After a trying search, Northwestern University School of Law has named a new dean. University of Texas law professor Daniel Rodriguez will assume the law school’s top administrative position on Jan. 1.

It won’t be his first stint as dean — Rodriguez ran the University of San Diego School of Law from 1998 to 2005. Former Texas law professor Brian Leiter, who now teaches at the University of Chicago Law School, included Rodriguez on his list of “Nine Transformative Deans in the Last Decade” on his popular blog, Brian Leiter’s Law School Reports. He credited Rodriguez with bringing in top faculty talent and helping to break down longstanding divisions among the faculty. He also launched the law school’s first capital campaign.

“I am very much looking forward to the opportunity to help Northwestern’s distinguished law school achieve new levels of excellence and reputation,” Rodriguez said in a written announcement. “There is much upon which to build, yet there is much more to be done.”

Rodriguez will have large shoes to fill at Northwestern. He will replace David Van Zandt, who stepped down as dean at the end of 2010 to become the president of The New School in New York City after 15 years at the law school. Van Zandt had been a high-profile dean who never shied away from sharing his opinion on the shortcomings of legal education and was unafraid to experiment. For example, Northwestern was the first top-tier law school to launch a two-year juris doctor program. Van Zandt’s efforts at reform didn’t sit well with everyone, and critics faulted him for stacking the law faculty with Ph.D.s and tailoring programs to the job market.

Northwestern law professor Kimberly Yuracko has been serving as interim dean since Van Zandt’s departure and throughout the search process, which began nearly a year ago. The school hired an outside search consultant but the first search committee chair stepped down in January after being contacted by another law school for a potential dean position. The search committee then came up with a list of three finalists, who visited the campus in April. None of those candidates was named dean.

“President [Morton] Schapiro and I are extremely pleased that Professor Rodriguez, who is known nationally for his legal scholarship and public law work, has accepted our offer,” said Northwestern Provost Daniel Linzer. “We are confident that his talents are well suited for leading our great law school.”

Rodriguez, who is an expert in administrative law, local government law, statutory interpretation and state constitutional law, began his academic career at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law. He moved on to the deanship at the University of San Diego, then joined the faculty at the University of Texas.

Karen Sloan can be contacted at ksloan@alm.com.