Shauna Marshall on Rebellious Deaning

Published on: Author: Alina Ball

How does one define effective leadership? And what does progressive leadership look like in the legal academy? These questions are rarely asked and answered in legal scholarship. In her article, Rebellious Deaning: One African American Woman’s Vision of a Progressive Law School, Dean Shauna Marshall tackles these questions head-on while taking the reader on a journey into the belly of the whale of a prominent law school. Dean Marshall achieves this by illustrating how she applied fundamental tenets of community lawyering during her tenure as the Academic Dean of UC Hastings College of the Law. Dean Marshall observes that at UC Hastings, the Academic Dean is the chief academic officer of the law school “and has responsibility for many tasks that are typically done by the dean of a law school embedded in a larger campus.” As a result, the article is a unique glimpse into the inner workings of legal academia and an inspiring vision of what an administrator can accomplish when working collaboratively toward institutional, progressive change.

For the last twenty-five years, social-justice legal scholars and, in particular, clinical professors have used the term “rebellious lawyering” when referring to anti-subordination legal practices. First coined by Gerald López, rebellious lawyering characterizes the gold standard in representing marginalized and poor clients. While rebellious lawyering has been applied in a wide variety of poverty law practices (e.g., civil litigation, refugee representation, community economic development) for close to two decades, Dean Marshall’s article is the first I have encountered to apply the concept of rebellious lawyering to the administration of a law school. She makes it clear that in using the phrase “rebellious deaning” she is referring to her practice of “engaging the full law school community (faculty, students, staff and board) in a collaborative process that develops a progressive vision of legal education and then together create[s] a strategy for implementing that vision.” Her approach to administration was distinct from others before or after her. As she reflects, law schools often run like a hierarchy that has limited understanding of or input from the various constituencies central to its mission, while constituents often have expertise overlooked and not respected in the law school hierarchy. “Law schools,” she writes, “run like republics. . . . With little input from anybody or institution outside the faculty, the faculty makes decisions that affect the work of law school staff, determine the type of education its student body will receive and influences the way in which law, in all its many permutations, is practiced.”

Dean Marshall was for many years a community lawyer, and it shows in her approach to administration. The first steps in her journey to transform the law school were to learn through researching the institution’s history, mapping the current power structure, and listening to the various constituencies within the law school. Her research confirmed Foucault’s claim that “power . . . is not a ‘thing’ but a relationship and process that at times is fluid and can be strategically moved, managed or shifted.” Some of the experiments Dean Marshall conducted worked well, while others were less successful. Nonetheless, she describes an office whose personnel continuously self-assessed what they did and how they did it. Through her relationships with students, staff, faculty, administrators, alumni, and the board of directors, Dean Marshall spearheaded several structural changes at UC Hastings that are now taken for granted as part of the status quo. Her work bought lasting changes to the law school’s culture by expanding the administration so that various constituencies were better served and represented, revising the previously harsh grading curve, and hiring staff who brought compassion, energy, new ideas, and organization to the law school. Although she concludes the article lamenting that the hard-won victories of her tenure did not usher in even more foundational changes at UC Hastings, Dean Marshall’s leadership has undoubtedly transformed the landscape of UC Hastings for the better.

I joined the faculty at UC Hastings during the first academic year after Dean Marshall’s retirement. I vividly recall my first clinical-faculty retreat where one of my colleagues acknowledged in a voice choked with emotion and tears in her eyes what a loss to UC Hastings Dean Marshall’s retirement would be. While I believed the statement to be true based on my earlier, albeit limited, interactions with Dean Marshall, I was not fully aware of the profound meaning of my colleague’s declaration until I read this article and learned how many characteristics of present-day UC Hastings were in fact innovations of Dean Marshall’s tenure.

UC Hastings is a unique institution as the nation’s only freestanding public law school. Being unattached from a central university campus poses both challenges and opportunities for UC Hastings that other law schools are not likely to encounter. Notwithstanding, Dean Marshall’s account of her deanship at UC Hastings is illustrative in a number of key respects. In particular are the following transferable takeaways that are informative in the quest to transform the legal academy. The prior experiences of an administrator will surely shape how they perform their administrative duties and craft a vision for the law school. Thus, law schools gain tremendously by filling administrative positions with those who have community-lawyering backgrounds because they bring with them a willingness to listen and collaborative working styles. Additionally, inclusive and participatory processes not only facilitate but also sustain progressive change, which is acutely important given the inertia of law schools. Lastly, the change we want to see in our profession needs to be modeled within our law schools.

In her role as Academic Dean, Dean Marshall sought to strategically use her influence to amplify efforts and promote ideas of others towards a new vision for UC Hastings. Her textured description of her leadership, much like López’s groundbreaking definition of rebellious lawyering twenty-five years prior, provides us all with inspiration for how we can use our influence as faculty, scholars, and lawyers more rebelliously to achieve progressive change around us.