Dean Limelight: Rachel Moran, U.C.L.A. School of Law


Corporate PhotographyRachel Moran, dean of the U.C.L.A. School of Law, has been immersed in education policy, civil rights, race and the law from the start of her academic career.

The first Latina dean of a top-ranked U.S. law school, she joined the U.C. Berkeley law faculty (a.k.a. Boalt Hall) in 1983 as that institution’s first Latina law professor. She taught there for 25 years, receiving Berkeley’s Distinguished Teaching Award in 1995 and serving as chair of the Chicano/Latino Policy Project at the university’s Institute for the Study of Social Change from 1993 to 1996.

She became institute director in 2003. A Stanford University graduate with an AB in psychology, Moran obtained her J.D. from Yale Law School in 1981, where she was a Law Review editor. She clerked in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and worked for Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe in San Francisco before deciding on life in legal academe.

Lawdragon: What drew you into legal academia?

Rachel Moran: Throughout my schooling I was fortunate to have teachers who mentored me, and I realized the potential for impact and influence that teachers can have on people’s lives. In fact, it was a professor in my first year of law school who suggested I think about teaching.

But, I did not always know I wanted to go to law school. I was torn between getting a J.D. and getting a Ph.D. in psychology. While trying to decide, I was invited by two of my college professors to work on a study of women and the construction industry. The U.S. Department of Labor’s hiring guidelines had been challenged because they did not include women. The omission was justified on the ground that women were not interested in construction jobs.

Our research showed that in the absence of guidelines, women were not interested; with guidelines, women became very interested. The department eventually instituted guidelines for women and not too long thereafter, I saw a woman in a hard hat working on a construction project. I realized then how powerful the law can be, and I chose to pursue a J.D.

LD: What distinguishes UCLA Law from other law schools?

RM: As the youngest top law school in the country, U.C.L.A. School of Law has always stood for innovation and excellence. As a great public law school, access and service are also ingrained in our tradition. What really makes U.C.L.A. Law so special, though, is that we provide our students with a top-notch legal education in a friendly and supportive atmosphere.

U.C.L.A. Law is home to a genuine community of engaged students, faculty, alumni and staff whose shared sense of purpose remains true to the school’s traditions. U.C.L.A. Law students and faculty members appreciate the virtues of collegial exchange and collaborative effort. Faculty members take an active role in getting to know their students, building mentoring relationships that transcend the classroom and endure well beyond the three years spent here.

LD: Are there aspects of the curriculum that set U.C.L.A. Law apart? 

RM: A major contributing factor to the intellectual life of our school is our specialized programs and centers, which continue to grow and expand. U.C.L.A. Law has long been on the cutting edge of innovation in a variety of areas, launching the first and only specialization in critical races studies and one of the earliest public interest programs, now the Epstein Program in Public Interest Law and Policy. We created the Williams Institute, which is still the first and only research initiative devoted to questions of sexual orientation law and policy at an American law school. With the launch of the Emmett Center, we were the first law school in the United States to develop an initiative addressing climate change and the environment.

We have remained true to that tradition of innovation. Recently, we established the Resnick Program for Food Law and Policy, which will be the first program of its kind at a top-tier American law school to grapple with issues of food safety, distribution and access and to press for improvements in the modern food system. The Lowell Milken Institute for Business Law and Policy, which was launched in 2011, tackles vanguard issues in business law and offers sophisticated training to prepare U.C.L.A. Law students to become leaders in an entrepreneurial economy.

Two new clinics offered this year include the First Amendment Amicus Brief Clinic, in which students are working to draft and file friend-of-the-court briefs on a wide range of free speech and religious freedom questions, and the Youth & Justice Clinic, in which students are working to represent detained youth on civil legal issues.

Our innovation continues with the recent launch of two groundbreaking partnerships with Los Angeles area community service providers. The Los Angeles HIV Law and Policy Project will provide access to legal services and policy research support for the more than 60,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in Los Angeles. The Medical-Legal Partnership Clinical Program will offer expanded legal services in health care settings for low-income community members in downtown and southeast Los Angeles.

Another exciting new collaboration is a partnership with Gideon’s Promise, an organization that places new law graduates in public defender offices in the South, to establish a post-graduate fellowship for our students. The chosen fellow will work as a public defender in one of six partner offices, and will receive training and mentorship from Gideon’s Promise to help revitalize the South’s public defender system.

LD: What are your biggest challenges as dean and how are you meeting them?

RM: Our biggest challenges are two-fold: First, ensuring that our educational program remains dynamic and responsive as the legal profession changes; and, second, fostering an academic environment that promotes diversity while encouraging inclusion and civil discussion by all students about the social and legal concerns of the day.

To achieve the first goal, I must draw on the intellectual resources and social capital that characterize our great law school. At U.C.L.A. Law, we have an engaged network of alumni, a dedicated faculty and a wonderful team of administrators who are invested in supporting our students and graduates. We continue to launch new initiatives and partner with organizations that allow our students to build their skills through meaningful, hands-on opportunities.

With respect to the second objective, we benefit from a tremendously diverse student body. The diversity cuts across a number of dimensions: race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, religion, national origin, ideology, socioeconomic status and more. For lawyers who will need to practice in a complex society, this diversity can be a tremendous asset if the law school provides the right support structure to ensure that students can have constructive conversations across their differences.

To that end, we include diversity training in our weeklong orientation program, and we offer programming on these issues throughout the year. We are enhancing clinical opportunities that enable students to serve clients from a range of backgrounds, thus capitalizing on the diversity in our own backyard – the great global city of Los Angeles. And we are mobilizing our alumni to ensure that students have role models from all walks of life and in every sector of the profession. We look forward to continuing to work with our students to ensure that they take advantage of an unprecedented opportunity to learn from the many life experiences their peers bring to U.C.L.A. School of Law.

LD: Are you seeing any trends in the jobs your students take?

RM: We have seen a slight uptick in the number of graduates accepting positions at law firms of all sizes, but particularly at small firms and at large firms. We have also seen more of our graduates pursuing positions with businesses and entrepreneurial ventures.

As a public school with a long-standing tradition of service, we continue to graduate students who are committed to working with public interest organizations or government agencies. In fact, we have several recent graduates who received prestigious fellowships, such as Skadden and Equal Justice Works Fellowships, to pursue public interest projects, as well as several graduates who have been accepted into competitive Honors Programs, such as the U.S. Department of Justice, the Internal Revenue Service and the California Department of Justice.

LD: What do you do outside the law school when you’re not being dean?

RM: As my role of dean carries outside the law school, I believe it is important to remain active and engaged in the legal community and in my local community, where I am a member of the American Law Institute, the American Bar Foundation, the Chancery Club of Los Angeles and the Board of Governors of the Beverly Hills Bar Association. I was appointed by President Obama to serve on the Permanent Committee for the Oliver Wendell Holmes Devise.

The opportunity to live in Los Angeles, which is a dynamic global city with rich cultural and artistic offerings – not to mention a wonderful, sunny climate – is something that I try to take advantage of as much as possible. In my free time, I particularly enjoy the symphony and the theater, and I always try to make time for my lifelong passion, reading.