Getting to Know “The Anywhere Man”: A Q&A with Nick Allard (Part 3)
The BLS Advocate sat down with Nick Allard, the incoming dean of Brooklyn Law School, when he was in town on April 2nd, for a casual lunchtime Q&A at Panera Bread. We were fortunate that he brought along his lovely wife and high school sweetheart, Marla, who helped us get to know the real Nick. This is part 3 of our 4-part interview by David A. Shapiro, ’12, with additional questions from Julie Adler, ’12. Parts 1 and 2 are available here.
DS: Brooklyn Law School also has a very vibrant public interest community, foremost after CUNY in all of New York, and one of the top five probably in America.
DS: Recently this past year they actually cut the summer grants for public service—
DS: — from 5 to $3,000. That makes it very difficult, if not impossible for several students to do public interest work. Will you be able to restore the grant size to 5,000, or will you work to make sure that happens?
NA: I know that the faculty and administration (and I) are not only very committed to the importance of public interest work, they’re very sensitive to the impact that having to reduce those funds had, and so we’ll do everything we possibly can to provide adequate funding. Finding a way to support public interest law is very important to me personally – it’s something I’ve written about. You’re talking to someone who, given my family background and our resources growing up—we had to figure out how to pay for everything, our rent and everything else—so we know about making it on a student budget. People look at my resume and they see Princeton, Oxford, Yale, and they just assume I was born with a silver spoon in my ear. But that’s not the case. And so I appreciate the importance of people helping you along the way, but also appreciate in a practical way how you have to figure out how to pay for everything while you are getting your education and training. You know, Marla and I have been at this for a long time. I asked her for some cash the other day, and she said, “what are you talking about—I gave you three dollars yesterday!” [NA and MA laugh] So, you know she has a very tight fist on the family fisc. Fist on the fisc.
DS: So we just got, I think, a million dollar gift—was it for federal judicial internships for the summer?
NA: I don’t know. I know that came in, and that’s great! The more the better.
DS: And will you continue to seek out those grants and—
NA: Fundraising is one of the things I do, and I do think that President Wexler has been very successful at that and I intend to support her and help her and the law school turn over every stone to find every dime we can. And, you know, for example, helping you with your auction.
DS: I guess, well, that leads to two more questions about your relationship with President Wexler. So as far as we understand it, she’ll be stepping down in two years time — is that accurate? — and so you’ll become the Dean and there will be no more President position?
NA: Here’s what I’m focused on—I’m going to be the Dean of the law school and, you know, she is the President of the law school. And what the future holds, I leave that to the Board. And I want to tell you that Joan Wexler has had a remarkable impact on building this law school and an impact on the community. And she deserves a tremendous amount of credit over a long period of time—I mean it’s been twenty-five years that she’s been making a contribution. And at a time when she was really a pioneer. And so I give her a huge amount of credit. I deeply respect her and I look forward to learning from her and working with her.
DS: Do you understand that many students are skeptical of her leadership?
NA: Well I have a great amount of respect for her and for her leadership.
JA: Do you think the dual power structure is a good thing, and do you understand the need to have a Dean and a President filling two different roles?
NA: I actually see it as an advantage for me in ensuring a smooth transition and so I have no problem with it, and if I did I wouldn’t be here. I’m quite enthusiastic, and she has enormous strength and savvy which I don’t think she’s given enough credit for. And so I really think there are a lot of advantages. Most independent law schools have this President and Dean structure. And often it’s one person, but it doesn’t have to be one person. I think the fact that the Board is willing to have two people, you know, work on these things—actually, it’s pretty impressive that they’re going to, at least for the foreseeable future, have somebody attend to, you know, whatever the Presidential functions are specified in the bylaws, and then have the Dean who is freed up maybe from some of the day-to-day financial management, real estate work, and be able to devote attention to career services and education, curriculum, all of that–it’s great. I mean can you imagine just starting from ground zero and not having your predecessor there. It doesn’t mean we’re going to agree on everything.
DS: If you don’t agree on things, how do you foresee that taking place?
NA: He’s such a good reporter.
DS: Thank you.
