Kerry Abrams is reappointed to second five-year term as dean
Kerry Abrams, the James B. Duke and Benjamin N. Duke Dean of the School of Law and Distinguished Professor of Law, has been reappointed to another five-year term as dean through June 30, 2028.
Duke University President Vincent Price and Provost Sally Kornbluth announced Abrams’ reappointment on April 8, following the recommendation of a review committee chaired by Georg Vanberg, the Ernestine Friedl Distinguished Professor of Political Science in Trinity College.
A nationally recognized scholar of immigration, citizenship, family, and constitutional law who has served as dean since 2018, Abrams has diversified the faculty and student body, overseen an expansion of the school’s support for public interest law, and secured record amounts of financial support for scholarships, legal clinics, and other priorities.
“Kerry is an impressive leader with an exciting vision for the future of Duke Law, and I am very happy to have the opportunity to continue to work with her,” Kornbluth said. “She has led the school through the many challenges of the pandemic while also successfully advancing faculty and student recruitment, faculty scholarship, and clinical legal education.”
Under Abrams’ leadership, Duke Law has welcomed the most diverse entering classes in its history, including four consecutive years where the majority of the incoming JD class is comprised of women, a first for the Law School. The school has made significant hires of both entry-level and mid-career faculty as well, and has invested in efforts to foster an inclusive environment for students, faculty, and staff. Abrams has also overseen substantial investments in the school’s clinical program, including the launch of the Immigrant Rights Clinic and the new Criminal Defense Clinic.
“Kerry’s commitments to fostering an inclusive law community and innovating in legal education and research are building on the Law School’s established strengths to ensure continued success,” Price said. “Under Kerry’s leadership, Duke Law is very well positioned for the future.”
“Kerry is truly a dean for the entire Duke Law School. She has a keen understanding of how best to educate and support our students, hold up and celebrate our faculty, and acknowledge and honor the contributions of our many alumni.”— Board of Visitors Chair Porter Durham ’85
Abrams has undertaken multiple initiatives to support students who seek careers in public interest and government service, establishing two post-graduate fellowships to help students pursue public interest careers and overseeing the growth of the Certificate in Public Interest and Public Service. Duke Law has also launched an interdisciplinary research center, the Wilson Center for Science and Justice, focused on criminal justice reform.
“Kerry has been a strong and proactive leader committed to building faculty excellence in a variety of ways, including through a diversity of scholarly methodologies, viewpoints, and backgrounds,” said Lanty L. Smith ’67 Professor of Law Joseph Blocher, who was a member of the review committee. “She not only navigated the pandemic, but guided the Law School through a time that saw threats to the rule of law and also new demands and opportunities for lawyers to address social injustice. And she’s done it all while maintaining Duke’s traditional commitment to training students for the practice of law in a demanding and fast-changing world.”
Added Board of Visitors Chair Porter Durham ’85: “Kerry is truly a dean for the entire Duke Law School. She has a keen understanding of how best to educate and support our students, hold up and celebrate our faculty, and acknowledge and honor the contributions of our many alumni. We are extremely fortunate to have her stewardship of our school for another five years.”
Abrams came to Duke following 13 years on the law faculty of the University of Virginia, where she also served as vice provost for faculty affairs from 2014 until 2018. She is well known for her scholarly writing on family-based migration, the legal regulation of immigrant families, and the history of immigration law.
She earned a bachelor of arts degree in English literature with highest honors from Swarthmore College, and graduated with distinction from Stanford Law School, where she was president of the Moot Court Board and the co-chair of Women of Stanford Law. She is a member of the New York State Bar, the United States Supreme Court Bar, and the American Law Institute.
Meha Shah JD/LLM ’94, president of the Duke Law Alumni Association Board, praised Abrams’ engagement with alumni on a range of challenging issues. “She has tackled everything from online instruction and virtual post-graduate employment to enrollment of international students unable to travel to the United States, all at a time in which it was exceptionally difficult to build community,” said Shah. “The board has also seen her commitment to advancing participation in public interest work and to inclusive law school education and teaching. We look forward to continuing to work with her.”