Santa Clara Law’s first female dean brings commitment to innovation in challenging times.
By Susan Vogel
When Dean Donald J. Polden announced his retirement as dean last October after a decade of service, it was a time for both concern (who would fill his shoes?) and reflection on the future of Santa Clara Law. The economic crisis of 2009 had rattled the profession. Nationwide, law school applications are down 42 percent, and many people are questioning whether an expensive law school education is worth the investment.
Finding a new dean involved reassessing the very nature of the role of a law school dean in a changing world, economic landscape, and profession. The uncertainty of the future of legal education meant the position also required someone with flexibility and a willingness to embrace new ideas. After a six-month search, Santa Clara University chose Lisa Kloppenberg as its 14th dean. Not only did she meet all of the criteria for the position, but she also demonstrated a longstanding commitment to education of the whole person and a track record of innovation.
In October, Provost Dennis Jacobs assembled a nine-member search committee chaired by Bradley Joondeph, SCU Inez Mabie Distinguished Professor of Law and now associate dean for academic affairs. The committee spent three months working with faculty, students, staff, and alumni to identify what Santa Clara Law needed in a dean.
One thing that emerged was that Santa Clara Law’s future dean was not going to follow the model of the past few decades. “The nature of the job has changed,” says Joondeph. “It used to be that current faculty members were called on to act as dean for a few years. Now, it’s a big, really challenging job.”
In addition to being a recognized scholar, “the dean has to be able to manage the complexity of running the organization,” says Joondeph. “The dean must also grapple with the difficult long-term questions of who we are, what our priorities are, what is the right size for the law school; how we make sure we are providing the best quality of education based on what we charge; plus raising money, and dealing with staffing and HR issues.”
The committee reached out to 100 potential applicants nationwide and received nearly 50 applications, almost triple the applications received in 2002. Ten top candidates were interviewed and five finalists invited to campus for two grueling full-day interviews starting at 7:30 a.m. “It was a good trial run on what it’s like to be a dean,” says Joondeph.
The committee then presented the five finalists to Santa Clara Law and collected input from faculty, deans, staff, students, and alumni. “We summarized the feedback and presented it in a report to the provost and the president, Michael Engh, S.J.,” Joondeph says.
In his announcement of her appointment, Engh said Kloppenberg’s “understanding of current-day challenges to legal education and her commitment to Jesuit, Catholic ideals of educating the ‘whole person’ make her a wonderful fit for SCU.”
“It is with great enthusiasm that we welcome Lisa Kloppenberg to Santa Clara University, and look forward to working with her to build upon the proven strengths of our law school. Her understanding of current-day challenges to legal education, and her commitment to Jesuit Catholic ideals of educating the ‘whole person’ make her a wonderful fit for SCU.”
—MICHAEL ENGH, S.J.
Kloppenberg grew up in West Covina, a suburb of Los Angeles, and the town of Goleta, near Santa Barbara. She spent four years at a Christian primary school before enrolling in a Catholic high school where she developed a love of writing. Her mom, who had not had the opportunity to attend college, was the first of several female mentors for Kloppenberg. “She was the one who really pushed education for us,” she says.
As a child, Kloppenberg was very self-directed. “At age five, I had to-do lists and I would check things off. I was born organized. I was no Santa Barbara surfer girl!” She helped put herself through University of Southern California’s undergraduate journalism program by working as a waitress and a newspaper intern. Kloppenberg didn’t meet a lawyer until her third year of college when a practicing attorney taught her First Amendment class. “I was a middle-class kid who had never been exposed to lawyers. Before that class I had never thought of law school.” As she approached graduation in 1984 with degrees in English and journalism, she carefully weighed her career options. Though she was single, she was thinking ahead. “I loved writing but didn’t necessarily want to do broadcast journalism where you’re moving your family around. I was trying to think of what would give me some leadership opportunities, some economic stability, and make it easier to have a family as well, so it seemed that law school would really keep my options open.”
During law school at the University of Southern California Law Center (now USC Gould School of Law) Kloppenberg held a variety of part-time jobs, including waitressing, writing tutor for football players, and as a resident hall assistant, supervising 12 other RA’s and 600 students. She trimmed down her work schedule during her last year of law school when she became editor of the law review.
At USC Law, Kloppenberg met a teacher who would become her lifelong mentor and friend, longtime USC dean and later Federal Judge Dorothy Wright Nelson. “Her’s was the best class I had in law school, because she got us out of the classroom and into the courts talking to the judges and the lawyers so we could see what it was really like,” she explains. “We visited mental health court—in an old pickle factory near Dodger Stadium—as well as juvenile court, traffic court, and prison. We talked about issues of judicial reform and alternatives to reduce cost and increase satisfaction. I became very invested in mediation.” Kloppenberg clerked for Judge Nelson after graduation.
