Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Being A 'First' — Over And Over Again

Nancy B. Rapoport (UNLV; Google Scholar), Being a 'First' — Over and Over Again, 1 Denver L. Rev. F. ___ (2021):

For the first time in its history, Yale Law School will have a woman at the helm: Law professor Heather Gerken will succeed Robert Post … as the school’s 17th dean.

The origins of Yale Law School trace to the earliest days of the 19th century[,] when law was  earned by clerking as an apprentice in a lawyer’s office. The first law schools, including the one that became Yale, developed out of this apprenticeship system and grew up inside law offices.

What do you mean, “Yale just named its first woman dean?” It’s 2017, for goodness’s sake. 

I’ve been a “first” several times over. I was the first woman law dean at the University of Nebraska College of Law, the first woman law dean at the University of Houston Law Center, the first woman law dean at the William S. Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and possibly the first woman serving as (acting) provost at UNLV. I may also have been one of the first women at my law firm to wear pants to work, way back in the mid-1980s. Here’s what I’ve noticed about being a “first.”

Being a “first” usually means differing from the norm, unless you’re both a founder and a “first” in a position. The first deans of the law schools listed above weren’t the first male deans. They were just the first deans. The same principle holds true for most people who are the first provosts, presidents, and lawyers wearing pants to work. They weren’t called out by gender in their roles. They were just leaders. I’ve been a leader, too, but because women are still unusual in certain types of leadership roles, I have gotten the “first” moniker a lot.

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