Emory Law Dean Robert Schapiro
Emory Law Dean Robert Schapiro (John Disney/Daily Report)

Emory University School of Law’s dean, Robert Schapiro, has announced he will step down as dean and return to teaching when his term ends this summer.

A scholar of constitutional law and federal courts, Schapiro has been on Emory Law’s faculty since 1995. He was appointed dean July 1, 2012, after serving as interim dean for the previous academic year.

Emory Law will name an interim dean by Sept. 1 and then conduct a search for a new dean, led by Emory’s provost, during the 2017-2018 academic year, the school said.

“I will go back to the research, writing and teaching that brought me to Emory in the first place and made me excited about being a law professor,” Schapiro said in an interview.

While dean, Schapiro has continued to teach a required first-year course in civil procedure each fall, which he said allows him to meet the incoming students.

Schapiro became dean during a time of upheaval in legal education, in response to rapid changes in the legal profession sparked by the recession.

“Trying to support our students in a very challenging employment market has been a key challenge and, in addition, trying to provide financial aid to make Emory Law affordable and accessible to diverse and outstanding students,” he said.

Entry-level lawyer jobs became harder to obtain in the tight market after the recession and Emory, like many other law schools, placed a new emphasis on preparing their students to be “practice ready” when they graduated.

During Schapiro’s tenure, Emory Law expanded its experiential learning offerings, which include trial techniques and transactional law programs. The law school is expanding its popular Transactional Law and Practice Center, which teaches students deal skills, thanks to a $1 million challenge grant from retired professor Bill Carney and his wife.

The school also launched an additional legal clinic, Volunteer Clinic for Veterans, where students help veterans and their families pursue disability benefit claims and appeals before the overburdened and delay-plagued VA system.

The law school also has beefed up its career services with a professional development program that starts working with students during their first year.

Schapiro said the law school has been able to hire a dozen faculty members during his tenure. “Bringing in outstanding and diverse faculty is a key priority,” he said, adding that enhancing student diversity and “promoting a more inclusive community,” is also a top goal for the law school.

Two years ago Emory Law also created a new position, assistant dean for public service, held by Rita Sheffey, to emphasize the public service obligation of those in the legal profession.

Another goal has been to expand the global outlook of the law school, Schapiro said, which has included bringing in more international students.

Schapiro was an accomplished professor and experienced administrator when he became dean in 2012. Emory University made Schapiro an Asa Griggs Candler professor in 2012. Among other recognitions, he won the university’s highest teaching honor, the Emory Williams Distinguished Teaching Award, in 2009 and was voted Most Outstanding Professor by the Emory Law class of 2001.

“Emory has never had a law school dean who is as credentialed in so many different ways, whether it’s his academic performance, clerking at the U.S. Supreme Court or the quality of his scholarship,” said then-chair of Emory’s board of trustees, Ben Johnson III, a former managing partner of Alston & Bird, in Emory’s announcement of Schapiro as dean.

Schapiro holds undergraduate and law degrees from Yale University as well as a master’s degree in history from Stanford University. After earning a J.D. in 1990, he clerked for Judge Pierre Leval of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and then U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.

Before becoming Emory Law’s dean, Schapiro was Emory University’s associate vice provost for academic affairs, the law school’s associate dean of faculty and co-director of its Center on Federalism and Intersystemic Governance.