Jane Aiken announces plans to step away as WFU School of Law Dean

University of Notre Dame Law Professor Nell Jessup Newton named interim dean

exterior of the law school

After three years of dedicated service to Wake Forest University, Jane Aiken will step away from her role as Dean of the School of Law on July 31.

Aiken will take a research leave to work on issues of the criminalization of the exercise of reproductive rights as consulting counsel with National Advocates for Pregnant Women. Following her research leave, Aiken plans to return to the faculty as a University Professor.

“Dean Aiken led the Wake Forest School of Law during a tumultuous time for legal education. With her expert guidance, the School of Law successfully adapted to continuing changes in the industry and changes to the law school experience forced by the pandemic,” wrote Wake Forest President Susan R. Wente and Provost Michele Gillespie, in today’s announcement to the campus community. “We are immensely grateful for Dean Aiken’s service to Wake Forest and our broader community.”

During Aiken’s tenure, the School of Law realized enhanced enrollment, job placement, bar passage, rankings and philanthropic support.

Among the highlights of Aiken’s deanship:

  • U.S. News currently ranks Wake Forest Law No. 37, up four spots from 2021.
  • Wake Law’s entering JD class this fall is anticipated to be one of the most highly credentialed in the School’s history, setting standards for average LSAT scores and undergraduate GPA.
  • Aiken has led a highly successful philanthropic effort for the school, securing more than $18 million over the past three years in commitments for scholarships, faculty support and innovative academic programs. This year, she broke all previous fundraising records for Wake Law.
  • The American Bar Association (ABA) recently released the law school employment results for 2021 graduates from law schools across the U.S. Wake Forest Law ranked No. 3 out of 196 law schools in the number of graduates employed in full-time, long-term positions requiring a bar license or for which the JD is an advantage. As of March 2022, 96.5% of Wake Law’s 2021 graduates were employed in these “gold standard” jobs.
  • During her deanship, Aiken hired 11 teacher-scholars, enhanced the intellectual property program and created two new clinics: an intellectual property clinic and a medical-legal partnership.
  • This year, Lawyers of Color (lawyersofcolor.org) ranked Wake Forest Law as 25th among top law schools for Black students.

During her research leave, in addition to her reproductive rights work, Aiken will finish her current book project, Motherhood and the Law: Enforcing Selflessness.

Newton Portrait

Nell Jessup Newton

Nell Jessup Newton, Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame Law School, has been named interim dean and will begin August 1.

Newton is a distinguished lawyer, legal scholar and educator with more than 20 years of leadership experience in legal education. She served as dean at the Notre Dame Law School from 2009 to 2019, building the school’s curricular strengths in business, international law and intellectual property.

“Professor Newton is well equipped to lead during this important time of assessment and transition for the law school,” Gillespie said.

Newton has held many national positions in the legal education community, including the American Bar Association, the Association of American Law Schools, and the Law School Admission Council. She was a member of the Board of Trustees for the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) Foundation for Law Career Research and Education from 2006 to 2018 and served as chair from 2014 to 2016.

“Wake Forest School of Law is a remarkable place devoted to the best in legal education,” said Newton. “I am honored to lead the school during this transitional year and look forward to working closely with the excellent staff, faculty and students.”

Newton is a prominent scholar of Native American Law and the editor in chief of Cohen’s Handbook of Federal Indian Law, the only treatise on the subject.

Under her direction, Notre Dame launched eight new programs of study, as well as clinics for low-income taxpayers, community development, intellectual property and entrepreneurship. Newton oversaw the development of a three-year JD/MBA dual degree and four new interdisciplinary programs to enrich the study of law by incorporating insights from other disciplines. She also led initiatives to expand international education opportunities for Notre Dame Law in Italy, China, Chile, Ireland, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

During her tenure, the law school also doubled externship offerings and developed externship programs based in the school’s facilities in Chicago and Washington, D.C. On the administrative side, Newton worked to expand the Career Development Office to help students better plan and achieve their career goals, and worked with the school’s Law Advisory Council to increase the school’s Loan Repayment Assistance Program by more than 500%, while also increasing student fellowship awards.

For the 2021-2022 academic year, Newton served as interim dean at University of Miami School of Law. While in that role, she strengthened the law school’s admissions and career development services.

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