A Visionary Dean

Blake D. Morant Takes the Helm at GW Law.

It’s nearly impossible to stand near the dean’s office at GW Law for more than a few minutes without hearing the sound of laughter—not just a chuckle, but a deep, genuine laugh that captivates the room. Since taking the helm as the 19th dean of the George Washington University Law School in September, Blake D. Morant has quickly connected with the GW Law community, warmly engaging with students, faculty, staff, and alumni as he shares his inspirational vision for taking the law school to new heights.

Nationally renowned as an exceptional law school leader, tireless advocate for students, and respected legal scholar, Dean Morant was chosen from an extensive pool of applicants following a nationwide search. For the past seven years, he served as dean of the Wake Forest University School of Law in Winston-Salem, N.C., where he advanced the school’s national reputation and was twice recognized by National Jurist magazine as one of the most influential people in legal education. He is currently president-elect of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) and will assume the presidency in January. A sought-after speaker on legal education, he has published extensively in his areas of scholarly focus: contract theory, media law, and administrative law.

Dean Morant’s journey to law school dean began early in life. Growing up in the small, historic city of Hampton, Va., located across the harbor from Norfolk, he was taught from a young age that education was the route to success. “My mother was the only one of 10 siblings to go to college, and she insisted that her only child be academic and engage in activities promoting a well-rounded sense of citizenship,” he says. 

His formative years were, consequently, filled with substantive activities. He attained the rank of Eagle Scout, served as vice president of his high school student body, honed his public speaking skills as a member of Toastmasters International, and served as solo clarinetist in the school band and a member of the glee club. “I was your classic nerd, studying all of the time,” he jokes. Contemplating career options, “I put all of the pieces together—my sense of curiosity about the world, my love of writing and speaking, and my artistic and creative side—and decided to apply to law school.”

He earned both his bachelor’s and law degrees at the University of Virginia and, most importantly, as an undergraduate, he met his wife of 34 years, Paulette—a member of UVA’s first fully coeducational class. As a law student, he quickly demonstrated his acumen as a leader, establishing a weekly brown bag luncheon to facilitate greater engagement between law school professors and students. “I am proud to say that more than 35 years later, the program is still flourishing,” he says.

After graduating from law school in 1978, Dean Morant—who attended college on a four-year Army ROTC scholarship—served seven years in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps, earning the rank of captain and the Meritorious Service Medal, First Oak Leaf Cluster. For his first tour of duty, he served as the government contracts attorney at Fort Bragg, N.C., charged with directing purchasing activities for the massive military installation. During his time at Fort Bragg, the Pentagon asked him to visit law schools throughout North Carolina to interview students for the JAG Corps. Impressed with the job he was doing, the military moved him to the Pentagon, where he spent the next 18 months recruiting for the JAG Corps at law schools across the country, followed by several years at the administrative law division of the Office of the Judge Advocate General.

 Returning to civilian life, he remained in the nation’s capital, first practicing law at Braude, Marguiles, Sacks and Rephan for three years and then serving as assistant general counsel at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA). Early in his tenure at WMATA, he was hired as a part-time adjunct professor at American University’s Washington College of Law—a pivotal move that changed the trajectory of his career.

“That is where I got my calling to be a law professor,” he says. “I loved teaching law students—the whole idea of imparting theoretical doctrines of law, then showing how it applies in the real world. The experience was phenomenal and absolutely inspirational.”

He launched his full-time professorial career in 1992 at the University of Toledo College of Law in Ohio, receiving five outstanding teaching awards in his five years there. Climbing the academic ladder, he landed a named professorship at Washington and Lee University, where he also served as associate dean for academic affairs and director of the Frances Lewis Law Center—roughly equivalent to associate dean for research and scholarship. Rounding out his résumé were visiting professorships at the University of Michigan Law School and the University of Alabama School of Law, plus a visiting fellowship at University College, University of Oxford.

During his 10 years at Washington and Lee, he began receiving phone calls from law schools around the country encouraging him to apply to be their dean. Initially, he was not interested. “I never, ever planned to be a dean,” he explains. “To me, the best job in the world was teaching students and helping them realize their goals.” But law schools kept calling, and in 2007, he found the perfect fit at Wake Forest.

