Professor A. Benjamin Spencer Named Dean of William & Mary Law

Author of ‘Federal Practice and Procedure’ Also Stands Out as Public Servant
A. Benjamin Spencer

A. Benjamin Spencer joins an elite roster of former UVA Law faculty who have gone on to become leaders at law schools and in higher education. Photo by Ian Bradshaw

May 18, 2020

Professor A. Benjamin Spencer of the University of Virginia School of Law has been named the next dean of William & Mary Law School, effective July 1. 

An expert in the field of federal jurisdiction and civil procedure, as well as a dedicated public servant, Spencer will be not only the first African American to hold the position, but the first black dean of any school at William & Mary.  

He said he is enthusiastic about how he can further the efforts of those who preceded him at the Williamsburg law school, which is part of the second-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. 

“I look forward to building on that solid foundation and to make William & Mary Law a place renowned for its strong and highly engaged faculty, its rigorous preparation of outstanding, 21st-century lawyers, and an unrivaled student experience rooted in a supportive community committed to service,” he said. 

Spencer departs UVA Law as the Justice Thurgood Marshall Distinguished Professor of Law after six years on the faculty. During the most recent academic year, he was also a visiting professor at Harvard Law School. 

A 2001 graduate of Harvard Law School, where he was an editor of the Harvard Law Review, he also holds a master’s degree in criminal justice policy from the London School of Economics, where he was a Marshall Scholar. He earned his undergraduate degree from Morehouse College.  

Within his expertise, Spencer has been an exemplar, serving as one of the primary authors of the go-to guidebook “Federal Practice and Procedure,” writing two other books on civil procedure for the classroom, and serving as a commentator on federal rules and judicial outcomes in the media.  

He taught civil procedure at the University of Richmond and Washington and Lee law schools prior to joining UVA Law. 

Spencer has also been a devoted public servant, working as a member of the Advisory Committee on Civil Rules of the U.S. Judicial Conference (appointed by Chief Justice John Roberts); joining (in 2015) the Judge Advocate General’s Corps of the U.S. Army Reserves, where he holds the rank of captain and argues appeals on behalf of the Army; and working as a special assistant U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia from 2009-2013.   

In addition, he is a member of the American Law Institute and the West Academic Law School Advisory Board. 

Spencer’s many talents and clear vision for the legal profession will serve him well as head of a law school, UVA Law Dean Risa Goluboff said.  

“We’ve been fortunate that Ben Spencer has served as a member of our faculty during what has already been an influential career,” Goluboff said. “His commitment to academia and this country are very much in keeping with the UVA Law and William & Mary traditions of putting one’s legal training into service for the greater good. I’m excited to see William & Mary flourish under his leadership.” 

Spencer’s hire is part of a trend of UVA Law faculty who have moved on to helm important law schools. Earlier this year, it was announced that Dayna Bowen Matthew ’87 will be the next dean of George Washington University Law School. Other former UVA Law faculty who have moved up the academic ranks in recent years include Kerry Abrams, who now leads Duke Law School; former Vice Dean M. Elizabeth “Liz” Magill ’95, who went on to become dean of Stanford Law School before returning to UVA as provost; Jennifer Mnookin, who is dean of UCLA Law School; and Jim Ryan ’92, who went on to become dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education before being named the ninth president of UVA. 

Spencer comes from a distinguished, service-oriented family. His father, James R. Spencer, was the first African American federal judge in Virginia and the first African American chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. His mother, Alicia Spencer, is a retired elementary school principal in Newport News. His grandfather, Dr. Adam S. Arnold, was the first African American professor at Notre Dame University.

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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