaller," how big is Duke's law school student body versus some of its competitors?

BARTLETT:  We have about 700 students. The schools with which we compete most directly for students and faculty are all larger. Penn is closer to 900 students, Virginia and Berkeley around 1,000.  Georgetown is about three times our size. 

DIALOGUEYou have a big construction project under way. Will that affect your size?

BARTLETT:  We're not expanding the size of the student body. We are expanding the size of our faculty, the number of clinics and the activity of our interdisciplinary centers and programs. We had already outgrown this building, so some of this expansion responds to previous growth. When we're done with all of the construction, you'll see improvements aesthetically and in the amount and quality of space we have to house our programs and promote student-faculty interaction.

DIALOGUEConstruction often goes hand-in-hand with fund-raising. Where is the law school in terms of its endowment, scholarships and so forth?

BARTLETT:  We exceeded our campaign goals. Our revised campaign goal began at $50 million and, mid-campaign, was kicked up to $55 million. By the end of the campaign, in December 2003, we'd reached $67 million. A lot of the money went to faculty support, which was our highest priority. We hoped to raise endowment for three professorships and we actually obtained commitments for nine. We also exceeded our goal in terms of endowment for student scholarships. Overall our endowment in this period has more than doubled, from under $40 million in 1998 to $88 million today.  I think people love the momentum of the school and are responding to a sense of optimism and forward motion.

DIALOGUEYou said the law school has identified four priority areas. What are these?

BARTLETT:  The first is a cluster of fields related to science and technology, including intellectual property, biotechnology, telecommunications, health and environment. We have hired faculty in each of these areas, and these folks have been very interactive with one another. They are all interested in a number of cross-cutting issues, such as how to encourage innovation and spread its benefits. This is an enormously interdisciplinary group, and they all have feet in other schools and departments.

Another field where we've done a significant amount of hiring is constitutional law. Progress here was slow for a while but last year we made three fabulous hires: two entry-level junior faculty and one senior superstar, Erwin Chemerinsky.  Just this week we learned that another well-known constitutional law scholar will be joining us next summer.

International and comparative law is the third area. This is not just a self-contained area but an orientation we've tried to strengthen across the board.  In environmental law, we have hired a new faculty member who is an expert in global environmental issues, and one of our intellectual property faculty specializes in global intellectual property issues.  Our most recent constitutional hire is an accomplished U.S. foreign relations and international public law scholar.

The final area is business and finance, where we've always been strong but need more personnel. We have not made major hires on the tenure track in that field yet; it is currently our highest substantive priority.

DIALOGUEWhen you bring in a new faculty member, someone like Professor Chemerinsky whom you describe as "a superstar," how does that make a difference?

BARTLETT:  The law school has combined attaining some immediate visibility in key areas by making important senior appointments, with feeding the future through more junior faculty. We need to do both. Both of the new junior faculty in public law, Jed Purdy and Neil Siegel, were impressed we had recruited Erwin Chemerinsky. They both had offers from one or more of the schools with which we compete most directly, and although their decisions were multi-dimensional, they decided to come to Duke after Erwin said he was coming.  Having someone with his reach and range of interests also has had immediate impact on the intellectual excitement at the law school.

DIALOGUEDo you ever feel like the general manager of a baseball team, trying to put together just the right roster?

BARTLETT:  {Laughs.} Well, perhaps my metaphor would be an orchestra director or something like that. There certainly are a lot of moving parts, and you want great people who can work well together.

DIALOGUEHow about recruiting students? Are you getting the students you want?

BARTLETT:  Yes, we are getting the students we want. I would say our most successful recruiting strategy has been the engagement of our current students with applicants who come to our "admitted student weekends." Our own minority students have been among our most successful recruiters. We nearly doubled the size of our minority student population in the entering class this year largely as a result of their extra efforts.

DIALOGUEAt the other end of the cycle, most of the students who graduate go on to work in private firms. Have their career paths been changing?

BARTLETT:  We have worked hard in the career services office to help students think about a lifelong career path and to understand that preparing for a career is not just preparing for their first job. Most students will change jobs. We talk to them about trying to find professional meaning in their lives, which won't necessarily come with the highest paying job in the most prestigious city. We encourage them to consider alternatives, in light of their own personal values and ambitions, not those of others.

DIALOGUEIn one of his convocation speeches, President Brodhead urged graduate and professional students to look beyond their own disciplines and become involved broadly in the university, both academically and socially. That ties into the interdisciplinary focus you described at the law school. Is this a basic part of the school's character?

BARTLETT:  We have more joint-degree students than other law schools. In terms of the faculty and their research, we have more cross-fertilization between other schools and departments than most law schools are able to achieve.

This is important because so many of the critical issues we face are multi-disciplinary and benefit from a number of perspectives. For example, in the genome project, the science is essential, the ethical explorations are crucial and the policy and legal ramifications are critical as well.  If the people thinking about science don't understand the role of patents and intellectual property law, and the people studying the law don't understand the basic science, everyone's problem-solving will be more constrained.

The other deans and I spend time thinking with the provost about how to support collaborative efforts by our faculty.

DIALOGUEHow do all of the pieces fit together? Do you have a strategic plan, and if so, is it changing?

BARTLETT:  We have a strategic plan in place for the period 2000-2005. We are just beginning to work with our faculty and alumni leadership on the next strategic planning process. In general, we are trying to be the best law school that combines extremely rigorous academics with a focus on professionalism and the skills required for our graduates to be responsible members of the legal profession.  Some of the higher-ranked schools are hiring more and more Ph.D.s, and becoming more like graduate schools. We are trying to be the school that combines the highest academic standards in the classroom with a strong community in which professional values and skills are cultivated and emphasized. We have that combination down about as well as anybody.

DIALOGUEAre lawyers as respected as they should be in American society?

BARTLETT:  It's a shame that appreciation is diminishing for the role lawyers play in civilizing a democratic society and in protecting the rule of law. Some bad actors, a highly polarized political climate and the changing economics of law practice all have contributed to this decline in respect.  Law schools can't control all of these factors, but we have an important responsibility to raise the quality and ethical standards of those we turn over to the profession.

DIALOGUEOn a personal note, now that you've finished your first five years, what have you enjoyed least about being the dean, and what have you enjoyed most?

BARTLETT:  During my first few years as dean, one of the hardest things was trying to be responsible both as a parent and as somebody with a new, major administrative role. It was very hard to think I was doing a good job at both.

What is best about this job is to see some forward motion that you think you might have had something to do with, in an institution that you love. I like being part of a team that is working well together, where people have increasing enthusiasm for that institution.