NA: We’ll find out. You know, if we don’t agree on something, we’ll work it out—we’ll keep working until we reach agreement. You know it’s—I haven’t been married for 38 years without having some experience with give and take. Though one thing Marla and I agree on is the give and take isn’t even steven. About the only thing I think I learned and remember from studying moral philosophy at Oxford is this: When I am alone in the woods and Marla is not there, and I say something, I am still wrong.
DS: Do you plan on creating or reshaping a school identity?
NA: Well here’s what I plan: I plan on facilitating Brooklyn figuring out what it wants its future to be and then getting there. It’s not for me to come in and say “this is who you should be.” It doesn’t mean I don’t have ideas. In that regard, I mean I really do believe that Brooklyn Law School can aspire to being the 21st century—the model of a 21st century law school by combining critical scholarly thinking with the very best professional training. And what I mean by that—is that BLS can produce the leaders of the future who will have the capacity not only to be leaders today, but they can anticipate how law is changing, look around corners, look ahead, and find solutions to the problems no one has seen before. And that’s a wonderful aspiration for the law school and for me.
JA: Do you feel like you have a better grasp of this, given the fact that you don’t come from a background of academia? Because I feel like a lot of, you know people from your generation who went to law school around the same time you did—if you ask them for career advice, they’ll say, “what do you mean? Just get good grades and go through OCI and get into a big firm—that’s how you do it.” And I feel like you have such a deeper understanding of how things are right now; is that because you’re so immersed in practice everyday, as opposed to somebody who’s coming in from academia?
NA: I—my DNA makes me—distrust conventional wisdom. I mean, you can’t be the author of an article titled “Lobbying is an Honorable Profession” and be somebody who just goes along with mainstream thinking. And my own career—my own career has been very fulfilling and worthwhile, but it hasn’t been traditional. When I started out after two clerkships, I went with the Washington office of a New York firm. It was at a time where everybody with my kind of background was told if you’re serious, you have to go to the main office, not the branch office. I didn’t listen. I thought there was more opportunity at the branch office. Then I went into public service from a law firm. I mean, you know, working in the Senate. And then I went from the Senate working for another Senator, which is unconventional—you usually don’t change senators—and then only back to private practice but with time off from politics. I am just giving you personal examples. I’m always sort of—have a different view about career options. And then I think the capstone of that is having the sheer audacity to believe that I could go from private practice into academics. So, you know, I’m not someone whose followed the traditional career myself. So I‘m very skeptical of narrow thinking about careers and jobs. I hope that answers your question.
DS: So you mentioned the auction—so how do you foresee participating in the auction and with other pro-bono events and longer-term projects?
NA: Well I expect, look, first of all, we’re going to be fully engaged in not just education but also the life of the law school. Now you kind of teased me—I think it was you when I first met students—about mentioning Art Fleming, which really dates me by referring to Fleming instead of Trebek. [laughter] But we’ll certainly participate in Jeopardy. I mean all of that stuff—because we like those activities—and love it because that’s the way [Marla and I] are. And so we’ll be fully engaged. But certainly for the auction, you know, it could be—Marla and I could cater and serve a dinner at your place for you, so you have two of us as caterers and servers—these are examples, don’t hold me to these—or, you know, a weekend in Washington at our place with tickets to the Shakespeare theater in Washington, and, or, you know, lunch at the Palm in Washington with three legendary lobbyists: Tom Boggs and Senator Breaux and Senator Lott. You know, stuff like that, which I’ve done in the past. I’ve participated in auctions before. Another thing that might be of interest and maybe, in fact, some alumni who [have high school-aged children might] contribute is I can auction off three college application counseling sessions—because I’ve been very involved and I do this and I’ve written about “Navigating the College Admissions Process”—so three one-hour counseling sessions for a student. So David and Julie, you can buy that for a brother or sister…
DS: Don’t feel limited. Feel free to donate all of that.
NA: Well we might, we might do that. I mean I have to spend some time being your Dean. I mean, those are just some ideas. We understand the concept. It’s fun, it’s fun to do.
[We explain that the auction already happened this year.]
NA: Good because [Marla] was getting nervous about catering and me dropping dishes.
DS: Next year, next year.