December 6, 2022

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The Legal System

UM names David Yellen from University of Denver as law dean

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David Yellen was named the new law school dean at the University of Miami in May 2022.

David Yellen was named the new law school dean at the University of Miami in May 2022.

University of Miami

About a year after abruptly ousting Anthony Varona as law school dean, University of Miami President Julio Frenk hired his replacement: David Yellen, a New Jersey native who has devoted most of his career to reforming the justice system and leading two other law schools.

Yellen, 64, who earned his bachelor’s in politics from Princeton University and his law degree from Cornell University, will start July 1, according to the Thursday posting from the Coral Gables-based private university.

“I’m very excited,” said Yellen. “The University of Miami School of Law, I’ve known and admired for decades, so I’m really excited to join them.”

READ MORE: UM students break glass ceilings at graduation

Yellen will move to South Florida in June from Colorado, where he has served since last June as the CEO of the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System, a research organization at the University of Denver.

“I was happy with the work I was doing and I wasn’t in the job market, but I did miss being in higher education,” said Yellen.

Before moving to Denver, he was president of Marist College, a private college in Poughkeepsie, New York, for four years.

He also worked for 11 years as professor and dean of the School of Law at Loyola University Chicago, the Jesuit research university.. And he taught and was dean of the Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University, a private university in Hempstead, New York.

At the beginning of his career, Yellen clerked for a federal judge, practiced law in Washington and served as counsel to the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. He also advised President Bill Clinton’s transition team on white collar crime enforcement.

Yellen will take the reins from Nell Jessup Newton, who was named interim dean last August. Jessup Newton had replaced Steve Schnably, who has been at UM since 1988 and held the position of acting dean last summer.

The turnover of UM’s law school deans began when Frenk announced last May that Varona, an openly gay man of Cuban heritage, would step down as dean. Frenk’s abrupt decision to demote the popular Varona — without prior consultation of the faculty, alumni or students — led to an outcry in the legal community, locally and nationally.

READ MORE: The firing of UM’s popular law dean baffled the legal community

Varona left his leadership post at UM on July 1. In February, he announced he’d landed the law deanship at Seattle University, a private Jesuit Catholic institution in Washington. On Thursday, Varona congratulated Yellen on Twitter.

“Dean Yellen is a longstanding distinguished and accomplished leader in legal education who will take Miami Law to new heights of distinction,” he wrote. “A truly outstanding choice!”

varona.jpg
Anthony Varona, the former dean of the University of Miami School of Law. TJ Lievonen

Asked if he worries about the long-lasting impact of what happened last May at UM, Yellen said he doesn’t.

“I don’t know Tony,” he said. “It’s not a concern at all. I’ve been in higher education long enough to know that sometimes for all kinds of reasons things don’t work out with one set of relationships and that doesn’t preview what the next set of relationships are going to be like.”

Five things to know about the new Miami Law School dean

1. He’s been married for 36 years to Leslie Richards-Yellen, the director of global diversity and inclusion at the New York-based law firm Debevoise and Plimpton. The two met as law students at Cornell University. They have three adult daughters, Jordan, Meredith and Bailey.

2. He loves Bruce Springsteen and has attended more than 25 of his concerts.

3. He argued a federal sentencing case at the U.S. Supreme Court.

4. He faced culture shock when he first arrived at Princeton. His Jewish grandparents migrated to the U.S. from Belarus in the early 1900s as children. A public high school kid and first-generation college student, he said he didn’t quite fit in. “It took a while to feel at home there,” he said.

5. He doesn’t speak Spanish. He took some classes a few years ago but doesn’t remember much. However, his father-in-law is a native speaker, and his wife and one of his daughters understand and speak it well. “I think I’m going to give it another shot now that I’m going to Florida,” he said. “Maybe if I put in the time, I can get at least conversational.”

This story was originally published May 13, 2022 7:23 PM.

Jimena Tavel covers higher education for the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald. She’s a bilingual reporter with triple nationality: Honduran, Cuban and Costa Rican. Born and raised in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, she moved to Florida at age 17. She earned her journalism degree from the University of Florida in 2018, and joined the Herald soon after.



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