Eager to practice First Amendment law, Kloppenberg joined the D.C. law firm Kaye, Scholer, Fierman, Hays, and Handler. The practice area “evaporated” she says, when the lawyer she worked for won a big case that made it harder for plaintiffs to sustain claims against journalists. Kloppenberg moved to a civil litigation practice and honed alternative dispute resolution (ADR) skills in the firm’s “very active ADR practice, which was unusual at the time.” There she also had the opportunity to work with the nationally renowned mediator Ken Feinberg, who has recently been involved with the Gulf Oil disputes and disbursement of the 9/11 funds.
Kloppenberg had married Mark Zunich, whom she had met as an undergrad during a yearlong study abroad program in Canterbury, England. A psychology major, he had begun law school, at American University in D.C., after Kloppenberg had finished at USC. Once the couple had young children, she says, they “realized that big firm practice did not provide the family life we wanted. We needed more flexibility and more time.” At the same time, she adds, “Additionally, it just wasn’t fulfilling enough to me. They were great clients, but it didn’t offer the kind of satisfaction, long term, I was looking for. So after four years of practice, I went on the teaching market when Mark finished law school.”
Her first teaching position was at University of Oregon School of Law. She taught federal courts, civil procedure, and constitutional law and helped to set up the school’s ADR program. By the time she received tenure, law schools were courting her for dean positions. When University of Dayton, in Ohio, one of the 10 largest Catholic universities in the country, came calling, she was intrigued. “Dayton’s values were such a good fit: Marinist Catholic, a warm community, very welcoming and very much about fairness, equity, and social justice,” she says.
As dean of the University of Dayton, Kloppenberg initiated one of the nation’s first accelerated two-year programs in which highly motivated students attend school year-round. Created in 2005, one of the main goals of the program was to help reduce the cost of a legal education.
Kloppenberg’s record at Dayton reflects a dedication to ADR, a concern for the affordability of law school, and a commitment to getting students on-the-ground experience so they are prepared for practice. In 2005, to help reduce the cost of a legal education, Kloppenberg initiated one of the nation’s first accelerated two-year programs in which highly motivated students attend school year-round. “Students save a year in living expenses and are out earning sooner,” says Kloppenberg.
Her fundraising yielded a 34 percent increase in endowed scholarships. (Kloppenberg and Zunich themselves established an endowed need-based scholarship.)
To help students gain the perspective that she had found in Judge Nelson’s class, Kloppenberg created Lawyer as Problem Solver, an innovative lawyering curriculum covering skills students needed to practice, ADR training, capstones, and externships.
“When students get out of the classroom and into the courts and ADR settings, they come back to the classroom engaged differently, thinking, ‘here is why I need to care about the rules of civil procedure, here is why evidentiary rules matter,’” says Kloppenberg. “They’re no longer abstract concepts, but part of the puzzle of representing a client. The program received a lot of national recognition. I am very proud of that.”
To teach lawyers “that they don’t work in a vacuum,” she encouraged faculty members to develop co-curricular programs involving the law, business, and engineering schools, and arts and sciences. “We work in courts, we work with clients, we work in a business context or a family context. We are not in isolation. We can’t only think of the law. There are other motivators and drivers of people’s behaviors.”
Kloppenberg also made student and faculty diversity a priority. “That was really important and challenging in Ohio,” she says. Other accomplishments she presided over were the creation of an LL.M. degree and a law and technology master’s degree for non-lawyers, and increased student pro bono and community service opportunities and hours.
“She has a proven track record as a very successful dean. Her deanship at Dayton was characterized by significant change. She showed a willingness to embrace new strategies and really be a pioneer. She has been ahead of the curve nationwide with respect to a number of innovations in legal education.””
A LAW SCHOOL ON THE MOVE
Kloppenberg learned about the Santa Clara Law dean’s position from an SCU alumna who had been dean at Notre Dame Law School. She saw it as a great opportunity for her career and her family.
Careerwise, she was attracted by the chance to work in a Jesuit setting. “I see a lot of similarities between the Marinists and the Jesuits: Real concern for the poor and the marginalized, a real sense of international connection, that sense that we are part of something much larger than ourselves, and the emphasis on the whole person,” she explains.