“It was the right time and place,” he says. “Wake Forest really embodies what I believe an excellent law school should be, with its student-centered, holistic approach to teaching, frequent engagement between faculty and students both inside and outside the classroom, strong sense of community, and focus on educating students to become not only excellent practitioners but also outstanding citizen lawyers who understand the importance of ethics and professionalism and civility.”

At Wake Forest, he quickly built a reputation for excellence, expertly steering the law school through the recession and raising its national prominence. 

In recognition of his many accomplishments, Dean Morant was named the John R. Kramer Outstanding Law Dean by Equal Justice Works in 2010 and received the Chief Justice John Marshall Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012 from the Judge Advocates Association.

Dean Morant simultaneously shared his talent on the national stage, serving in numerous leadership positions over the years at the Association of American Law Schools and the American Bar Association. When the AALS approached him to become president—a role that he will officially assume in early January at the association’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C.—he said yes, eager to spearhead efforts to shape legal education on a national level. Representing 176 law schools and more than 10,000 law faculty members across the United States, the AALS is dedicated to advancing excellence in legal education—a cause that is near and dear to Dean Morant’s heart. 

“In my view, American legal education is considered the gold standard of education around the world for a reason, and its greatest asset—the production of critical, creative thinkers who can provide innovative solutions to the world’s problems—has never been more important,” he says. “There’s been a lot of publicity in recent years about the challenges of American legal education, but not a lot of conversation about the positives. In my view, American legal education remains a vital institution in our democratic society and is envied for a reason. While there are a lot of things we need to change, and they are changing, there is a lot that is foundationally very good.”

Shortly after Dean Morant’s selection as president-elect of the AALS in January, he received a phone call from GW Law Professor Roger E. Schechter, chair of the law school’s dean search committee. “He said that he saw what I am trying to do for American legal education and thought that the George Washington University Law School would be an excellent platform for me to do that from,” the dean says. “I have respected and admired GW Law throughout my career and known many of the school’s faculty members, who are brilliant scholars and wonderfully dedicated teachers.” 

Despite his initial concern that “Wake Forest is a very small law school in a very small city and George Washington is a relatively very large law school in a very large city,” he agreed to an interview. His trepidations were quickly allayed when he met with the search committee. “It wasn’t like an interview—it was like a wonderful conversation,” he says. “And when I came to visit campus last spring, I saw the wonderful sense of community at GW and the intense sense of history of this institution that builds on all the things I’ve wanted to accomplish in terms of my own career. What better place is there to be than the oldest law school in the nation’s capital with its progeny of individuals who are doing amazing things in their professions and affecting the lives of so many?”

During his visit, he met with a number of faculty members, alumni, and students, and, with each conversation, his excitement about GW Law mounted. “Every free moment I had, I would stop students in the halls and ask them how they like it here,” he says, “and every single one talked about how much the law school really cares about them and wants them to succeed. That was incredibly moving for me, because from the time I decided to become a law professor, I’ve wanted to be part of a community that cares deeply about helping students realize their goals. GW Law students recognize the wonderful education they are receiving in a close-knit community in the middle of our nation’s capital, and that is rare to find in an urban law school.”

Since his September arrival on campus as dean and Robert Kramer Research Professor of Law, Dean Morant’s hallmark warmth, clarity of vision, and passion for legal education have been on full display.

“Blake Morant is one of the most skilled law school administrators in the country, with a deep understanding of the challenges now confronting legal education and the ideal skill set to deal with them,” says Professor Schechter. “He is poised to move our institutional profile and all of our programs to an even higher level. Moreover, he combines all that with extraordinary personal warmth and charisma.  Everyone who has met him during the first few weeks he has been on campus has been thoroughly impressed and delighted.”    

As he settles into life in Foggy Bottom, Dean Morant says he’s delighted to be part of the GW Law family. “It is a distinct privilege to serve as dean at this pivotal moment in the history of American legal education and the history of the law school,” he says. “The George Washington University Law School produces consummate professionals who think critically about legal doctrine and understand the holistic nature of our profession. I am thrilled to be here and look forward to working with the many constituencies of this historic institution to continue on an upward trajectory during this time of both challenge and extraordinary opportunity.”

By Jamie L. Freedman
 

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