Alumni Q & A: Johanna Bond ’96, Incoming Dean of Rutgers Law School
Johanna Bond ‘96 is the Sydney and Frances Lewis Professor of Law at Washington and Lee University School of Law. She will become the new dean of Rutgers Law School on July 1, 2023.
She recently spoke with Minnesota Law about the importance of law schools providing high-quality, accessible legal education to a diverse range of students. She also discussed how Minnesota Law helped develop her future leadership skills through experiential learning opportunities in human rights law and social justice work that took her all over the globe. While she doesn’t officially start her new role as dean of Rutgers Law until July, Bond is enthusiastic about her new role and building strong connections with faculty, staff, alumni, and students that highlight the public mission of her law school.
What are the biggest challenges or opportunities for law schools today?
The biggest ongoing challenge for law schools is to provide a high-quality, affordable legal education that prepares diverse graduates for rewarding legal practice. Issues of access and affordability should be front and center in the conversations about the future of law schools. Law schools must answer the call to diversify the legal profession and devote resources to building pipelines to law school for students who might not otherwise have the opportunity or inclination to attend law school. A related challenge is ensuring that law schools offer an inclusive environment that allows each student to thrive and to take advantage of all the opportunities that law school offers. Law schools also have a role in sustaining democracy by producing lawyers who invest in their communities and contribute to building a better world.
How did your time at Minnesota Law prepare you for a law school leadership role?
Minnesota Law offered me many opportunities to develop my professional identity, which became important as I sought out leadership opportunities later in my career. As a second-year law student, I received a grant from the Minnesota Human Rights Center that allowed me to travel to Cambodia to work on women’s human rights. I showed up for this summer internship in Phnom Penh with no phone, no local currency, and only a vague promise of housing. I was, however, scrappy and resourceful, and I learned so much about the actual practice of human rights law while gaining greater competence working across cultures. That same summer, I had the opportunity of a lifetime to travel to the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, to work with the International Women’s Rights Action Watch (IWRAW), which was housed at the University of Minnesota. As a law student, I worked with human rights activists from around the world to draft the Platform for Action, the outcome document that described the global commitment to advance women’s human rights in 1995. All of these experiences allowed me to envision myself as a successful lawyer and to further develop my commitment to social justice, which has been central to my vision for law school leadership.
I had incredible teachers at the U, and I made an effort to get involved beyond the classroom. I worked as a research assistant for one of my favorite professors, Mary Louise Fellows. I also took every class offered by Professor john powell when he was director of the law school’s Institute on Race and Poverty. john became a trusted mentor and friend after I graduated, and I still think about the significant role he played in shaping my worldview. Carol Chomsky is another professor who modeled what it means to be an academic who is engaged in scholarship and activism to make the world a better, more just place. Each of these professors not only taught me what I needed to know about the substantive law, but they inspired me to think creatively about using the law to promote social justice.
What advice would you offer to a law student today?
Take risks. Sign up for courses that might spark a new interest or introduce you to an unexpected career path. There are many ways to enjoy success as a lawyer, and you may have an unconventional path. It is most important to find something that is intellectually exciting and that you enjoy doing. I had one year between graduation and the beginning of my clerkship in U.S. District Court, and I spent it as an independent contractor working on a range of human rights projects. During this year, I had the opportunity to travel to Nepal, Bulgaria, Macedonia, and the Netherlands for human rights projects that included work on human trafficking, domestic violence, and sexual harassment. It was an outside-the-box approach to legal employment for the year, but it worked out well and I gained significant experience on a range of women’s human rights issues. Although it was not particularly lucrative work, I was able to pay my rent and defer my loans while gaining a wide range of experience that opened the door to my first law teaching job at Georgetown. Take strategic risks; you never know how they will shape your future.
Minnesota Law is about to embark on a search for a new permanent dean. What qualities do you think are most crucial for a law dean to have?
One of the things I learned through the dean search process is that it is all about values. Deanships work best when the dean deeply appreciates and shares the core values of the law school. In my case, I am thrilled to return to New Jersey to be the dean at Rutgers Law, an institution that shares my commitment to access, affordability, experiential education, and social justice. This match between personal and institutional values is critical. Other essential qualities for a dean are a high degree of emotional intelligence, strong communication skills, diplomacy, and tenacity. In the polarized climate in which we find ourselves, senior administrators must have the ability to bring people together in common cause.
What steps are you thinking of taking to get to know the faculty, staff, and culture at Rutgers?
I love this question, because I have already begun to get to know the faculty, staff, and culture at Rutgers. Although I haven’t officially started yet, my days are filled with conversations with faculty and staff at Rutgers. Like any good academic, I try to do my research, so I have been trying to learn as much as I possibly can about Rutgers Law School and Rutgers University before I start on July 1. Rutgers Law has two campuses, one in Newark and one in Camden, and I will be the first single dean overseeing both campuses. Each campus has its own culture and way of doing things, so I have a lot to learn right out of the gate. I could not be more thrilled to be joining the Rutgers community, a group of extraordinarily committed teachers, scholars, and staff who embody the school’s student-centered approach in everything they do. I feel very fortunate.
What is one accomplishment that you would find very satisfying in your first year as a dean?
I would love to connect with a significant number of alumni and re-connect them to the law school. It’s easy, particularly at a large, public law school, for graduates to lose that connection to their school over time. Those relationships need to be nurtured, and I look forward to this work. Many Rutgers and Minnesota students feel that their school’s public mission resonates deeply with them. Alums appreciate that, as public flagships, both institutions offer a pathway to legal education for students within the state. Engaging alums in a way that reconnects them with that core mission will be important. Rutgers also has a phenomenal Minority Student Program, which I plan to heavily invest in and support, that provides ongoing support to students who opt into the program after they have been admitted. The program has had a significant impact on the lives of so many of our graduates. I would consider it a success if after my first year this program has room to grow and to continue to support students throughout their Rutgers Law journey.
I also want to continue the Rutgers Law tradition of community engagement. Rutgers Law takes seriously its commitment to its anchor communities of Newark and Camden. The clinics work with underserved populations in each city, and the faculty, more than any other faculty that I have seen, works to produce scholarship that has a real impact in the community and improves the lives of community members. Through this work both inside and outside of the classroom, Rutgers faculty is driving home for students the importance of lawyers as change makers. I am inspired by this partnership between the law school and its local communities, and I hope to support and expand this work in a way that promotes social justice in our backyard as well as around the globe.