Dean Limelight: Brooklyn Law School's Nick Allard

Turns out that Nick Allard was a kind of stealth appointment as dean of Brooklyn Law School in 2012. Not that he or the law school’s board of trustees planned it that way. A consummate Washington, D.C., lawyer and lobbyist – Allard was for more than 20 years a partner at Latham & Watkins and then at Patton Boggs, chairing government relations and public policy groups at both firms – he has delivered on his obvious government, agency and institutional connections.

No, the surprise for many was that Allard also had the chops when it came to legal academia. He has served on many academic boards, taught at several law schools and universities, and published scholarly articles on a range of issues including Internet law, new media, public policy and privacy. (He’s still in the classroom at Brooklyn Law, teaching “Privacy Law in a Digital World” and “Government Advocacy.”) He holds alumni leadership roles at his alma maters – Princeton University, where he received his B.A. from the Woodrow Wilson School, and Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar earning an M.A. from Merton College.

The surprise for Allard has been two-fold: First, that in a time of turmoil in U.S. legal education, Brooklyn Law’s trustees continue to insist that he advance the school’s tradition of innovative change. Second, that the job requires a high degree of involvement and responsibility as a civic and community partner outside the law school.

“Thankfully, for someone who has spent his whole professional life at the intersection of law, government and politics, this was a happy discovery — that the skills I’ve developed in those areas won’t be allowed to atrophy in Brooklyn,” Allard told an interviewer. “Do I miss my past life? Hardly; I can’t escape it.”

LAWDRAGON: What drew you into the field of legal academia?

NICK ALLARD: I did not leave a successful, active career navigating the partisan divides and gridlock in our nation’s capital for a pleasant pre-retirement picnic in the Petrified Forest of the Land of Academia, where I could watch the moated Ivory Tower burn down.

I was, instead, eager to use what I had learned from three decades of work to make a difference. People I respected encouraged me to believe that my skill set and motivation were a good fit for the challenges facing legal education. And I had a deep-seated belief in the importance of affordable, quality education and the power of law to change the world.

I have always had a foot planted in higher education while working in private practice, government or politics: as a teacher, author, lawyer and adviser to universities and colleges, trustee, chair of academic search committees and alumni leader. Increasingly, I found that the most interesting part of my day was whatever I was working on that involved education. So it became very attractive to me to apply my experience and become part of an enterprise that helps students enter the honorable profession of law.

I say “honorable” because lawyers have always been enmeshed in the fabric of our democracy. We serve as architects of economic growth and opportunity, champions of liberty and equal justice under law, and guardians of our incredible cantilevered, self-correcting system of limited government. It’s important work, being part of an institution that is launching young people into those careers.

Forgive me for describing as a breathtaking discovery what so many in law schools everywhere have known for so long, but as a dean who is also in the classroom I’ll attest to it being an indescribably gratifying moment seeing the “light go on” when a student suddenly gets it. Another is learning about a problem that you can correct.

LD: What did you think of as your biggest assets and liabilities when you took this job?

NA: The greatest assets, and quite frankly what attracted me to return to my native New York, were the incredible people in the Brooklyn Law School community – and they haven’t let me or each other down.

I’m talking about a board of trustees who were not just open to change, but who were adamant that business as usual was not an option. For example at my very first board meeting in 2012, they instructed me to investigate and to report back on the feasibility and advisability of an accelerated two-year J.D. offering the same quality education. We developed such a program with the full faculty engaged and implemented it 18 months later. The same was the case with their directive to overhaul the broken business model of law schools and, for example, charge less while strengthening the curriculum.

Then there is what I often call our world-class faculty, which is no throwaway line. When I look around our faculty meetings I see Susan Herman, the president of the A.C.L.U.; Joel Gora, who literally wrote the conservative book on campaign finance, and Roberta Karmel, the first woman Securities and Exchange Commissioner who just authored a book on 50 years of decisions by that agency. I see Elizabeth Schneider, who founded the signature Sparer Public Interest Fellowship program, which 28 years ago may have been the first in the country. I see Neil Cohen, who has won more lifetime achievement awards for the depth of his business scholarship than Meryl Streep has for acting, and Marsha Garrison, who has been elected president of the leading international family law organization. I see Associate Dean Stacy Caplow, who has built a large team of award-winning clinical professors – such as immigration specialist Dan Smulian. I see Internet law rock star Jonathan Askin collaborating with former Manatt Phelps partner and community leader Paul Gangsei on entrepreneurship training.

I see Larry Solan, who may be the greatest legal linguist on the planet and with whom I’ve traveled abroad in pursuit of international students and scholars. And I see newly tenured superstars and talented recently hired faculty who are picking up the pace. I could go on, but at the risk of omitting all the others in our galaxy, I will simply say that our faculty are inspiring and leading the way and they are terrific teachers.

