Interview with Duke Law School Dean Levi(1)
2008-05-15 19:10:41 [ Big Normal Small ]     Comment
“It is my job to bridge the two worlds”--Interview with Duke Law School Dean Levi

About Dean Levi

David F. Levi became the 14th dean of Duke Law School on July 1, 2007. Prior to his appointment as dean, he was the Chief United States District Judge for the Eastern District of California, with chambers in Sacramento. He was appointed United States Attorney by President Ronald Reagan in 1986 and a United States District Judge by President George H. W. Bush in 1990.

Dean Levi graduated Order of the Coif from Stanford Law School in 1980, where he was also president of the Stanford Law Review. Following graduation, he was a law clerk to Judge Ben C. Duniway, Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and then to Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr. of the United States Supreme Court. After earning his A.B. in 1972, magna cum laude, from Harvard College in history and literature, he entered the graduate program in history at Harvard where he specialized in English legal history. He was also a teaching fellow in English history and literature at Harvard from 1973 to 1977.

Interview with Duke Law School Dean Levi


Dean Levi is the co-author of Federal Trial Objections (James, 2002). He has taught complex litigation at the University of California at Davis School of Law.

Recently, Xing Zong, a 5th year PhD student at Duke University and a freelance writer, took an exclusive interview with Dean Levi.

Zong: Dean Levi, your father was the past president of the University of Chicago. When you grew up, you and your brothers used to accompany your dad to the law school, where he’d have you dust around the old building. How did your father shape your thinking about the world?

Levi: That is a very good question. My father was very involved in my and my brothers’ lives, and his influence on us was strong. My older brother and I both became lawyers, and now here I am back in the university setting. My father believed very strongly in the rule of law, in scholarship, in the life of mind, as he called it, and the unity of knowledge. He was extremely supportive of my younger brother, who became a research scientist, even though he was following a field that my father did not understand very well. He admired scientists and their vigorous truth-seeking and ruthless devotion to accuracy. My father valued integrity and scholarship. He was a measured man, restrained and careful. He had a strong influence on all three of us.

Zong: Your final choice was law. Is this because of your father’s example or your own self reflection?

Levi: It was my own choice, but I will admit that I was surrounded by academic lawyers. My uncle was a law teacher; my father was a law teacher. I always enjoyed their conversations about matters of law and public policy. Initially I thought I would be a historian, and my father was approving of that as well. The study of history and the study of law are quite connected.

Zong: After you graduated from Harvard, you continued in the Harvard history graduate program. Just curious, were you working towards a Ph.D. degree? Why didn’t you go directly to law school?

Levi: I was pursuing a Ph.D. degree. I finished the dissertation, but I didn’t quite get the Ph.D. I got to a point where the dissertation was approved, and I just needed to do a little bit of work. But I didn’t want to be in graduate school for another academic year, so I went on to law school. If I had had another two months, I would have finished the Ph.D. But I didn’t want to delay law school for a year. I thought I would go on to teach law and be able to finish the Ph.D., which proved to be wrong. I ended up clerking after law school instead. One thing led to another, and I was diverted.
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