The Diplomat

Through Deanships at George Washington and Wake Forest Law Schools, Blake Morant ’78 Offers Wisdom
Blake Morant
May 2, 2017

Blake Morant ’78 has led the legal academy not once, not twice, but three times in major roles. Now the dean of the George Washington School of Law, Morant previously served as dean of Wake Forest University School of Law for seven years and as president of the Association of American Law

Schools, a one-year term, in 2015. Morant, who assumed his role at GW Law in September 2014, is the first African-American dean of the top-25 law school.

Morant is one of the nation’s best known and respected legal educators and scholars, and a tireless advocate for students. Among his many professional honors, he ranked sixth this year on The National Jurist magazine’s annual list of the Top 25 Most Influential People in Legal Education (and has been included on the list for the past four years). He also received the Chief Justice John Marshall Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012 from the Judge Advocates Association. For many years, Morant has shared his talents on the national stage and abroad, serving in numerous leadership positions at the AALS and the American Bar Association, and lecturing around the world on issues affecting legal education.

 In 2010, Morant earned the Equal Justice Works’ John R. Kramer Outstanding Law School Dean Award while leading Wake Forest. During his deanship, the law school became a leader in public service, establishing clinics, externships and pro bono opportunities to serve local communities and provide students with field experience.

Reflections on an ‘Extraordinary Leader’

Judith Areenby Judith Areen, Executive Director of the Association of American Law Schools, Emeritus Professor of Law, Georgetown University

Dean Blake Morant is one of the truly outstanding leaders in legal education today. He not only understands how to guide law faculty and staff in improving the quality of their institutions, he has an extraordinary ability to relate to everyone he encounters, from university presidents and Supreme Court justices, to students and staff. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity I have had to work with him and for all I have learned from watching his extraordinary leadership abilities.

Blake became president-elect of the Association of American Law Schools in January 2014. I became executive director that February, so was very new in the job. Blake proposed that he would come up to Washington (he was then dean at Wake Forest) in March to have an informal lunch with the entire AALS staff. No other president-elect had ever made that effort. The staff works very hard to support the work of the association officers, but in the past, most staff never even met the president or president-elect, much less had the opportunity to have lunch together. Blake used the lunch to talk candidly about his own personal journey, first to law school and, later, to becoming a law professor and dean. For most staff fortunate enough to be at the lunch, his talk not only taught them about Blake the man, but provided great insight into what law schools are like, both for students and for faculty. Blake also made time to thank each person individually for their work for the association. It was vintage Blake. He has the wisdom to reach out to the people who are too often taken for granted, and to connect with them by being open about his own experiences. It was a pivotal moment for the association too. Ever since, every president-elect has followed Blake’s great example of meeting with the entire staff.

During Blake’s year as president, the AALS realized that there are no data to explain why there has been a drop of more than 37 percent in the national applicant pool to law schools over the past five years. There are lots of theories about the drop, but no data. Conducting a national survey and focus groups would cost more than the association could afford, so it was necessary to persuade other nonprofits to join the project. That December, Blake and I flew across the country to meet with the board of one organization. After our presentation, they met in executive session until the end of the day, when we were told their answer was no. We were both very discouraged, but again, I learned from Blake’s good judgment. He made sure we thanked the board members for their consideration, and after returning home, Blake sent a detailed and very warm letter in which he thanked the board of the association and said how much he looked forward to working with them on future projects. To my surprise, within two months of receiving the letter, the president of the group reached out and encouraged AALS to resubmit the proposal with a few modifications. That May, the board approved a major grant in support of the Before the JD project.

This continues to be a challenging time for legal education, but with Blake Morant as a guide, I am optimistic that we will meet the challenges ahead.

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