Which brings me to our students. They are our purpose, not our excuse for having a law school. We are unwavering in admitting only those who we believe can do well in law school, pass the bar and land good jobs. Given their performance we can proudly say that we know how to pick ’em. One out of nine applicants came to BLS this fall, so we are highly selective. I would not trade one of our newest 400 or any of our upper-class students for all the cheesecake at Junior’s on Flatbush Avenue.

My greatest liability was that I entered the job blissfully ignorant of convention. I didn’t know much and I suspected less. So I might have had what former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan would call “irrational exuberance.” It did enable me to approach every issue by asking quite genuinely the simple question, “Why?”  Sometimes the answer was satisfying. Often it was not, as in “Dunno.” Or “Because we always have.” Fortunately the talented people around me, especially our incomparable staff at BLS, helped ensure that we developed sound answers and, as important, avoided mistakes.

LD: What distinguishes your institution from other law schools?

NA: The four ingrained qualities that flow from our 114-year history in the heart of the legal community in the largest, most vibrant borough of New York City are determination, choice, pride and inclusiveness.

Specifically, students learn legal creativity and tenacity, mental and analytical determination and a predilection for generating legal “work/think-arounds” to obstacles and challenges. Beyond legal knowledge, BLS hones its students with a rare capacity to answer central questions that have not yet been asked, to “figure it out” and to anticipate and solve with clarity of thought.

This special style is nurtured in BLS’s educational culture and ethic – its restlessness, its discomfort with complacency and standard thinking – that has evolved over many years. We produce attorneys whose first reaction to clients isn’t “no, you can’t,” but rather, “let’s explore how you may be able to.” It’s part of the DNA of the law school.

In classes and myriad BLS clinical programs and practical boot camps — including ones that consciously teach creative legal thinking and persistence – students are repeatedly exposed to legal obstacles and are pressed to find solutions. This approach becomes their learned response, giving them the confidence and freedom to be immediately effective and prevail in real-life situations post-graduation. The result is that BLS students emerge as more effective business people, trained thinkers and articulate persuaders — and not limited to legal matters.

By design, BLS expands choices for its students to meet their individual interests and needs. It provides one of the most student-centric, personally tailored law school experiences in the nation, producing unusually confident lawyers with uncommon skills in analyzing, thinking, solving and persuading. Student choice is the driver in courses, specialty concentrations, practice experiences and length of term, ranging from two to four years. “One-size-fits-all” or bureaucratic wholesale “systems” approaches are anathemas at BLS. Here, “student-centric” has specific meaning:

  • Providing a faculty — ranked among the top 50 in the nation — passionate about and trained to support, encourage, mentor and coach students at the highest personal levels.
  • Delivering an individually customized legal education and career development program that enables students to choose how and where to focus and delve deeper into their preferred areas of interest or specialty. In our career advancement counseling, BLS goes far beyond the norm, using search firms, social media and special alumni networking techniques to guide students to where the jobs are and will be, not to where they used to be.
  • Producing students who are among the most employer-ready in the U.S. and who garner the highest levels of employer satisfaction through programs such as the corporate faculty’s compliance curriculum; the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship (CUBE), a hub for exploring legal issues surrounding entrepreneurship; Business Boot Camp, an intense mini-MBA in partnership with Deloitte that is designed to teach law students valuable skills for succeeding in the business world; Public Interest/Public Services Fellowships (PipS), a two-year bridge-to-practice program encompassing the third year of law school and first post-graduate year that enables students to transition to law practice and have a guaranteed public interest-public service job after graduation; Alumni Committed to Employing our Students (ACES), and the Mentor Program, which in 2013 matched 110 BLS students with lawyers practicing in virtually every area of law. These are in addition to clinics and externships.

Relative to many other law schools, BLS provides an optimized and innovative program mix that combines rigorous academics, scholarly theory and highly effective practical legal skills training. The BLS program empowers students by giving them both choice and an especially robust foundation.

BLS’s professional practical training program is rated A+ by The National Jurist and was ranked No. 6 in the country for practical legal training — the only New York law school in the top 25. BLS was included among the “top 20 law schools for clinics” of 200 schools, offering 378 clinical positions in 25 clinics in 2013. BLS places No. 6 in the nation in legal writing. We ranked No. 1 in the “Best General LL.M.” category in the New York Law Journal’s 2014 Reader Rankings Survey.

LD: What are your biggest challenges as dean and how are you meeting them?

NA: When I became dean my first concern was jobs for Brooklyn Law School graduates. That focus hasn’t changed. What has changed is that our graduates are landing meaningful, good jobs at a decidedly better rate than in the recent years of recession. Sure, the economic recovery helps a great deal and so does the quality of our students and their preparation. But, it’s also the result of a dedicated and concerted effort by the entire BLS community and adoption of steps to assist students that reflect changes in the job market.

