In January, Penn State’s Dickinson Law announced that Danielle Conway would take the reins as the new dean of the school on July 1.
Conway will replace Gary Gildin, who has served as dean since November 2016 after having served as the interim dean beginning in May 2013.
Conway, who is the dean and professor of law at the University of Maine School of Law, is an expert in public procurement law, entrepreneurship and intellectual property law. She joined Maine Law as dean in 2015 after serving for 14 years on the faculty of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, William S. Richardson School of Law.
Conway also retired in 2016 from the U.S. Army as a lieutenant colonel after 27 years. She earned her juris doctor from Howard University School of Law.
Q. What attracted you to Penn State’s Dickinson Law?
A. The first characteristic of the school Conway noticed was that it has “an outstanding program of legal education” especially in relation to its size. Law schools around the country vary in size, but smaller schools like Dickinson Law allow professors to model professionalism by focusing on the importance and significance of relationships, ethics, discipline, commitment and integrity.
“When you have a commitment to a small cohort, what you are demonstrating is the significance of your relationships with those students, and what those students will take into practice is that same commitment to relationships with respect to their clients,” she said.
Conway said the next significant attraction to Dickinson Law was the depth of the school’s clinical legal education programming, again referencing that one-on-one attention to students to make them practice-ready.
Q. What do you see as challenges facing law schools or the legal profession in general?
A. The greatest issue the profession and the academy face is in how people in the larger community think about the role of lawyers and how they fit within the rule of law, Conway said. That extends to the question of whether or not the rule of law is applying to the greater or larger community.
“Lawyers and law schools have to double down on how we explain to the larger community the significance of the rule of law and how we govern our relationships. We have to double down on our community members understanding the importance of the rule of law to them, why the rule of law is still relevant and actually how fragile the concept of the rule of law is without a collective understanding of its importance in an organized, civilized society,” she said.
Q. How do you see Dickinson Law as it relates to the Carlisle community?
A. From what Conway has seen and experienced so far, she’s learned that Dickinson Law is an institution that has brought pride to the community.
“People know the Dickinson law community. They value it, and they respect it,” she said.
The reverence in Carlisle for the law school provides a template for how a law school and the legal profession itself should interact with, and intervene in, the community during a critical time period characterized by challenges to the rule of law, Conway said.
Conway said it’s a testament to the Dickinson Law community that, along with Dickinson College and the U.S. Army War College among other institutions, it provides “cartilage” to the hold the community together.
“I see that the Dickinson Law community has played a key role in the development of the larger Carlisle community,” Conway said.
Q. Dickinson Law is celebrating its 185th anniversary. What is it like to step into an institution with that kind of history behind it?
A. Conway is celebrating the past as she looks to the future of Dickinson Law.
“It provides a great opportunity and a privilege because the Dickinson Law experience has been an experience of service,” Conway said.
One of the great value propositions of the school is how it has served both the legal profession and the community. Conway said she approaches this 185th year celebration thinking about continuing to deliver this service that the school is known for.
She acknowledges that she is stepping into big shoes with respect to promoting the service mission of the legal academy and the legal profession, but that her experience in service leadership at the University of Maine helped her find and develop her voice as a service leader.
“I’m ready for the challenge,” she said.
Q. What is something about yourself that is interesting or fun for the Carlisle community to know?
Conway may have found her voice, but in violin teacher Dee Dee Oerhtmann, she’s met her match.
“I’m doing Suzuki violin with my son, and I’m absolutely afraid of his violin teacher,” Conway said.
A piano player herself, Conway said the Suzuki method requires a parent to attend lessons and to coach the child as they practice their instrument. Oehrtmann is “phenomenal,” Conway said, and holds the parent as accountable as the child.
“She is a perfectionist, a professional, and she’s about the only person that makes me shudder in my boots,” Conway said.