For The Record

Dean Wendy Perdue reflects on Richmond Law’s history, legal education, and the legal profession.

What do you think explains the school’s longevity?
150 years is a long time, but it’s also just the beginning. We’ve always had dedicated faculty and terrific students. We have always been a school that teaches students about the law and how to be great lawyers. That’s reflected in the success of our graduates, including the number of our alums who are judges. We’ve long had a reputation as a school that’s a great place to go if you want to learn how to be a terrific lawyer.

What are some of the most significant differences between the profession then and now?
The biggest difference is that we are a more diverse profession — not nearly as diverse as we should be but dramatically more so than 150 years ago. In that era in Virginia, there were very few women and African American lawyers. For example, the 1880 census lists a single African American woman lawyer, and she was a clear exception. Today, over half of U.S. law students and 40% of law deans are women, and about 30% of students and 20% of law deans are people of color. That’s dramatically different than even when I was in law school. We’re making progress, but there is still more work to be done.

Stay curious and stay connected.

What remains the same?
The qualities that make terrific lawyers haven’t changed: judgment and character and commitment to service; the ability to communicate effectively and problem-solve.

What are some of the major RECENT changes in legal education?
When I became dean in 2011, we were in the midst of the Great Recession. From 2009 to 2011, legal education was feeling the impact of that pretty dramatically. One of the effects was that law schools became even more focused on skills training and assuring that their graduates were really ready to practice law when they graduated. That was something which we were already doing well, but we, like all law schools, focused even more attention on that area. We focused in particular on our legal writing program and hired five full-time legal writing faculty. As a result, every first-year student gets terrific hands-on training in writing, and this has become a signature strength for us.

What is your advice to up-and-coming lawyers?
Stay curious and stay connected. Stay curious because there are always new laws, new fields, new issues, and also stay curious about the clients and everyone you’re dealing with. You’ll be a much better lawyer because you’ll be responsive to what’s really at stake. But also stay connected. Law is a a people business, and all lawyers are better off if they are connecting with their fellow lawyers and their communities and everyone around them.