Annette Clark began her tenure as dean of the School of Law on July 1. Since 1989, Clark has been on the faculty of Seattle University School of Law where she served in the roles of interim dean, associate dean and vice dean. In her first week at SLU, Clark spoke with the School of Law about her academic experience, her move to St. Louis and what attracted her to the University.
Your joint J.D. and M.D. background is very distinct among law deans. How has this influenced your approach to helping a law school succeed?
|Annette Clark, M.D., J.D.
Unlike some who have combined medical and legal education, I found my dual training to be remarkably compatible with each other as well as mutually reinforcing. I think that's because I view both the medical and legal professions as service professions, and because both require the development of high-level analytical reasoning and problem-solving skills. In obtaining both degrees, I've seen firsthand the value of interdisciplinary discourse and exploration and the way in which the study and practice of law is deepened and enriched by incorporating knowledge from other disciplines. I've enjoyed the opportunity to interpret, mediate and translate between medicine and law-two professions that I believe could benefit from further collaboration-and to help health care providers and lawyers better understand each other and to see the value of seeking common ground. I also think that going back and forth between medicine and law has helped me to learn better communication skills, particularly how to listen to what others are saying. In essence, my dual education and training has taught me a great deal about what it means to be a professional, and I think that perspective will be invaluable to me as I step into the deanship at SLU LAW and work to move the law school forward.
- You spent most of your academic career at Seattle University School of Law, which you joined in 1989. What attracted you to making the transition to the dean of Saint Louis University School of Law?
I think what attracted me most was a strong sense that Saint Louis University School of Law (as experienced through its faculty, staff, students and alumni) and I are a great fit. I hope that Professor Emerita Sandra Johnson doesn't mind, but I want to quote an email comment that she made to me on her final day as interim dean, which was "You are so very SLU already, that it's remarkable." I take that to be a compliment of the highest order because this is a remarkable community, one that is genuinely dedicated to collegiality and to the personal and professional growth of all of its members. I have been struck by the number of SLU LAW alumni who have reached out to me to tell me that they too were transplants from the Pacific Northwest and wanted to let me know what a great place I was going to, how wonderful the people are at the law school, and how much I was going to love St. Louis. Each law school has its own unique culture and this is one that I felt drawn to from my very first conversation with Professor Michael Korybut and the dean search committee.
- During your meetings with the SLU LAW community before accepting the deanship, you spoke a lot about social justice and SLU's Jesuit mission. How do these values factor into your vision for the next phase of legal education at SLU?
I genuinely believe that a life in the law is a call to leadership in the service of others, particularly for those who are marginalized, voiceless, or invisible, and for whom the notion of justice is far
more than an academic enterprise. We are fortunate that the legal profession increasingly acknowledges service as a core attribute of the profession, but as a Jesuit law school, SLU LAW is uniquely situated to play a leading role in educating lawyers-in-training on the reciprocal notions of privilege and responsibility. This commitment is clearly stated in SLU LAW's mission statement: "The mission . . . is to advance the understanding and the development of law and prepare students to achieve professional success and personal satisfaction through leadership and service to others." When I spoke to the SLU LAW community during the interview process I talked of my aspiration to name and claim that mission, to work with the law school community to ensure that it's a genuine and lived mission. And to ensure when students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of the law school speak of what makes it such a special place, this genuine commitment to leadership within society and to serving others is at the heart of what SLU LAW is all about. My goal is to start us on a path of intentionally working toward an integration of that commitment into our entire program of legal education.
- What is the most important thing the SLU community should know about you?
I feel profoundly privileged and honored by the SLU community's trust in me, and I will put my heart and soul into leading Saint Louis University School of Law in this next, exciting phase of its history; I value integrity above almost all else and am committed to maintaining a level of consistency and congruence in who I am as a person and as a professional, what I value, what I say and what I do; and I will strive to keep the best interests of the students at the center of our decision-making processes.
- You've just recently moved to St. Louis. How has this transition been going?
I've been in St. Louis for just a few days now and am already beginning to feel at home. Perhaps it was the familiar Seattle-like experience of rain on the Fourth of July, although I am definitely not used to rain and 90-degree temperatures at the same time! I've driven around and gotten my bearings a bit, although anyone who knows me knows I am hopelessly directionally challenged. Even with my smart phone, I'm afraid that my huge paper map of St. Louis will be sitting on my dining room table for the foreseeable future. In terms of the transition, while we're all familiar with tasks such as cleaning out an office or a closet, I feel as if this has been a process of cleaning out my entire life. It has given me a wonderful opportunity to take stock, both professionally and personally, to relive and store up some wonderful memories, and to discard that which is no longer useful. I am most looking forward to creating a new home for myself, and by home, I mean not just the physical space in St. Louis where I'm living, but also the new community of people that I'm joining. I'm at a point where it's liberating and exciting to make this kind of wholesale change and I'm eager to see what awaits me in this next chapter in my life.