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Meet the New Law Dean

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Robert “Bob” Klonoff, a leading legal scholar, professor of law at the University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law, and former senior partner at the law firm of Jones Day, has been named the next dean of Lewis & Clark Law School. He takes up his post on July 1.

You’re a native Oregonian. How do you feel about returning to Portland? 

I’m really excited about it. I’ve even been getting letters and e-mails from people I knew when I was a student at Grant High School.

Your dad owned Beaumont Pharmacy in Northeast Portland. Did you work there when you were a kid? 

I did–especially during the holidays. But I had other jobs too: I worked in food service at Providence Hospital, sold refreshments at Portland Beavers games, and worked as a warehouse packer at Import Plaza. My parents thought it was important for me to learn the value of a dollar.

You’ve specialized in class-action litigation. Why did you choose that specialty? 

I find it intellectually stimulating. It’s a complicated area–sort of like the organic chemistry of law. The problems are challenging and interesting; the cases are big; and good lawyers tend to be found on all sides. 

You’ve written a popular casebook on class actions. How did this come about? 

No class-action textbook existed when my coauthor and I started that project. It’s not like writing about criminal or contract law, where there are established areas you know you need to cover. We had to figure out what subjects to cover. That was the challenge of it–and the fun. 

How did you end up at Jones Day, a major law firm headquartered in Washington, D.C.?

Two colleagues of mine from the Solicitor General’s Office had left the Justice Department to start a Supreme Court practice at Jones Day. Very few firms at that time had a Supreme Court practice. These guys had been high-profile government lawyers–one had clerked for Justice Rehnquist, the other for Justice O’Connor. They were also close friends of mine. It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

You’ve argued eight cases before the Supreme Court. What is that experience like? 

It’s unbelievable. There’s nothing to prepare you for arguing before the highest court in the land. My first Supreme Court argument was in 1986, when I was an assistant to the solicitor general. The place was loaded with family, friends, colleagues, and tourists. I was dressed in the traditional morning suit. I had lots of oral argument experience going in, but it was still incredibly intimidating.

Why did you leave D.C. to become a law professor? 

While I was at Jones Day, I got a call out of the blue about an endowed, tenured chair at the University of Missouri at Kansas City. I had not applied and didn’t know a soul in Kansas City, but the prospect of being a full-time academic was exciting. When I left D.C., the joke at Jones Day was, “We’ll see you in six months.” But I fell in love with academia and never looked back.

What do you enjoy about teaching? 

I enjoy the impact you can have. I wanted to give back, and for me, teaching was a way to do that. I get many calls and letters from former students telling me how valuable the courses they took from me have been in their actual law practice. Such feedback is incredibly rewarding.

You have a long history of pro bono work. Why are you committed to this type of work? 

I got into pro bono work at the outset of my career at Jones Day. One of my proudest achievements was to help set up a walk-in law clinic for low-income D.C. residents. It was an enormous undertaking, but the clinic is still thriving, years after we set it up. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people have been helped.

After that, I took over the pro bono program for the entire law firm, which involved overseeing 2,500 lawyers. It was a huge job, but I gained a lot of administrative experience that I think will be helpful as dean. During my tenure, we ended up more than doubling the firm’s annual pro bono hours.

Why did you take the position at Lewis & Clark? 

Number one–it’s a great law school, a fantastic law school. It has more riches than I’d even realized. It’s an amazing place. Everyone knows how strong the school is in environmental law, but it’s strong in so many other areas as well–such as intellectual property, business law, and animal law. And returning to Portland was a huge draw. I grew up with Lewis & Clark–I know the school, I know the area.

What are your priorities for the law school? 

Fundraising, of course, is at the top of my list, because everything else depends on resources. I’d like to raise money for new and improved facilities, endowed chairs, scholarships, and faculty and program enhancements. 

Also, I have lots of contacts based on my many years in Washington, D.C. I want to see the law school bring in judges, scholars, and practitioners from around the country for cutting-edge programs that will enhance the law school’s profile nationwide.

I would like to see the law school expand its international programs with foreign law schools. When I was at UMKC, I taught two summers at Peking University. It was a fantastic experience. 

What do you do for fun? 

I have a 12-year-old son who keeps me young. We like to bike ride, play guitar, swim, and travel. I’m big into music of all kinds.

How does your son feel about moving? 

I think if we were moving anywhere other than Portland, it would be a tougher sell. But he’s been hearing all his life how great it was to grow up in Portland–now he’ll get to see for himself.

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