January 20, 2008
Young, Female, Energetic and, Now, Dean
By LINDA SASLOW
NORA DEMLEITNER has never been afraid to take chances. At the age of 19, she left her home in Germany to attend college in the United States, following her dream of becoming a lawyer like her childhood TV idol, Perry Mason.
Since then her path has included a degree from Yale Law School, a master’s degree in international and comparative law from the Georgetown University Law Center, and a clerkship for Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., then sitting on the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and now a Supreme Court justice.
She made her way to the Hofstra Law School faculty in 2001, and on Jan. 1, Ms. Demleitner, 41, became the law school’s youngest dean ever and the first woman to fill the dean’s chair since the school was founded in 1970. She had served as interim dean since March, and her appointment concluded a national search that took almost a year.
Alan N. Resnick, one of six members of the law school faculty on the 13-member search committee, said Ms. Demleitner “has energized the school.” Hofstra and Touro are Long Island’s only law schools.
“We were looking for someone who was not only highly regarded in the law school world, but someone who has vision,” he said. “We found a dean who sees where the future of legal education is going and who will help Hofstra retain and grow its excellent faculty.”
The search committee was not the only one impressed by Ms. Demleitner. Justice Alito, for whom she served as a clerk in 1992 and ’93, said he was, too.
“She had a wonderful academic record and came highly recommended to me by people at Yale Law School,” Justice Alito said in a telephone interview. “I was immediately impressed by her poise and intelligence.”
Ms. Demleitner was particularly eager to clerk for Justice Alito because they shared an interest in sentencing. She later became a managing editor for the Federal Sentencing Reporter, a journal that explores sentencing law.
A self-described liberal Democrat, Ms. Demleitner said politics was never an issue in her relationship with Justice Alito, a conservative.
Justice Alito said he likes to think he taught Ms. Demleitner “to keep an open mind and not to come to cases with any preconceived notions.” She said that even when she was ready to make a judgment, “He would always say, ‘You may want to read this case one more time.’ ”
Her first university position came in 1994, when Ms. Demleitner became a professor at St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio at the age of 27. Jeffrey J. Pokorak, who was part of the hiring team at St. Mary’s, said: “Even at a young age, Nora was well known and respected. She was a brilliant young scholar who had drive and a commitment to social justice.”
Reflecting on her appointment as dean, Mr. Pokorak, who is now an associate professor at Suffolk University in Boston, said: “Hofstra has not only gotten a great scholar, but a really fine manager. Nora has all of the pieces.”
As dean, her ultimate goal is “to make Hofstra Law School a household name.”
“We have a faculty that can be compared to the country’s top 30 law schools,” said Ms. Demleitner, who has a son, 6, and a daughter, 3. “But now we need to create a buzz about the exciting things going on here and raise awareness that Hofstra is an intellectual powerhouse.”
Another priority for her is to help the law school, which has 1,150 students, become a legal hub for Nassau County businesses and news media, Ms. Demleitner said.
“If someone has a legal issue, we want to be the first resource,” she said.
Her enthusiasm is evident when she talks about the presidential debate to be held at Hofstra on Oct. 15. But she is particularly excited about a March 11 visit by Justice Alito that will include a number of public events.
“It is important for students to see someone who has achieved such a high office by being very smart, hard-working and extremely ethical,” she said. “Justice Alito taught me about ethics and the importance of being aboveboard. In his office he had a roll of stamps, so that when he sent a personal letter, it wouldn’t go out with a U.S. government seal.”
“He also taught me about the importance of hard work,” she said. “Intellect doesn’t matter unless you put in the effort.”
To which Justice Alito responded, “Nora has both.”