Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law has named longtime professor Kimberly Yuracko as its next dean.
On Sept. 1 Yuracko will become the first woman to lead the Chicago law school, replacing outgoing dean Daniel Rodriguez. She joined the faculty in 2002 and has held various administrative roles, including interim dean in 2011. Yuracko is an expert in employment law, gender equity, and anti-discrimination law, and has written several books. We caught up with Yuracko to discuss her goals for the law school, the rise of women leading top law schools, and what she learned during her previous stint running the law school. Her answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Once you assume the deanship in the fall, women will be leading six of the top 12 law schools. (Yale; Stanford; Columbia; Virginia; Duke; and Northwestern.) Is that significant?
I think it’s mostly reflective of the change in the profession—that women have now been entering the profession at 50-50 numbers for quite awhile. We’ve now had time to move up through the ranks. Also, it’s probably somewhat a reflection of a change in the culture of the institutions and our nation generally whereby I don’t think women in leadership is considered unusual at all. Everyone thinks it’s perfectly normal. If they think a woman is the strongest candidate, not much thought is given to the fact that she’s a woman.
Not only are you an insider at Northwestern, but you already did a stint as interim dean. Do you think that experience will help as you take the reins?
I think it’s really helpful to have done that. Unlike in corporate America—where people move up from position to position and they incrementally take on more responsibility—in law schools the jump is usually from professor or associate dean to dean, which is just a dramatically different job. The one advantage is that I have a pretty good sense of what the job entrails, so there won’t be that sort of culture shock.
Beyond that, I’ve had years to develop ties with the law school faculty and administration, and the university administration. I think that’s so valuable because I know who to reach out to and I have friends and colleagues all across the university, which will be helpful in strengthening our ties with the university.
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What are your goals for the law school?
My real focus over the first year or two is that I want to build upon Northwestern’s goal to be a law school for life. What I mean by that is I want Northwestern to become known as the school that does the best job of developing and nurturing the human capital of their students, faculty and alumni. I think we already give our students a fantastic education and a great experience when they’re here. I want to build on that with even more support: more professional support, more academic support.
In particular, I want to strengthen our connection and ties to our alumni by increasing the kind of career and professional support we provide throughout our graduates’ careers. People are no longer taking their first job and staying there. They are moving around a lot. I think there’s a lot more that law schools can do to be their touchpoint throughout their careers for additional education and career strategy support.
You’ve done a lot of work on diversity initiatives at the university. What do you think law schools can do to better foster racial and gender diversity on their faculties and in the profession?
In terms of faculty diversity, I’ll speak to my own school for a second. I think one of the things that would be really helpful for us is to expand our focus in terms of subject matter and of methodological diversity. One of the things I think ends up happening a bit at my own school is we kind of do self-replication. There are certain fields and areas that are more gender lopsided. To the extent that we as a faculty begin to look more broadly at both candidates and the kinds of subject matter, research and methodology we are looking for, that really helps diversify the faculty.
Regarding diversity in the profession, this is a project I’ve been working on for the last year at Northwestern, but I have to admit we haven’t made much headway yet. One of my hopes as dean at Northwestern is that we’re going to reach out to the profession in a structured way. We’re thinking about how we can work with GCs and managing partners to think about how we can move the needle on the 19 percent women partners at the equity level, which really hasn’t changed in about 10 years.
Dan Rodriguez has taken a national leadership role in legal education, most recently leading the supporters of the GRE in law school admissions. Is that a role you envision taking on?
Dan is remarkable. He’s a visionary and an extraordinary leader both of our institution and of legal education nationally. He’s got remarkable amount of energy. I would love to keep up that profile on a national level. But my initial focus in the first year or so will be on our institution, and really building and strengthening our reputation.