The Law Dean Series

Susan Duncan

University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law
Susan Duncan
University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law

Our law dean series takes us to Kentucky and the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law. We interviewed Dean Susan Hanley Duncan, an alumnus and professor of the University of Louisville.

Duncan became an adjunct professor at the Brandeis School of Law in 1997 and continued her career as a legal educator, becoming a full time professor of law in 2000 and dean in 2012. She has also served as a visiting professor in countries around the globe, including the University of Montpellier, France; University KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa; Johannes Gutenberg University, in Mainz Germany; the University of Leeds, England; and the University of Turku, Finland.

Dean Duncan is acknowledged for her work in the field of law and legal education, receiving the Louisville Bar Association Distinguished Service Award in 2010 and recognized as one of Business First's "top 20 people to know in the field of education."

When we interviewed Dean Duncan, she reiterated some of the common challenges, changes, and opportunities that law students and legal professionals face, including a tough job market and an increased focus on experiential learning and a law student's need to graduate with the skills necessary to practice immediately after law school, rather than anticipating on-the-job skills training provided by a firm.

Read more about what the Louisville law professor has to say about the future of legal education and the profession as a whole.

What is the biggest challenge facing new law students

Student debt and a stubborn job market. Fortunately, many law schools, including ours, are getting creative with new ways to help aid students financially through added fellowships, work study opportunities and 3+3 programs. The market will get better sooner than later, especially as baby boomers' retirements accelerate and new areas of law emerge, so there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the near future.

What is the single biggest challenge that you face as Dean?

Finding time to maintain strong relationships with our vast alumni base, to manage our faculty and staff, and to be as accessible as possible to our students. We pride ourselves on having a close-knit community and an open door policy, so finding the time to respect that policy can be a challenge at times.

Two other challenges include a decline in the state budget and a decline of LSAT takers. Both greatly impact recruitment.

Which areas of the law do you think will experience the biggest growth over the next few years?

There are a number of growing areas, notably:

  • Intellectual property due to the rise of social media and digital branding and publications.
  • Elder law, with the baby boomers retiring.
  • Labor and employment law continues to grow as wages and franchising both increase.
  • Civil rights law is a hot area right now, with the legalization of same-sex marriage (family law, also) and racial profiling accusations.
  • Immigration law.
  • Energy/environmental law will continue to grow as the private and government sectors work to find alternative energy sourcing.

Is teaching law now different compared to when you were a law student?

Yes, law schools are focusing more on skills (including soft skills) than they did when I was a student. There are also more externship and experiential learning opportunities now.

How do you think technology will impact criminal defense?

Technology now has a big impact on criminal defense as evidence can now be stored electronically and databases are more easily accessible. Also, more evidence is digital now, which has a major impact on how criminal cases are played out both in the judicial court and the court of public opinion. Digital tools will also be used more to help investigations and manage cases.

What do you think are the biggest legal challenges facing the Supreme Court?

The Supreme Court faces many challenges because the Justices address core societal issues that often have no clear answers. These issues many times involve cutting edge topics or constantly shifting public opinions on cultural issues.

Are there any aspects of practicing law you miss due to being in education?

I do miss interaction with clients. No better feeling exists than when you can help someone in a time of crisis. I also enjoyed the intellectual challenge of crafting arguments for my clients.

If you could invite any three legal or governmental identities--living, dead, real, or fictitious--to a meal who would it be?

Justice Louis D. Brandeis, Abraham Lincoln and Hillary Clinton.

What is your favorite legal movie?

To Kill a Mockingbird.