When the University began its search last fall for a law dean to succeed John G. Douglass, the search committee made hundreds of phone calls to “movers and shakers in legal education,” said Professor Corinna Barrett Lain, committee co-chair. “We told them the qualities we were looking for and asked whether they knew anyone who fit the bill. So many people answered, ‘You ought to be talking to Wendy Perdue.’”

Perdue assumed the deanship at the School of Law July 1. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Wellesley College and a J.D. from Duke Law School. After graduating from law school, she clerked for Anthony M. Kennedy on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals before he was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. She then practiced law as an associate with Hogan & Hartson in Washington, D.C., for three years before joining the Georgetown Law faculty in 1982. At Georgetown, Perdue taught civil procedure, conflict of laws, and introduction to U.S. legal methods. She moved into law school administration in 1998 and has served as Georgetown’s associate dean for the J.D. program, associate dean for graduate programs, and associate dean for research.

Perdue has written extensively on civil procedure and conflict of laws. She also has published on issues concerning land use and its relation to public health––an interest she developed while serving nine years as vice chair of the Montgomery County Planning Board in Maryland.

Perdue is a nationally known leader in legal education. Her role as vice president of the Order of the Coif, the legal education honor society, and her service with the Association of American Law Schools will bring strength to Richmond’s national profile.

She shares some thoughts on the state of legal education and her plans for the School of Law:

In what areas do you see the most unrealized potential at the law school?

First, we must increase the law school’s visibility. Richmond has a wonderful story to tell and the more we can do to let others know about its many strengths, the better off we will be. I also see an opportunity to increase engagement with the alumni. … Engagement goes beyond the narrow focus on philanthropy. We need to encourage opportunities for alumni to connect with the school and with each other. Long after graduation, I want our alumni to feel that they are still a part of the school. Alumni also are an incredibly valuable resource both as mentors to our current students and to each other, and as a source of information for the school. The practice of law is changing and our alumni provide an important window to what’s happening in the world out there.

You are coming from Georgetown Law, a much larger school. What are some of the advantages Richmond enjoys because of its size?

With a smaller school comes a stronger sense of community. There is an interesting survey that is done yearly, a law school survey of student engagement. In the most recent survey, the number of times students talk to faculty outside of class correlates highly with both their professional development and their satisfaction with law school. That is more likely to happen at a smaller school.

The law school also has a strength in its location. Richmond is a legal center. You have the state government, major law firms, major industry, and a professional culture that will give students a wide range of opportunities.

What are your thoughts on U.S. News’ rankings?

Most of the elements in U.S. News are things that a good dean would care about regardless of whether or not we had rankings: reputation of the school, bar passage rates, whether students get jobs. … Unfortunately, U.S. News doesn’t include all the things we care about and the way U.S. News measures these things is at best incomplete and at times perverse. There is no question that students put a very high priority on our ranking because they worry about their job prospects, and one cannot be indifferent to this. But I think it’s a big mistake to structure legal education around rankings.

You are beginning this deanship during a challenging time in legal education and in the legal job market. How can the University of Richmond School of Law best prepare students to be 21st century lawyers?

I think the demand for lawyers is going to continue to be strong, but the way in which legal services are delivered is changing and will continue to evolve. Today, lawyers need to have a broader range of skills. They need to be creative problem solvers and collaborators, and they need to be able to work across disciplines. There also is a growing emphasis on young lawyers being “practice ready” from the start. Finally, given the pace of change within the legal profession, it is important for lawyers to have a sense of responsibility towards their own professional development. Richmond has a long tradition of educating lawyers who from the start can function effectively and at a very high level, and who also have the tools to grow and develop within their careers. I look forward to building on that tradition.

The full text of this article originally appeared in Richmond Law magazine. Read the full article.