For Nicholas Allard, his transition from Washington, D.C., attorney and lobbyist to Brooklyn Law School dean is not as abrupt as one might think.
“The number one thing I did was problem solving and that’s what I have to do right here,” Allard said in an interview at his office, which has a view overlooking Brooklyn’s state and federal courts with Manhattan in the distance.
Allard, 60, took up his new position in July after seven years at Patton Boggs, where he co-chaired the firm’s public policy department and co-chaired its government advocacy practice.
Allard lauds Brooklyn Law’s faculty, alumni and student body and says the school is “financially sound.” But he still must confront deeper problems faced by all law schools: What changes should be made to curriculum, where will graduates find employment and how to attract the best students from smaller applicant pools? For example, applications to Brooklyn Law plummeted to about 4,600 this year from more than 6,000 in 2011.
Board members and faculty say Allard—who was in private practice for more than 20 years but also has taught and wrote on subjects such as lobbying, communications and Internet law—is up for the challenge.
The new dean is “the right person at the right time,” said faculty member Claire Kelly, a member of the search committee.
“I wanted somebody who was nimble enough to operate in both worlds and understand what strategies might succeed, and be open to new ideas, but also see value in tested methodologies and ways of doing things,” she said.
Eastern District Judge Edward Korman, a member of Brooklyn Law’s board who also served on the search committee, noted that the school recognized the advantages of selecting a private attorney.
“The ‘outside-the-box’ appointment was good for the law school and what we needed now,” he said, adding that those needs include fundraising and securing employment for students. “There was a feeling among trustees and faculty that someone from the ‘employer segment’ of the legal economy could be extremely helpful.”
Stuart Subotnick, chairman of the school’s board and its search committee, said students’ future employment is the school’s “most important responsibility.”
“We felt Nick had a lot of interesting ideas, different career experiences, did a lot of writing, some educational work,” said Subotnick, the chairman and president of Metromedia Company. “The other thing is we felt Nick would have interesting industry connections in law, government and potentially the corporate client world.”
According to American Bar Association statistics, 305 of the school’s 455 graduates had been able to find jobs within nine months of graduating in 2011. Of graduates taking the bar exam for the first time in July 2011, 89 percent passed.
Allard considers student employment a top priority. He calls Washington “a prime place to find jobs,” and said he will use his professional connections to create opportunities. He points to new regulatory regimes in areas such as healthcare, financial services and communications as providing job openings.
As a private practitioner, Allard counseled clients in telecommunications, information technology, health, energy law and also higher education. His clients ranged from Fortune 500 corporations to start-up companies and included universities and non-profit organization.
Allard also has had considerable legislative and political experience, working for two U.S. senators, Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Daniel Moynihan, D-New York.
He has taught at George Mason University and at Georgetown University and has given regular lectures on topics ranging from how the legislative process works to “why lobbying is an honorable profession.”
“I’m not Roscoe Pound,” Allard said, referring to the late Harvard Law School dean and scholar, “but it’s not as much of a leap and I’ve always had a foot in higher education, as a teacher, as an author.”
Allard said he had a “fabulous” practice when Brooklyn Law reached out to him, but he said he had come to realize that what interests him most is higher education.
He said he was “looking to give back and make a positive difference,” adding, “Higher education is a place I think I was doing something positive.”
In fact, he was already mulling a move to academia before the Brooklyn Law offer. He was one of two finalists for the deanship at the University of Wisconsin Law School.
Thomas Boggs Jr. of Patton Boggs said in an interview he was not surprised when Allard, whom he described as a “very good lawyer,” took the deanship in Brooklyn Law. Allard, said Boggs, had been “sort of sniffing around for a year or two. He does have a public interest bent.”
He said Allard would do well as dean, noting his “great personality” and enthusiasm.
“If anybody has good skill sets, it’s Nick,” said Boggs.
Allard remains a nominal partner at Patton Boggs, although he said he is spending all of his time working for the law school. Boggs said that he might help the firm with tasks such as recruiting.
At Brooklyn Law, Allard is sharing responsibilities with Joan Wexler, who is now the school’s president after a 16-year deanship from 1994 to 2010. (Michael Gerber served as interim dean for the past two years.)
Allard is overseeing all academic affairs while Wexler will handle fiscal matters, such as budgeting and capital projects. They will share fundraising duties. Both say the arrangement is working out well.
“It’s become an extremely complex institution, more than enough for more than one person,” said Wexler, adding that Allard was “terrific. We’re thrilled to have him.”
Allard said he’s taking a “kitchen sink approach,” adding, “The one thing I hope to convey to students is we’re determined to do everything we can to help them find jobs and meaningful careers.”
He meets regularly with the school’s career services staff— treating student employment “like a political campaign.” He also has opened an additional career services location “right in the heart” of where most classes are located, to make career services as accessible as possible for students.
Allard has been on a “listening tour” asking alumni what the school must do to prepare students for the job market. He regards it as crucial to reach out to alumni, likening them to the “cavalry” that supplies the “eyes and ears” to the army, in this case the school.
Allard said the alumni have identified entrepreneurship, real estate development, Washington D.C.-based jobs such as financial services, health, compliance and risk management as likely sources of employment.
To make students more business literate—a trait law firms maintain is necessary for young attorneys, said Allard—the school will launch its first ever “business boot camp.” The optional program will be offered between semesters and will teach business skills such as reading balance sheets.
Allard also has launched a program to recognize graduates who help students with their careers, whether through writing recommendations or hiring.
He is instituting a pilot program this semester where students will be able to spend a semester-long internship in Washington. If approved by the faculty, the program would start next fall, said Allard.
Colin Hedrick, president of the Student Bar Association, said future employment was something many students hoped Allard would address, and that appears to be the case.
“He’s really on jobs every single day,” said Hedrick. Allard is “really reaching out” to his connections, he said. Not that Wexler did not do the same, Hedrick added, but Allard’s “got that ability and those connections, and he does it very well.”
Allard said he plans to teach at Brooklyn Law this spring. Meanwhile, he is striving to engage the student body at events like “Nick Noshes,” where he talks with students about careers and offers job advice.
Since coming to the school, it has been “a month of work each week,” Allard said.
With tasks such as document searching becoming a commodity, Allard said lawyers will be increasingly sought out for “the three A’s”: analysis, advice and advocacy—which is “good news because it’s work that is worth the investment and effort it takes to get a J.D.”
Legal education and lawyers are “inextricably woven” into American society “and always will be,” said Allard.
He acknowledged the profession now faces tough economic conditions and the challenge of defining legal practice for the future.
“But the important thing is not to despair, but to figure out what the nature will be and drive in that direction,” he said.
@|Andrew Keshner can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.