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Douglas Sylvester named dean of law school

March 26, 2012

Douglas Sylvester, professor of law and faculty fellow at the Center for Law, Science & Innovation at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, has been named the college’s dean, effective March 26.

Sylvester was named interim dean in May 2011 after serving as associate dean for Faculty Research and Development, a role in which he was responsible for building an environment that fosters faculty scholarship, organizing speaker series, mentoring junior faculty, and seeking innovative ways to increase the faculty's visibility.

During his time as interim dean, the College of Law’s national academic rankings have improved significantly.  According to U.S. News & World Report’s 2013 "Best Law Schools," the quality of ASU’s College of Law improved across the board – in the caliber of students it attracts, the quality of education students receive, its reputation among academic peers, the recognition among judges and lawyers around the country, and its employment track record.

The college is ranked 26th nationwide among public and private law schools, up from 40th in 2012, and is now the 8th highest-ranked public law school. The increase in the 2013 rankings follows another jump from the 2011 rankings.

“Following a national search by our search committee and the interviews of some outstanding external candidates, we determined the best candidate for dean was already on campus,” said ASU President Michael M. Crow.  “As both interim dean and associate dean, Doug Sylvester has been responsible for major advances at the College of Law. Under his leadership as dean, those upward trend lines will continue into the future.”

“The College of Law has progressed at the most rapid rate in its history under Doug Sylvester’s leadership,” said Provost and Executive Vice President Elizabeth D. Capaldi. “In addition to the academic gains made during his tenure, he has also shown a real talent for fund raising, leading the College of Law to new levels of achievement in this area as well.

“He is the most qualified person in the country to lead the College during the next important period of development for the College.”

Sylvester, who thanked Crow, Capaldi, and the faculty dean search committee for recommending him, said, “It is a tremendous honor to be asked to lead the College of Law as dean. I started my academic career here 10 years ago and I have witnessed how much this school has been transformed. It has risen from a regional law school to one with national ambitions and reach. This only occurs with the work of a dedicated and fantastic faculty, student body and alumni and I am proud to say that we have these strengths in spades.

“The Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law is a truly remarkable place with an important mission. It is boundless in its ambitions, reach, and capabilities and I am truly humbled and deeply excited to be asked to lead it forward.”  

Sylvester has published, taught and lectured on issues of intellectual property law and commercialization, international law, emerging technologies and privacy. In 2006, he taught Nanotechnology and the Law, the first time such a course was offered in the country by full-time law faculty.

In 2007, Sylvester was appointed special consultant to a National Academy of Sciences panel charged with reforming the U.S. Census. He was the founding faculty director of the innovative Technology Ventures Clinic, which introduces students to transactional legal practice in high-technology sectors. In recent years, Sylvester also has been an expert witness in cases involving licensing, intellectual property and technology, and has advised numerous entrepreneurs in building their businesses.

Prior to joining the college faculty, he was a Bigelow Fellow and lecturer-in-law at the University of Chicago, a lecturer-in-law at Northwestern University, and an attorney in the Global e-Commerce Practice Group at Baker & McKenzie in Chicago, and he clerked for U.S. District Judge C. Clyde Atkins in Florida.

In commenting on the college’s improved national rankings, Sylvester said, “Although we don’t define ourselves by our ranking and, like many, view its value with skepticism, we are extremely proud of ways in which this law school has dramatically improved over the past few years."

He attributed the increase in ranking to several factors:

• Admissions: The Class of 2014 had the highest academic credentials in the law school’s 44-year history.

• Peer reputation: The College earned its highest score ever – a 3.1 – in rankings by law school deans and professors around the country.

• Judges and lawyers rankings: The College recorded a substantial increase in this score, moving from 3.2 in 2012 to 3.5 in 2013.

• Bar passage: The Class of 2011 passed the Arizona Bar at a higher rate than any other Arizona law school and scored among the highest passage rates in the school's history.

Another contributing factor is the progress the College of Law has made in helping its graduates find full- and part-time employment during a disastrous period of national economic decline. According to the U.S. News formula, the college succeeded in placing more than 98 percent of its graduates in employment within nine months of graduating from the law school.

“However, we do not feel this percentage paints a fully accurate picture of the financial and employment difficulties our graduates face,” Sylvester said. “We are exceedingly proud of the efforts of our Career Strategy office and the work they put in to find employment for our students, but the 98 percent is more a reflection of the formula used by U.S. News than it is reality.”

In anticipation of the economic difficulties faced by its graduates, the College of Law substantially revamped its Career Strategy Office in May 2011 and created the Employer Outreach Initiative.

“The Employer Outreach Initiative has been wildly successful at connecting recent graduates with employers for full-time and part-time work, and for short-term projects – many of which do turn into permanent positions,” Sylvester said. “But we won’t rest until all of our graduates are engaged in full-time, highly productive and successful legal practices.”