AALS Deputy Director Alena Allen Discusses Her Approach to the Role

By James Greif

Alena Allen, professor and former interim dean at University of Arkansas School of Law, joined AALS as deputy director in August. She recently sat down to discuss her career, past experiences with AALS, and her goals for the deputy director position.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background in legal education?

Alena Allen

Alena Allen: I started my career in legal education at the University of Memphis, Cecil Humphrey School of Law as an assistant professor in 2010. My first administrative role there was as director of diversity. The school has an amazing “admissions by performance summer program that I led in that role. It’s an alternative admission program that seeks to increase diversity by giving people who can perform high quality legal work a chance to go to law school, even if they don’t have the best LSAT or undergraduate GPA.

After that, I was director of faculty research. In that role I assisted my colleagues in everything related to faculty scholarship. I held works-in-progress, I read drafts of articles, and I helped mentor junior faculty, among many other duties.

Then I lateraled to the University of Arkansas and had a similar position, associate dean for research and faculty development. Then six months later I became interim dean and that was a challenging and wonderful experience.

It was an unusual chain of events, but sometimes I think the best interim deans are the ones who really don’t have long-standing relationships with faculty. Since I had only been there a short time, I didn’t have alliances and I could look at things with fresh eyes.

Now I am deputy director of AALS as well as professor of law at the University of Arkansas.

Can you tell us about your first interactions with AALS as a law professor or prospective law professor?

AA: I attended the Faculty Recruitment Conference, or “meat market as it was affectionately called in those days, when I wanted to become a law professor. I went to the Wardman Park and ran between elevator banks and all the things you always hear about. I actually liked the experience as a candidate and I liked it when I got to be on the other side of hiring.

When I was hired at Memphis, I went to the Workshop for New Law School Teachers the June before I started teaching. It was a great experience and I heard great insights into how to approach classroom teaching that I think helped me along the way.

I’m originally from New Orleans, so any time the AALS Annual Meeting was in New Orleans, it was a nice opportunity to go home. Also, I was on the executive committee for the Section on Scholarship and a member of many other AALS sections.

Your experiences as a recent interim dean at the University of Arkansas are incredibly valuable to AALS in helping the association best serve the needs of deans and faculty. What aspects of that role do you think help shape your approach to this position?

AA: I think deans have to be willing to listen. So, I’m approaching this role by listening. It has been really interesting to hear about how different schools approach the same issue or challenge. I also think that deans are good at relationship building. One of the best things about this position is that it allows me to meet new people, build relationships, and try to figure out how AALS can help their faculty.

In just your first couple months, you’ve helped organize several of the association’s initiatives, including Faculty Focus webinars, the first-ever webinar for emeritus and retired faculty, as well as helping to oversee the Scholarly Papers Competition. What can you tell us about those experiences?

AA: It just reinforced what I already knew, which is that the legal academy is filled with wonderful people. I have been blown away by the willingness of people to volunteer their time and share their expertise. For new faculty members, it can feel daunting to get involved. I would just encourage new faculty members to get involved in AALS meetings, committees, or sections. Even if you might believe that you can’t add value, people legitimately want to hear what you have to say.

Anything else that you would like to add?

AA: I believe that this is an exciting time for the legal academy. Three years into the pandemic, we are in real time for self-reflection, and I’m interested to see how law schools respond to the challenges ahead.