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Meet The Next Dean Of Yale Law School

Alison Freeland
On July 1, Heather Gerken, J. Skelly Wright Professor of Law at Yale Law School, will become the first female dean in the school's history.

Heather Gerken is set to become the first female dean in the history of Yale Law School. She’ll take over as the 17th dean of the law school on July 1.

Gerken has been a professor at Yale for eleven years. She is an expert in constitutional and election law. She says every four years election law professors become extremely popular.

“Election law is the sex, drugs, and rock and roll of legal scholarship because it takes all of these pristine constitutional questions – equality, the right to speak – and it puts them in the down and dirty world of politics.”

Gerken has worked on election reform, and was involved with the Obama campaign in ’08 and 2012. She says she came to this world as a voting rights person.

“If a group doesn’t have equal political power, it’s very hard for it to find equality elsewhere. We always call the right to vote as the guarantor of all other rights.”

Gerken has been instrumental in the move to diversify the student body and faculty at Yale Law School. She is also concerned about graduating lawyers who are not just practice-ready, but also capable of engaging in deep ethical and moral issues of the law. She feels that Yale produces lawyers who are both.

“They are highly skilled…but they are also able to think theoretically, they’re able to have enough peripheral vision to see their place in the world and to think about institutions. I think about them being practice-ready in the grand sense.”

While in the deanship, Gerken will still work with a student clinic that she helped found. The clinic was recently noted for helping to file the first lawsuit against the Trump administration's executive order on "sanctuary cities." Gerken will be the only dean at a top-tier school who also runs a clinic.

“The most sophisticated theoretical law faculty in the world has chosen as their dean someone who also runs a clinic, that really matters if you think about the relationship between practice and theory.”  

Gerken is impressed with the opportunities law students get at Yale, and she wants to build on them.

“I grew up in a household that used the same sort of idea as Marian Wright Edelman, which is ‘service is rent you pay for living.’ It’s just something you should do.”