Dean’s Message

During the 21 years I have been part of the Law School community, I have had many occasions to reflect on what makes it so special and what makes what we do here so important. Now, as I enter what will be my last academic semester as dean, and contemplate national and world events, I find even more cause for such reflection.

This Law School is known for its collegial environment, as UVA lawyers have long been known for their ability to build productive working relationships with clients, colleagues and opposing counsel. Our culture — like our graduates’ approach to practice — is not accidental. We spend a great deal of time and effort building a community whose members come from different backgrounds, have a wide range of experiences and hold vastly different views. We work hard to provide every member of this community the resources they need to flourish and to create an environment that enables all voices to be heard.

The free exchange of ideas is foundational to both the Law School and the University of Virginia. It is essential to critical thinking. It is a hallmark of our mission to provide the best legal education to the next generation of lawyers, leaders and public servants. And it is crucial to the flourishing of our profession, our society and our democracy. The values underpinning such free exchange are among our most fundamental constitutional obligations as a law school in a great public university.

We live these values by combining our distinct perspectives with a shared commitment to joy, humanity, respect, dialogue, collegiality, collaboration and community across differences. In other words, we are a big, welcoming and rigorous tent. This combination is rare, and it is critical to our efforts to foster a true exchange of ideas. Particularly in these times, it is not always easy to speak so others can hear. It is not always easy to hear when the message tests one’s own views. But rising to and learning from these challenges is at the heart of both an intellectual life and the nature of the law. Knowing each other as whole people — as section-mates and softball teammates, from journal membership or student organizations or pro bono projects — makes it easier for us to discuss difficult issues civilly, which we expect of ourselves and should model for the profession.

Within our vibrant intellectual community, students are exposed to new and challenging ideas, day in and day out — from faculty and fellow students in and outside of the classroom as well from the hundreds of guest speakers who come to the Law School every year. The broad array of perspectives represented here means that we can and do debate, sometimes passionately. That is as it should be. As a law school, and especially as a public law school, facilitating engagement even — indeed especially — when we disagree is not only a strength. It is essential to our mission.

In this edition of UVA Lawyer, we celebrate the Law School’s commitment to the free exchange of ideas and highlight some of the ways we prepare our students to join a profession defined by competing interests and well-established norms for resolving them. Achieving these goals is a process, not an outcome. It takes constant care and attention, to which we commit ourselves every day.