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Setty Looks to the Future of the School of Law With Optimism

By Kenneth Stratton '19 SUNDAY, MAY 12, 2019 - 12:00 AM WNE100

She never thought she’d be a law school professor, let alone a dean. Which is curious, considering she showed an interest in the legal field at a young age, and would later explore opportunities to teach. But for a time, the idea of teaching in a law school didn’t interest her.

Sudha Setty became Dean of the School of Law at Western New England University in the summer of 2018. Previous to that, she had been teaching at the school since 2006. She admits that it was shortsighted of her, to once dismiss the prospects of teaching in a law school, because it is so interesting – and just one of the many possibilities one can enjoy with a legal degree.

“I’ve never once regretted that I became a lawyer or went to law school, because I see so many possibilities with that degree,” Setty said. Her own career experience is reflective of that, which had its roots in the moment she joined the debate club in middle school.

“I enjoyed thinking through both sides of an issue,” Setty said. The future Dean knew a career in the legal field would allow her this opportunity, and it’s been at the core of her work ever since.

Setty took a year off after college to consider her prospects. She had enjoyed her teaching experiences, and by then realized lawyering wasn’t anything like how it’s portrayed in Hollywood. But still, she wanted to be a lawyer.

After studying comparative civil rights as an undergraduate at Stanford University, she took on law school with the intention of becoming a comparative civil rights lawyer. Instead, again signaling the fact that a law degree offers so many possibilities, after earning her JD from Columbia Law School, Setty began work as an associate with Davis, Polk and Wardwell.

“It was a terrific environment for learning a great deal on how to be an analytical thinker,” Setty said of the law firm. During her time at Davis, Polk and Wardwell, she worked in the litigation department, defending companies being investigated by, and facing lawsuits from, regulatory agencies and other parties. Many of the issues included accusations of fraud, antitrust litigation and breach of contract. “It was an intense work environment,” Setty admitted, quick to add that the people she worked with were great.

Eventually the urge to teach returned, and Setty made a leap for what she once dismissed as impossible: to become a professor of law. After taking several calls and attending many interviews with programs from all across the country, she chose Western New England University’s School of Law.

“It really was remarkable to me how different the atmosphere is here,” Setty said. As she explained it, at Western New England, the faculty treats their students as future colleagues. And in her experience, that isn’t the case at every law school.

Setty’s research during this time took her in a direction that was a response to where the legal academy and the world were in the wake of 9/11. Legal scholars were beginning to play a larger role in the discussions around national security, and because many of the first experts in the field provided a military orientation, Setty believed it was important for perspectives with a rights orientation to join the discussion; so, she did.

“These are difficult and complicated conversations, we need people from a lot of different perspectives and we all need to listen to each other,” Setty said. “I sit with people who I disagree with strongly, all the time at these conferences, and I learn a lot from them, I hope they learn something from me, and I think our conversation is richer for it,” she said. Having made a name for herself in comparative national security, Setty has taught and spoken at conferences at law schools around the world.

When Setty took on the role of Dean of the School of Law, she knew it would be a challenge; but she was up for it. Setty explained that during the Great Recession, demand for young lawyers was low, and law school enrollments were down. But job prospects are now looking better, and despite the ever-present competition from other area law schools, enrollments are up at the School of Law.

“This law school is such an integral part of the Western Massachusetts legal community,” Setty said. She explained that alumni are active all across the community serving as judges, practitioners, pro bono lawyers, government lawyers, non-profit lawyers, and more.

Continuing to stress the importance of the School of Law as a hub for legal discussion and development in the community, Setty said a priority of hers when she became dean was establishing a Center for Social Justice. The Center, which is just getting under way now, promotes the current work of faculty and students and looks to increase financial and other support to students seeking social justice careers.

Setty looks to the future of the School of Law with optimism. It will remain committed to serving the community, and providing the needs the legal market demands. Though she once never expected to work in a law school, she is prepared and excited to lead Western New England University’s School of Law into its second century.