And she was excited to work for a law school that is “on the move” in terms of its three core strengths. “High technology, international, and social justice are complementary and they make so much sense when we think about the future,” says Kloppenberg. “We know that we are getting increasingly globalized in the legal profession, that there’s all this unmet legal need among the citizenry, and that intellectual property is such a valuable resource—for many corporations, the most valuable resource. That combination of programs makes sense for the University’s values, the legal profession, and the region.”
Santa Clara Law’s location was also a major attraction for Kloppenberg. Not only would it bring her family closer to grandparents on both sides, but it also was a clear advantage in guiding a law school through challenging economic times. “Santa Clara is in a perfect location,” she says. “Being right in the heart of Silicon Valley at a time when technology and international law are so important gives students so many dynamic opportunities: externships, jobs, alumni mentors, and the adjunct professors who are able to provide that important context for the legal concepts they are learning. If you look to the future, you can’t find a better marketplace than Silicon Valley.”
While many candidates for the deanship had excellent academic and scholarly credentials, what tipped the scales in Kloppenberg’s favor were the high marks the committee gave her as a highly effective communicator and listener committed to transparency and to innovation. “She has a proven track record as a very successful dean,” says Joondeph. “Her deanship at Dayton was characterized by significant change. She showed a willingness to embrace new strategies and be a pioneer. She has been ahead of the curve nationwide with respect to a number of innovations in legal education.” Plus, says Joondeph, throughout the interview process, “we all had the feeling ‘this is a thoughtful, nice, caring person.’ We felt her personal warmth and interest.”
THE FIRST 100 DAYS
Kloppenberg began her five-year term as dean on July 1. Her family quickly settled into the Bay Area. Zunich will be looking at opportunities for the next phase of his career. Daughter Kellen enrolled in Notre Dame High School in San Jose for her senior year of high school. Their son, Nick, a recent Dayton graduate, is working at the University of Oregon. Son Tim is finishing up a degree in marketing and entreprenuership at the University of Dayton. “For our family, the chance to stake roots again in California after twenty-five years is a blessing,” she says.
Santa Clara Law has been so welcoming, she says. “I’m impressed by the faculty. Not only are they brilliant, they are committed to the students. And the staff is so caring. This is a nurturing place.”
Kloppenberg did not arrive with any plans for changes at Santa Clara Law. “The Jesuit tradition” she says, “is to listen for a hundred days.” Kloppenberg says she is listening “to students, alumni, faculty, staff, and others who are invested in the Law School,” in order to “think hard about our future. We are strong now, but how do we grow even stronger for the future so we can be one of the law schools that comes out of this downturn in a positive and dynamic way?”
THE ROAD AHEAD
According to Kloppenberg, she sees the challenges the Law School faces as the challenges of our entire legal system, beginning with the simple fact that legal services are simply too expensive. “There is a whole section of the middle class who wouldn’t think of going to a lawyer even if they should. I am deeply concerned about the cost of legal services and the impact on the poor of our society. That’s one of the reasons I am such a big proponent of ADR.”
SHARE YOUR IDEAS
Lack of access to lawyers undermines the public’s faith in the entire justice system, says Kloppenberg. “If people don’t feel they can afford lawyers, they don’t feel that justice is accessible to them. That’s a real problem. We are only going to be able to have a rule of law and a democratic system if people feel they have some connection to it.”
Access to law school is another great concern of hers. “There is a tremendous gap in our society. Young people who don’t know lawyers but are the kids who need to grow up and represent their communities, whether immigrant communities or others, do not have access to law school. I strongly feel that we need to do more to provide need-based scholarships and support for students and be conscious, as we come out of this economic crisis, about how to keep costs down. You want high quality, but do you have to do everything the way it’s always been done?”
Kloppenberg hopes to continue in her legal scholarship and teaching. “It’s important for the dean to model the values we care about in the academy, and scholarship is a big part of it. I won’t teach the first year, but I love to teach,” she says. She will also continue working on her official biography of Judge Nelson.
Kloppenberg does not see being Santa Clara Law’s first female dean a challenge in itself. “I think I am quite fortunate here at Santa Clara Law in that there has been strong leadership by women faculty members and associate and assistant deans. There are so many others who have blazed the path for me. The respect is already there.”
As she takes in everything she learns, she does so with an eye toward building consensus, another skill she learned from her mentor, Judge Nelson, who she describes as “a real peacemaker and community builder.”
“I think that’s what my vocation is,” says Kloppenberg. “I try to build community, make everyone feel included, recognizing that different people bring different expertise and perspectives that are important.”
“Peacemaking doesn’t mean that we agree at the end of the day, but that there’s a process so that people can be heard, listened to, and that you decide things in a fair way.”
SUSAN VOGEL is a frequent contributor to Santa Clara Law.