For The Record

Photograph by Kim Schmidt

There’s an equal thrill and challenge in taking on a newly created position. Without any precedent to follow, you set your own course. When she accepted the new role of associate dean for strategic initiatives, Laura Webb saw an opportunity to channel her longtime interest and expertise in legal communication in new ways.

“The job title is flexible enough to encompass a wide variety of projects,” said Webb, who also is professor of law, legal practice. “That appealed to me — the chance to serve the law school in different ways than I had before and in ways that could help the school run more smoothly, efficiently, and productively.”

Throughout her 15 years at Richmond Law, Webb has worked closely with first-year students to hone their legal writing and analysis skills. “First-year students are really important to me,” she said. “In this new role, I’m thinking about how to get them off to a great start, support them, and make sure they’re thriving in law school.” She has already created training programs and information sessions for peer mentors and section advisors to ensure greater consistency in the information they communicate to first-year students.

In a similar vein, Webb is working with Janice Craft, who heads the law school’s new Professional Identity Formation program, on ways of making the advising program more effective. As Craft encourages students to articulate measurable goals with their advisors, Webb is working with faculty members to ensure the relationships work well. “I’m asking our faculty, ‘What are some common questions that students have for you? What do you need from us for those interactions to go more smoothly?’” she said.

Webb is also diving into the data from the school’s assessment of student learning outcomes. The American Bar Association requires law schools to articulate specific learning outcomes and to assess those outcomes regularly, Webb explains. “It has been a few years since we looked at those outcomes and asked, ‘Are we using the best possible measures to assess them? Are these the precise outcomes we want?’ It’s an exciting project for me. As a faculty member, I previously focused on my own learning outcomes for my courses, but now I’m evaluating them for the entire school.” (Meanwhile, Webb is still teaching two courses: Mindful Lawyer and Art of the Argument.)

The strategic initiatives Webb is working on are reinforcing what attracted her to legal education in the first place: helping students grow, develop, and learn.