Our revamped Office of Career and Professional Development is well along in its mission to overhaul our approach to graduate jobs. While we still participate in standard on-campus interviewing, we are directing more energy and resources to other techniques. Gone are the days of one-size-fits-all career placement. Instead, we have introduced “bespoke” customized professional career development for individual students.

For example, students are matched with alumni for one-on-one informational interviews and mentoring — offering direct access to their fields of interest, as well as career insight, job search tips and invaluable face-to-face time with seasoned professionals. We are also opening doors to growing and emerging opportunities such as in compliance, risk assessment and entrepreneurship in nontraditional legal positions where a J.D. fuels job success.

The cost of legal education is my second concern. Brooklyn Law School will cut tuition by 15 percent beginning in academic year 2015-16. This decision has received sustained national attention and helped to continue the much-needed public discussion about skyrocketing tuition at law schools. The fact is that the financial model of law schools is broken. Unless law schools do what they can to make legal education more affordable, they will price themselves out of business, contribute to the high cost of legal services that most people need and widen the gap in access to justice.

It is a shameful canard that student loans and indebtedness are the cause of high tuition. They are not. They are the symptom, not the cause. Tuitions at law schools are soaring, as the American Bar Association and other observers point out, because of the way in which law schools spend money in pursuit of outdated, flawed rankings rather than investing in students, education, professional training and scholarship.

One challenge specific to a subset of law schools is that BLS is a stand-alone; it’s not affiliated with a university. That pushed us up against the recent negativity of credit rating agencies toward law schools, and especially toward independent law schools. With our tuition discount making headlines, Moody’s moved up its review of us – and we proved the critics wrong. We maintained both our ratings and our “stable” outlook.

Actually, it confirms one of my longstanding arguments about financially sound stand-alone law schools: We are the masters of our own destinies and can nimbly make changes others cannot. For example, we’re using our existing revenue budget to strengthen the established core programming, while looking for new revenue sources to spend on innovative initiatives that enhance the traditional curriculum.

This is the case with CUBE, which we launched in November 2013. CUBE trains lawyers to work directly with entrepreneurs and newly formed businesses in the bustling Brooklyn Tech Triangle. Once we committed to the project, we got it up and running very rapidly. If we were part of a university, we might be competing with the business school or be told that there were other priorities for that kind of investment. As it is, we’re able to carry out an idea to fruition in a streamlined fashion. With faculty support and board approval, we “just do it.” 

LD: Are you seeing trends in the jobs your students take after graduation?

NA: Brooklyn Law School was among just 20 law schools to improve their employment rate by 10 percent or more for recent graduates, according to a new National Jurist ranking. The magazine noted that between 2011 and 2013, traditional full-time legal employment jumped 17 percent for BLS graduating classes. Rankings were based on the editors’ own methodology and didn’t count meaningful jobs in compliance and other fields where our graduates are employed. But the attention reflects a larger awareness of our strengths.

The full picture is even rosier: 90 percent of the Class of 2013 was employed in professional jobs where a J.D. is a demonstrable advantage as of February 15, 2014 (the official ABA reporting date). Our students’ marketability is helped by their professional education and training. For example, to meet the demands of roles in compliance, the faculty has developed new financial, corporate and regulatory coursework; produced cutting-edge symposia on these topics, and established the Center for the Study of Business Law & Regulation, as well as the highly respected Brooklyn Journal of Corporate, Financial & Commercial Law.

Thanks to alumni-funded programs such as Business Boot Camp and CUBE, we graduate students with a wealth of real-world business and legal experience, ideal for the current market — a community of makers and entrepreneurs.

LD: What do you do outside the law school when you’re not being dean?

NA: The newest diversion, which is not a distraction in our lives, is our three young grandsons: Teddy (a.k.a. King Theodore I, who reigns in Washington), and grand-twins, Nick and Ben, who are New Yorkers.

When asked about the worst part of my job I usually answer, “All the food.” That’s also one of the best parts of the job, at least in Brooklyn, where experiencing world-class eating is a certainty. It is an uphill battle against temptation.

When not chasing grandchildren or otherwise battling the bulge, theater remains a passion. New York and Washington are heaven-on-earth in terms of theater. I am very active on the board of the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington and my wife, Marla, and I are increasingly active with Theatre for a New Audience in its new home near the law school.

I remain as active as possible and appropriate in my various alumni affiliations, which is sheer fun and an easy way to stay in touch with our many friends. Increasingly I’m being asked to be more involved with Rhodes activities and my Oxford University, which makes me wonder whether there was a terrible fire that destroyed all academic records.

Contact Margot Slade at (646) 722-2623 or