David Van Zandt

These are trying times — not just for law students and law graduates, but for law professors as well. Despite occasional (and unfair) depictions of law profs enjoying lives of leisure and six-figure salaries while their unemployed students suffer, legal academics know that their fates are tied to the health of the legal profession as a whole. Law professors have an interest in seeing that law students land jobs. After all, more employed law grads–>more students going to law school–>more tuition dollars to fund faculty positions (and raises, summer research grants, and sabbaticals).

So law professors are turning their considerable talents towards making legal education a more viable long-term enterprise. Let’s hear one professor’s proposal for reform, and another professor’s optimistic take on the future of legal academia and the legal profession more broadly….

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Last summer, David Van Zandt announced that he was stepping down as dean of Northwestern Law, in order to assume the presidency of the New School here in New York. In the fall, he put his magnificent mansion on the market — for a whopping $4.7 million. (DVZ bought the 6,300-square-foot house, in Chicago’s tony Lincoln Park neighborhood, for $922,550 back in 1996.)

We were impressed. We wrote at the time: “It seems that Dean Van Zandt’s talents extend to real investing as well as academic administration!”

But some commenters were less enthused. Wrote one, “Let’s wait and see how much he actually gets, shall we?” Said a second, “I live in the area…. he will be lucky to get $3.0M.”

We can now report that a buyer has closed on President Van Zandt’s former home. How much did he get for it?

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Almost a year ago, David Van Zandt, one of the most admired figures within legal education, announced his departure as dean of Northwestern Law School. Van Zandt moved to New York, leaving behind his multimillion-dollar mansion in Chicago, to assume the presidency of the New School (a move that made headlines here in NYC).

A search committee went to work, to try and find someone to fill Dean Van Zandt’s large shoes. Today the law school announced its new leader.

The new Northwestern Law dean, like his predecessor, is a distinguished scholar. He also comes with a strong track record as a law school administrator.

Who is he? Let’s find out….

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Santa Claus — aka Bob Morse, rankings czar at U.S. News & World Report — is letting us open our presents early (or at least before midnight). The U.S. News law school rankings were supposed to come out on Tuesday, March 15, but Morse and his colleagues at U.S. News kindly posted them sometime around 10 p.m. Eastern time tonight. Yay!

(You’ll recall the same thing happened last year, too. The rankings were supposed to come out on April 15, 2010, but they were made available online by April 14 at 10:30 p.m., when we wrote about them.)

Now, on to the latest rankings — technically the 2012 law school rankings, but “ranked in 2011,” as noted on the U.S. News website.

We’ll start at the top, with a look at the top 14, or so-called “T14,” law schools. For the first time in ages, there’s a newcomer among their ranks. Guess who?

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment of Size Matters, one of Above the Law’s new columns for small-firm lawyers.

Like many unhappy lawyers, I find Cee Lo Green’s F**k You — which has been picked up by radio stations in a more family-friendly version, Forget You — to be a personal theme song (a la Ally McBeal). Indeed, I often fantasize that I am dancing around my office in an inappropriately short skirt-suit, belting out the chorus to many of my co-workers.

And I am not alone in appreciating the cathartic properties of this special song. We all saw those crazy kids at GWU Law School, in their feather-boa-filled tirade against law school gunners.

Steven Harper, a retired Kirkland & Ellis partner who now teaches at Northwestern Law (and blogs), is the latest to invoke Mr. Lo Green. He seems to be giving the F**k You to Biglaw — and maybe a little bit to former NU Law Dean David Van Zandt, too….

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Isn’t it nice when people who do good also do well? David Van Zandt — the outgoing dean of Northwestern Law, and the incoming president of The New School — is a beloved figure, at NU Law and beyond. Professionally, he’s an innovator in legal education; personally, he’s a great guy. We’re big fans of his here at Above the Law, especially since he once wrote a guest commentary for our pages (on law school rankings).

When Dean Van Zandt announced his departure, Northwestern Law students were heartbroken. But don’t shed tears for DVZ: he’s going to a better place. Hello, New York City! [FN1]

And assuming The New School doesn’t provide its new president with housing, Dean Van Zandt should be able to snap up a fabulous pad for himself here in Gotham. He has put his Chicago mansion on the market, for a very pretty penny. If he succeeds in selling it for anywhere near the asking price, he’ll be able to live large in NYC.

