David Faigman’s 30 years at UC Law SF provide the foundation for his leadership as the law school’s 21st Chancellor & Dean.

Here, the renowned and widely published legal scholar speaks about his strong ties to the school, the challenges facing law students today, and his vision to establish an academic village in the heart of San Francisco.

Dean Faigman, you have spent three decades at UC Law SF, during which time you founded the UCSF/UC Law SF Consortium on Law, Science & Health Policy; published over 50 articles and essays; authored three books; and launched a world-class health policy master’s program. What’s it like to shift into an administrative role-you were named interim dean in January 2016 and Chancellor & Dean in December 2016-and focus on institutional progress and achievement?

I came to UC Law SF in 1987, so I have incredible loyalty to the school. I was mentored and nourished by the great Dean Mary Kay Kane for 13 years. She supported my scholarship and helped guide me in terms of how I developed my career. I was also lucky to experience the well-regarded 65 Club, which brought to UC Law SF the big names of legal education who had recently retired from places like Yale, Harvard, and Minnesota. I feel this great debt to UC Law SF and am honored to be a member of the community, so when the board asked if I would be interested in serving as interim dean, I agreed out of that loyalty and because I think UC Law SF has huge opportunity in the future. Every day is a challenge, both in terms of responding to the changes confronting the law school and laying the groundwork for the school’s future.

What is your plan for engaging with students and collaborating with faculty?

I plan to build many opportunities to engage with students into my regular calendar. They are the reason I am in this business! Their enthusiasm is energizing. This past semester I had a “dean’s lunch hour” a couple of times a month, in which I hung out in the Law Cafe with some healthy (and some not-so-healthy) snacks and talked with students who stopped by. I also plan to be as available as I can be when students want to meet with me, and hold regular “town hall” meetings, at which I am available to answer any questions students might have. As for the faculty, I have the great advantage of having been with them for 30 years. I have great relations with my colleagues, and they know that they can stop by, call me, or email me any time they want.

How are changes in the legal field affecting the offerings at UC Law SF?

The legal field is changing so fast, with improving technologies for legal research, including artificial intelligence, outsourcing to other states/countries, and an increasingly interdisciplinary aspect to most areas of practice. We expect to remain on the cutting edge of these developments. UC Law SF must prepare our students not simply to manage what’s coming, but to be the authors of those changes. Being in San Francisco, of course, gives us a real edge, since our city leads the world in innovative ideas. UC Law SF swims in this milieu, and we need to continue to be the ones defining the changes ahead.

What is the biggest challenge facing UC Law SF in the immediate term, and how will you address it?

Ensuring that we best serve our students’ professional needs and aspirations. This means providing them with an education that will maximize their success on whatever state bar exam they take and, in addition, preparing them to be outstanding legal professionals. These two goals do not entirely overlap.

The bar exam is a minimum competency exam that focuses on memorized knowledge of legal doctrine, basic analytical skills in issue spotting, and writing ability. To be sure, these skills are not irrelevant to law practice, but they are not the principal consideration most people would contemplate when hiring a lawyer. Most lawyers specialize, and so hiring someone to represent you in an employment discrimination matter does not typically implicate issues involving the doctrinal difference between murder and manslaughter or the rules of equitable servitudes. Also, soft skills, such as oral advocacy, interviewing, judgment, responsibility, responsiveness, interpersonal skills, and so forth are important but not bar tested.

As a law school, if we do not excel in teaching the skills necessary to be a practicing lawyer, we are not doing our job. But, of course, our graduates must be prepared for the state bar, since that is a prerequisite to a professional career as a lawyer. Because we have hit stumbles in bar passage, we’ve recommitted to making sure students are prepared to pass the basic licensure exam.

Where would you like to see the law school in five years?

I hope to work with the faculty, staff, and students to bring the school to a new level of prominence over the next five years. We have already expanded our degree offerings beyond the core JD program. I would like to expand our LLM for international students further. We just launched the Master of Science in Health Policy and Law program fully online with UCSF, and also the Master of Studies in Law, which is a one-year degree in law that serves an MD or PhD who needs to understand, read, and think about processes of law. We also want to create a distance education platform for the MSL so that students can get the degree in their own time.

I’m excited about the opportunity to pursue the vision for a “graduate village” in the core of San Francisco. It starts with our new academic building, slated for completion in 2019. Our current academic building at Hyde and McAllister will get demolished and we’ll build a brand new building in its place that will house both academic space and 12 stories of subsidized student housing, shared with UCSF. We will be expanding our student population dramatically once that building is done. The new buildings put us in an incredible position to create and expand our cooperation and partnership with UCSF and possibly other UC schools, and to bring a large student population into the Tenderloin/Mid-Market area.

I know that this is, ultimately, a long-term endeavor. But we should see the early results in five years or so.

What’s happening with you and Lady Justice on the cover of this magazine?

We’re building UC Law SF together! We are committed to the future and dedicated to producing excellent lawyers. But what does that really mean? First and foremost, it means a continued devotion to basic principles of justice. Whatever UC Law SF and the rest of the legal world look like in the decades ahead, our mutual success will continue to be measured by whether we advance justice for those we serve.