UVA Law Professor, Alumna Mary Elizabeth Magill Named Dean of Stanford Law School


UVA Law School Vice Dean Mary Elizabeth Magill '95 will join Stanford Law School as dean in September.

July 24, 2012

University of Virginia School of Law professor and alumna Mary Elizabeth Magill has been named dean of Stanford Law School, officials from Stanford University announced today.

Magill, who will assume her new position at Stanford on Sept. 1, has served as vice dean at Virginia Law since the fall of 2009, a role in which she helped manage the school's curricular direction and faculty recruiting efforts, and oversaw the offices of the registrar and the dean of students.

"Liz will bring impeccable judgment, grace and level-headedness to the deanship. Her style is inclusive and collegial, but decisive," said Virginia Law Dean Paul G. Mahoney.

Magill, a scholar of administrative and constitutional law who received her J.D. from UVA in 1995, is the Joseph Weintraub–Bank of America Distinguished Professor of Law and the Elizabeth D. and Richard A. Merrill Professor at Virginia.

"I cannot imagine having had a more rewarding student or professional experience than I have had at Virginia," Magill said. "The community is so engaged with one another. Every single day I am here, I learn from my colleagues and my students. There are very few things that could pry me away from this community, but the incredible opportunity to join and lead the Stanford Law community is simply impossible to resist. It is a remarkable law school, one that is on the leading edge of change in legal education. The decision to leave Virginia has been heart-rending, but I am looking forward to this new challenge."

Magill will succeed Stanford Law School Dean Larry Kramer, who has led the institution since 2004 and is leaving to head the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

"Everyone who knows Liz Magill is impressed by her creative and insightful approach to problems and her skill at engaging a community in their solution," Stanford University Provost John Etchemendy said in the school's announcement. "At a time when law schools must adapt to fundamental changes in the legal profession, it is hard to imagine finding a more capable dean to lead the school and the legal academy into the future."

At Virginia, Magill taught administrative law, constitutional law, food and drug law, and seminars in constitutional structure and administrative law. Her scholarship focuses on the complex relationship between legal doctrine and the behavior of institutional actors such as agencies, courts, Congress and the president, as well as private attorneys. Her work sheds light on questions of institutional design and explores how constitutional values about the structure of our government play out in the modern administrative state.

Magill was a fellow in the Program in Law and Public Affairs at Princeton University, visited Harvard Law School and served as the Thomas Jefferson Visiting Fellow at Downing College in Cambridge University. She was elected to the American Law Institute in 2010, and is the immediate past chair of the Administrative Law Section of the American Association of Law Schools.

A native of Fargo, N.D., Magill received her undergraduate degree in history from Yale University, then worked as a senior legislative assistant for energy and natural resources for U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota. She left Capitol Hill to go to law school at UVA, where she was an articles development editor of the Virginia Law Review and received several awards, including the Margaret G. Hyde Award, the Jackson and Walker Award for Academic Achievement, the Mary Claiborne and Roy H. Ritter Scholarship, and the Food and Drug Law Institute Scholarship.

After law school, Magill clerked for Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III '72 of the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and then for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Following her clerkship with Ginsburg, she joined the Virginia faculty in 1997. Magill's husband is Leon Szeptycki, who directs the Law School's Environmental Law and Conservation Clinic. They have two children.

Magill recently recalled fond memories and lessons learned during her time at Virginia.

How do you think your experiences at Virginia prepared you for this next step in your career?

During my time on the faculty, I served under three deans — Bob Scott, John Jeffries and Paul Mahoney. The three of them have very different styles, but I learned a great deal from watching each of them do their jobs. Bob Scott taught me that unbounded enthusiasm is infectious and makes everyone feel part of a common enterprise; John Jeffries taught me that good judgment matters more than most other things; and Paul Mahoney taught me that calm, analytical decision-making is the smartest way to decide a hard question and, just as important, when something goes wrong, the first, best and only response should be to figure out what lesson can be learned from it. 

Those three deans also have qualities that are non-negotiable prerequisites of being a superb dean — they serve the institution first, second and third, and they care deeply about advancing the core missions of teaching students and advancing understanding through research. These are not snazzy qualities — people tend to stand out more for vision or charisma — but, without them, a dean will not always do the right thing. And a dean always needs to do the right thing, even when no one is looking.

What will you miss about the Law School? What fond memories will you recall down the line?

I have so many fond memories — first, of so many people on this faculty teaching me. I still remember the very first day of Torts with Professor [Lillian] BeVier in the fall of 1992. Vosburg v. Putney had seemed straightforward to me — until, that is, Lillian asked us questions about it. It sure took me a long time to get to "You kick, you pay." (It seems obvious now.) In Contracts with Jody Kraus (now at Columbia), we were assigned the first 21 pages of what I thought was called something like the "contracts book." So, I read the first 21 pages of the "Restatement of Contracts" rather than the first 21 pages of the [Bob] Scott and [Charles] Goetz casebook. When I was reading it, I was thinking, "What? This makes no sense. It's like an automaton speaking. SECTION 1: A CONTRACT IS A PROMISE OR SET OF PROMISES. Ugh," I thought, "I can't be a lawyer."

I also vividly remember my first year of teaching, when I taught a small section of criminal law. One of my students came up to me halfway into the semester and said, "My wife is going to KILL me for asking you this, but—um—are you pregnant?" He was lucky. I was pregnant with my first child, who was born the following February.

I will also remember the wonderful students and my own kids literally growing up among them at the Law School BBQs in Spies Garden with students, and my toddlers trying to jump in the "fish pond"; my kids riding tricycles around the inside quad of the school on a cold winter weekend day as students studied; dinners at my home with students, with my kids asking whether we were going to sing after "circle time." It has been such a privilege to teach such talented and decent students.

There is also so much to say about my colleagues. I was lucky to join this faculty as a rookie faculty member, and the community here has made me the best scholar, teacher and citizen that I could be. When I was just starting out as a scholar, many senior faculty members took seriously the work I was doing, and they helped me to see how to make it better. Over the last 14 years, I have had literally hundreds — maybe thousands — of conversations with colleagues about scholarship. I have learned a lot from those conversations about all sorts of fields, but I've taken something larger from them. My colleagues' commitment to excellence in scholarship — scholarship that advances understanding, is done with care, and exhibits ambition — has shaped my view of what scholarship, at its best, can be.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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