Dean Van Zandt bought the home back in 1996, for $922,550. How much is it on the market for today?

Let’s find out — and ogle some pictures of the house, inside and out….

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Law school deans come, law school deans go, but this departure hurts. As Dean of Northwestern Law School, David Van Zandt has been a strong voice for a more practice-oriented approach to legal education, and he’s been doing it from the unusual perch of top 14 law school.

But at the end of the year he will leave to become the President of the New School. And boy are they happy. From the New School’s press release:

“We are proud to welcome David Van Zandt to The New School,” said Michael J. Johnston, chair of the Board of Trustees. “Since 1919, New School leadership has stood at the vanguard of American higher education. The New School today has emerged as a major degree-granting university with academic strengths in the humanities and social sciences, design, public administration, and the performing arts. I am confident that David Van Zandt will make lasting and meaningful contributions here, building on our legacy of preparing socially responsible citizens for the challenges of the future. I along with the rest of the Board and the university community look forward to working with David.”

Dr. Van Zandt will assume his new position as president of The New School on January 1, 2011. He succeeds the university’s current president, Bob Kerrey, who will remain as New School president until the end of 2010 to ensure a seamless transition. Kerrey, who was appointed in 2001, led The New School during a period of unprecedented growth.

Dean Van Zandt deserves the praise. But the sadness coming out of Northwestern is palpable. The kids at Northwestern Law were very attached to their dean…

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Ed. note: In advance of the soon-to-be-released U.S. News and World Report law school rankings, we wanted to get a fresh take on why the rankings are something we should care about. So we reached out to one of the most well-known proponents of law school rankings, Dean David E. Van Zandt of the Northwestern University School of Law. His guest post appears below.

By David Van Zandt

The debates about the merits of the U.S. News & World Reports annual law school rankings undoubtedly will escalate with the imminent release of the new rankings. The rankings indeed are far from perfect. (I myself think there should be a different weighting of variables.) And we, as legal educators and practitioners, should continue to share our concerns about the methodology and weightings used by U.S. News.

That said, my unpopular position on law school rankings essentially remains unchanged for the past decade. I strongly believe in them. Rankings offer prospective law students an important source of consumer information with which to evaluate law schools.

Frankly, I believe we need more rankings. I especially would welcome additional rankings that would focus on employer perspectives and employment outcomes. Business Week’s rankings of MBA programs, for example, do a much better job of focusing on employers and allowing them to rank graduates of schools based on specific desired qualities and outcomes. However, just having more independent publications (as occurs in the business school world) rank law schools in different ways would help…

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So let’s focus on making them better.

Today, the National Law Journal lets us in on an ambitious project. The publication has tried to identify the 40 most influential lawyers of the decade. The 40 people they came up with are relatively well known to the general Above the Law readership, but they won’t be household names to your lay-friends:

The list spans law firms, academia, government and advocacy groups, but, consciously subtracts a few obvious categories: Members of the Supreme Court and attorneys general, for instance, are generally influential by definition, and they are not included here.

The NLJ was looking for lawyers that don’t get their name in the mainstream media every day:

Instead, we have focused upon lawyers in the following specific practices: antitrust; appellate; bankruptcy; civil rights; corporate; energy and environmental; in-house; intellectual property; labor and employment; legal education; litigation; and regulatory. In other words, we’re primarily focusing on hard-working lawyers who’ve been in the trenches on big deals or major litigation or who have been pioneering at in-house positions or the nation’s law schools.

So, who made the cut?

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northwestern law school.gifEarlier this week, at the PLI Law Firm Leadership and Management Institute — which was excellent, by the way (and not just because we presented there) — Dean David Van Zandt, of Northwestern University School of Law, offered some reflections on the future of legal education. (We used one of his comments as a recent quote of the day.)

Dean Van Zandt’s presentation was thoughtful and thought-provoking. He analyzed a number of recent reforms made by leading law schools. He also explained the changes that Northwestern Law School has made to its academic program.

One of his most interesting tidbits was the starting salary that would constitute a “break-even point” for going to law school. In other words, what salary would you have to earn upon graduation in order to make going to law school an economically rational decision?

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