For the second time in the past year, a law school has tapped a new dean directly out of private practice. 

The Catholic University of America on November 27 named Daniel Attridge as the future dean of its Columbus School of Law. Attridge has been the managing partner of Kirkland & Ellis’ Washington office since 1998.

In March, Brooklyn Law School chose Nicholas Allard, then chairman of Patton Boggs’ lobbying, political and election law practice, as its new dean. Leaders at Saint Louis University also named local trial lawyer Tom Keefe Jr. as dean in August, but only on an interim basis.

Attridge’s appointment could signal an increased willingness among university and law school leaders to look beyond the scope of academia, politics and the bench for dean candidates, particularly at a time when the traditional law school business model is under enormous pressure. Catholic University President John Garvey, who previously headed Boston College Law School, said that Attridge will bring something different to the table.

“As a former law school dean, I know it is rare (and in these times, wise) to recruit a highly experienced practitioner and a senior partner of one of America’s most distinguished law firms to lead a law school,” Garvey said in a announcement of Attridge’s appointment. “Our students and faculty will benefit immeasurably from Mr. Attridge’s decades of experience, his prominence in the profession, and his impressive administrative skills.”

Attridge said in an interview that he plans to approach the deanship in the same way that he has approached law firm management.

“I plan to work as collaboratively as I can, and bring my skill set to the university to the extent that I can,” he said. “Here at Kirkland, we have great traditions of excellence and teamwork. When I met the people from Catholic, I saw that they had very similar values.”

Still, Attridge acknowledged that he is entering legal education at a very critical time. He said that enrollment will likely be the biggest challenge he faces as dean, followed by graduate job placement and fundraising.

Attridge has been a partner at Kirkland & Ellis since 1985, specializing in litigation. He has handled cases involving intellectual property, antitrust, commercial and government contracts, insurance coverage and securities. As the managing partner of the firm’s Washington office, he oversees 225 attorneys and 200 staff members, as well as budgets, business development, client relations and office operations.

Attridge said that he is ready for a new challenge after more than 30 years at the firm.

“While we will miss his incredible service to our partnership, we congratulate Catholic University on finding such a highly qualified individual to lead its law school in these challenging times for the profession,” said Jeffrey Hammes, the chairman of Kirkland & Ellis’ global management executive committee.

Attridge will assume the deanship in July 2013 and will replace acting dean George Garvey, who has held that post since former dean Veryl Victoria Miles stepped down in June after seven years at the helm of the law school.

Karen Sloan can be contacted at