Donald Polden

Donald J. Polden

Dean Emeritus, Professor of Law

Donald J. Polden served as dean of Santa Clara University School of Law from 2003 to 2013 and he has taught courses in antitrust law, mergers and acquisitions, sports law, non-profit organizations and leadership skills and development for lawyers.  He is a nationally known expert in the areas of employment and labor law, leadership, and antitrust and trade regulation law and policy.  

Polden launched one of the first leadership development and training programs at American law schools more than two decades ago and has been referred to as “the grandfather of leadership education for lawyers.”  Because of his work in lawyer leadership, he is frequently asked to lecture on the subject including at the U.S. Army’s Judge Advocate General’s College.  He is the co-author (with Barry Posner of “The Leadership Challenge”) of “Leading in Law: Leadership Development for Law Students” (Carolina Academic Press) as well as many journal articles on leadership training. He joined with several leading leadership educators to form the Section on Leadership of the American Association of Law Schools which he served as chair in 2021.  He is also co-author of a book on leadership and ethics in sports, a contributing author of a chapter on leadership of the compliance and risk management function in Routledge Handbook of Risk Management and the Law (2023), and author of a chapter on strategic leadership skills of law deans. In promoting the importance of leadership development by lawyers and law students, Polden is responsible for the creation of Santa Clara’s Institute for Lawyer Leadership Education. 

Polden is frequently called upon by media outlets for his insights into contemporary competition and employment law issues, including litigation involving competitive practices by technology companies in Silicon Valley.  He also consults with law firms on litigation, including service as an expert witness.  Prior to entering the legal academy, he litigated antitrust cases in federal courts including several jury trials and litigation in federal appellate courts.  His antitrust law scholarship has been cited by the United State Supreme Court and state and federal courts.  

As Dean of Santa Clara’s law school, Polden launched a comprehensive effort that resulted in the construction of Charney Hall, a contemporary structure for a modern American law school.  Prior to joining the faculty as Dean at Santa Clara, Polden served as Dean of the University of Memphis Law School from 1993-2003.  He also served in leadership roles within the American Bar Association including his service as Chair of the ABA’s Standard Review Committee during its comprehensive review of national accreditation policies. 

He was elected to membership in the American Law Institute in 1992, where he has served on several consultative groups.  He was selected for membership in the College of Labor and Employment Lawyers and received the Owens Lawyer of the Year Award from Santa Clara University Law School.


J.D., cum laude, Indiana University School of Law, Indianapolis, 1975

B.B.A., George Washington University, 1970

Areas of Specialization

Leadership for Lawyers, Antitrust Law, Employment and Labor Law, Law of Non-Profit Organizations, and U.S. corporations law.

Affiliations and Honors

Fellow, American Bar Foundation