Q&A with Dean Kathleen Boozang of Seton Hall

Dean Kathleen Boozang has been Dean of Seton Hall Law since July 2015. Dean Boozang was initially recruited to Seton Hall in 1990 to found the Center for Health & Pharmaceutical Law & Policy, one of the top health law programs in the nation. During her tenure at the school, she has also served as Vice Provost and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs.   We had the opportunity to sit down with Dean Boozang to discuss her career and experience at Seton Hall. This interview has been condensed from its original form.  Q: Congratulations on your recent appointment as Dean of the Law School. Given Seton Hall’s history, with its first Dean being Miriam T. Rooney, the first ever female Dean of a law school, what has this achievement meant to you? The biggest surprise I had through the search, and being appointed, is that it still is a big deal for women to be appointed to leadership positions. And it garners attention for better or worse. So, I actually feel a huge responsibility to use the deanship, the role, as a platform for continued advancement in diversity – whether it be gender, race, the full spectrum of how we define diversity – I feel a responsibility to advance those issues and that’s why having the opportunity to be featured on the Debevoise & Plimpton Women’s Review is really important to me. Q: What piqued your interest in health law and led you to start Seton Hall’s Center for Health & Pharmaceutical Law & Policy? I was one of the people who came out of the womb wanting to be a lawyer. When I went to college, my dad compelled me to major in business – which I hated, but it has turned out to be useful. I also pursued a theology degree. I took a class in bioethics, which at the time was a new topic – the first bioethics textbook had just been released. And I almost called it a casebook because in fact it was a casebook, most of the examples were cases in bioethics, which encouraged me to marry my two primary interests, theology and the law. Of course in practice, many lawyers do have to deal with bioethical issues but clients don’t pay for it. So I ended up being a corporate lawyer… but overwhelmingly my clients were Catholic hospitals. The Catholic Sisters I worked with were wonderful clients and we meshed well. Since becoming a professor, I’ve stayed involved in the healthcare space by participating on Boards of Catholic Hospitals. Q: Did you have access to any sort of leadership classes or training? And if so, how has it helped your career?My free leadership training came from two sources: First, I’ve been very involved in developing compliance programs for Seton Hall and as a result I’ve learned a lot about the compliance profession over the last 10 years. I’ve gotten to know a lot of business leaders and have attended conferences where people discuss how to set the tone; how a leader conveys expectations; how a leader embeds values in an organization; how a leader identifies risks and opportunities, determines priorities and figures out where to invest when resources require making difficult choices. The second source is the exposure I have to the board of advisors for the law school. I’ve found the members who are business professionals, both entrepreneurs and managers of law firms, to be very helpful. I can name at least one thing each of them has said to me that was an “a-ha” moment in terms of thinking about how to effectively pursue revenue generating strategies. In short, I have figured out it doesn’t matter what business you’re in: leadership skills are transferable in any setting and something students and professionals should strive to develop throughout their careers Q: What character traits or skills apparent early on in your life do you think contributed to or impacted your leadership style? It is unusual for academics to be entrepreneurial. It certainly isn’t unheard of, but it’s not what you look for when you hire professors. We’re not looking for people with management skills or who have the kind of vision to come up with new ideas – which for most of the history of law schools hasn’t been a necessary skill set. Obviously in today’s business climate, especially in law and for law schools, it is incredibly important to be entrepreneurial. [It] has proven indispensable to being successful. And I’ve had the opportunity over the last 25 years to test and grow my management and entrepreneurial skills, particularly with the Seton Hall Center for Health and Pharma, now taking many things that I’ve figured out are successful and applying them to the law school overall. Q: What do you see as the greatest barrier you encountered in your career, particularly being a woman? One example of a barrier I faced is when I was going through the process of becoming Dean. My predecessor had been in his role for 16 years, and his predecessor had been in the role for 12 years. I know that there were a lot of people who were imagining the next Dean would be a man as well. That’s what they remembered for a long period of time as the status quo.  _  _  Q: It’s our understanding that Seton Hall has an all-female law review executive board, a female SBA president, and strong female leadership in the school, yourself included. To what extent do you think female leadership in law school shapes the student’s perspectives or expectations for their own careers and workplace environments, and what has Seton Hall done to so effectively foster female leadership?  I think that role-modeling is incredibly important. Contrary to my law school experience where there wasn’t a choice because there weren’t enough women mentors and role models to go around, we’re very conscious of trying to make sure that first-year students have diversity in their first year group of teachers because it is so important to have access to a variety of good role models. Seeing women in authority is important; not just for women, but for men as well. The current generation has a lot more exposure to this than my generation did, but there is still progress to be made. An interesting angle to this conversation is also what the man’s role is in supporting women and diversity, and teaching all students and people to have the sensitivity to value all contributions, whether they are made by a man, woman or person of color.   Q: What advice do you have for female law students or young female associates who are starting their careers? I think it is important for all students to understand the challenges of work-life balance. As professors we can better serve our students by exposing them to as many professionals as possible who can give them strategies for negotiating that space. I fear that, too frequently, when we have women’s conferences or diversity initiatives we make it sound too rosy. I also think that the conference I most want to go to is a women’s conference where all of the speakers are managing partners of law firms, because they are the instruments of change. In sum, I think we should better prepare our students, men and women, for the challenges of practice and we need to have better collaborative conversations with the leadership of firms, corporations and law schools so that hopefully we can be more creative and effective in finding ways to be able to prepare law students to be successful. And although we have very strong women professors, administrators and students at Seton Hall, I am acutely aware of the continuing challenge of attrition that women and diverse attorneys face. In law school – with blind grading and the curve – law students get very used to a meritocracy. It was a shock to me when I was starting my career that the same meritocracy did not exist in practice. Today, I think it’s much more subtle, and things have improved, but diverse attorneys and women still do find it challenging to negotiate the politics and the paths of advancement. This includes re-integrating women into the profession who take family leave. I’ve been recently approached by many women alumni who took time off [to raise children] and are finding it very difficult to step back into the profession. As Dean of Seton Hall Law, I feel a responsibility to make our students aware of these potential challenges, but also to continue these conversations with our students and with potential employers, in a respectful and collaborative way, in hopes of moving the ball forward for future generations. Q: What are you reading now? I am reading Industries of the Future for the second time. The book discusses the industries in general: from the internet of things to robotics and the human genome project. But this ties in to the future of the law, and provides insight into what future legal clients will look like and why certain types of legal practice, because of websites and apps like Legal Zoom, are disappearing. It was very stimulating, well written and accessible, and I highly recommend it.   _  _  Justin Ferrone and Jennifer Cestaro are associates in Debevoise’s New York office. Comments? Suggestions? We’d love to hear from you. Send us an email at women@debevoise.com.