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Meeting Magill: getting to know the new dean of Stanford Law


Mary Elizabeth Magill will come to Farm in September to assume her new role as dean of the Stanford Law School. (Courtesy of University of Virginia)

Like any good lawyer, Mary Elizabeth Magill is ready to face the facts.

Magill, an acclaimed professor and former vice dean of the University of Virginia School of Law, is taking the reigns as the new law school dean on the Farm.

Born the fourth of six children in small-town North Dakota, Magill led a childhood straight out of a wholesome children’s book.

“I don’t even remember how cold it was [in North Dakota], so that must have been a very happy childhood,” Magill said.

Magill attended Shanley High School, a Catholic school in Fargo, where she cultivated an interest in history. After high school, she attended Yale University and graduated in 1988 as a history major with a focus on 19th-century American history. While in college, Magill was involved in local politics and student government.

After graduating, she worked on Capitol Hill as senior legislative assistant for U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad, a Democrat from North Dakota, until the summer of 1992. Under Conrad’s tutelage, Magill got a bird’s-eye view of politics, which allowed her to nurture a love of the law.

“I worked on a variety of domestic policy issues,” she said. At one point, “I did the senator’s work related to the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.”

Her combined love of history and politics made her decide to return to school, this time to get a law degree so as to become a professor. Magill’s father and half of her siblings were all lawyers, and she says that their love of their careers encouraged her to follow suit.

She graduated from the UVA School of Law in 1995 and then clerked for U.S. Court of Appeals Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III and, later, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. After working for Justice Ginsburg, she joined the faculty at UVA Law in 1997.

While at UVA, Magill met and married her husband, Leon Francis Szeptycki, an environmental lawyer. They have two children, ages 14 and 11.

Now preparing for her role as dean of Stanford Law School, Magill is eager to take her experience and passion for the law to new heights.

“[Stanford Law School] is, and has always been, a superb law school with wonderful students and a faculty that is widely admired for its teaching scholarship,” she said. “In the last five or six years it’s taken some innovative steps, so it’s a particularly exciting place to be right now.”

Along with managing the school and overseeing administrative and institutional policies, she also hopes to teach constitutional and administrative law.

Though eager, she admits that she’s also a bit daunted to fill the shoes of Larry Kramer, the school’s former dean, who made a number of innovative reforms, including enhancing the clinical education program to promote reflective law practices.

“He’s led some significant changes that benefited the institution, and he is also loved by all the people who work with him and for him,” Magill said. “It’s hard to be widely admired.”

Although filling Kramer’s shoes is no easy task, Magill says she will focus her efforts as dean on assessing how the school should tailor its education to the changing legal market.

Despite this challenge, Magill’s former dean at the UVA School of Law, Paul Mahoney, is sure she will prove successful.

“[Magill] is incredibly smart and has a rare talent for building consensus among groups of headstrong people,” Mahoney wrote in an email to The Daily. “She is able to do this because she is both an honest and straightforward communicator and a great listener.”

With the facts in tow, Magill is ready to make her case known by forging her own path on the Farm.