SWLAW Blog | Awards & Honors

Dean Darby Dickerson and Professor Meera E. Deo

January 16, 2024

Southwestern Leaders Named Among Most Influential People in Legal Education

Los Angeles, CA – Southwestern Law School's President and Dean Darby Dickerson and Professor Meera E. Deo have been recognized among the top 10 in the National Jurist’s list of the 20 “Most Influential People in Legal Education.” This recognition highlights their national impact in legal education and marks Southwestern Law School as the only institution with two educators on this national list. Selections are based on a nationwide voting process by law school deans, recognizing individuals for their significant contributions to legal education. 

Dean Darby Dickerson is one of the longest-serving law deans in the United States, having lead five institutions over 21 years. She joined Southwestern Law School in July 2021, bringing with her a rich background in leadership, teaching, scholarship, and a strong commitment to community service and philanthropy. 

At Southwestern, Dean Dickerson has been instrumental in launching an innovative Online J.D. program that will offer both full- and part-time options. Under her leadership, Southwestern has become a leader in integrating generative AI into its curriculum, a move that earned recognition from National Jurist Magazine in 2023. She has also implemented many student-centric programs, including a food pantry, a professional clothes closet, a student professional development fund to support off-campus activities, a Dean’s Leadership Academy, a student support and emergency team (SSET), expanded wellness and mental-health offerings, a Distinguished Jurist-in-Residence program, and a campus-wide Homecoming celebration. She lead an effort to revise Southwestern’s mission statement and develop a set of core values and new strategic framework. She has worked with the Board of Trustees to improve governance, infrastructure, and policies. Under her leadership, the law school has hired 15 new full-time faculty members. 

At her former law schools, her accomplishments were many and varied and include helping to create Chicago’s first public law school through the combination of The John Marshall Law School and the University of Illinois Chicago, opening the nation’s first ABA-approved satellite campus at Stetson University College of Law, and creating a unique full-time regional externship program at Texas Tech University School of Law. 

In the broader legal education community, Dean Dickerson has been a dynamic presence within the Association of American Law Schools (AALS), where she served as President in 2020. As president, she called on legal academia to abolish the academic caste system—continuing her decades-long quest to bring enhanced status, equity, and pay to non-tenure-track faculty positions. She has also chaired multiple AALS sections, including the Section for the Law School Dean and the Section for Institutional Advancement and currently represents the AALS in the ABA House of Delegates. She also chairs the AALS Fellows and has served on various AALS Committees, including the Executive Committee, Membership Review, Audit and Finance, and Nominations. In addition, she has spearheaded vital AALS initiatives, including serving as chair of the Deans Forum Steering Committee and co-moderating the “Faculty Focus” series. 

Dean Dickerson is an elected member of the American Law Institute, a member of the American Bar Foundation, and a Sustaining Life Fellow of the Texas Bar Foundation. She has participated in five American Inns of Court chapters, serving in leadership roles in all five. She is a current board member and past president of Scribes—The American Society of Legal Writers, showcasing her enduring commitment to advancing the legal field.  

Dean Dickerson was the author of the first four editions of the “ALWD Citation Manual” and is co-editor of the “Scribes Manual for Law Review Editors.” She has published dozens of articles on topics that include legal writing, editing, and citation, legal and higher education, and pretrial practice. 

Meera E. Deo, J.D., Ph.D., The Honorable Vaino Spencer Chair and Professor of Law at Southwestern Law School, is a nationally recognized authority in legal education, particularly noted for her work on diversity, equity, and inclusion. As the Director of the Law School Survey of Student Engagement (LSSSE) at Indiana University-Bloomington, Professor Deo has been at the forefront of addressing contemporary challenges in legal education, including those arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Her influential research, using empirical methods rooted in sociology, critically examines issues like institutional diversity and affirmative action. Her book, "Unequal Profession: Race and Gender in Legal Academia," has been pivotal in reshaping the discussion about race and gender bias in legal academia. This impact was on display during a symposium where leading legal scholars convened to discuss her work, highlighting its significance in the field. 

As the Director of the Law School Survey of Student Engagement (LSSSE), Professor Deo's work is central to enhancing our understanding of law student experiences and promoting effective educational practices. Her study, titled "Focus on First-Generation Students" in the 2023 LSSSE report, delves into the specific challenges and experiences of first-generation law students. The purpose of this study is to shed light on these students' needs and advocate for more tailored support and resources in law schools to better assist this important student demographic. 

Her work extends beyond academia into the realms of public scholarship and policy advocacy. Through speaking engagements and publications, including her notable article "Pandemic Pressures on Faculty," Professor Deo has actively contributed to the discourse on diversity and equity in legal education. Her involvement in projects such as Penn State Dickinson Law’s Antiracist Development Institute's book series illustrates her dedication to promoting inclusivity and equity in the legal profession. 

Professor Deo's comprehensive approach to legal education, encompassing both her teaching in subjects like Civil Procedure and Race & Law and her extensive research, has established her as a transformative figure in the field. Her efforts in elevating the discourse in legal education and her dedication to advancing opportunities for underrepresented groups mark her as a leader shaping a more inclusive and equitable future in law. 

Dean Dickerson and Professor Deo’s inclusion in the National Jurist’s “Most Influential People in Legal Education” list not only recognizes their exceptional contributions to Southwestern Law School but also demonstrates their profound impact on the broader landscape of legal education.