Karen "Kerry" Abrams became the 15th dean of Duke Law School July 1. Abrams, the new James B. Duke and Benjamin N. Duke dean of the School of Law, comes to Duke after serving as vice provost for faculty affairs and professor of law at the University of Virginia. The Chronicle's Maram Elnagheeb recently spoke with Abrams to discuss her plans for her first year. 

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Chronicle: What inspired you or led you to enter the field of law?

Kerry Abrams: Law is a place that you can think about the structure and institutions that support a functioning society. Without it, there’s chaos. I wanted to not only learn about the law but what makes law effective. How can a good system of law and rule of law create a society that is just and fair? Those sets of questions really matter to me. Our applications at Duke Law went up 17 percent this past year, which I think probably reflects the importance of the rule of law and institutions.

TC: What are your goals as dean of the Duke Law School?

KA: Duke Law is a really wonderful law school that is connected to a world-renowned university. I want to strengthen the connections between Duke Law, the University, and the Durham community.

TC: What are you looking forward to most as dean? 

KA: I am looking forward to getting to know the Duke Law community better. Everyone cares so much about the University and is enthusiastic. I am really looking forward to the students arriving and being a first-year dean along with the first-year law students and masters students.

TC: How will your expertise in immigration law and family law shape Duke Law?

KA: I recognize that issues or areas that seem separate often turn out to be interrelated. When I started writing about immigration law and family law, normal family laws did not fit neatly into immigration law. Immigration law can override family law. Getting outside of your field and crossing boundaries can lead to important insights and make a bigger impact and lead to society being helped more.

TC: Looking at the field of law today, what are areas in which you hope Duke Law to make strides?

KA: Duke Law School is very strong in technology, innovation and intellectual property law, and those areas are expanding very, very rapidly. I want to continue to expand our reach in those areas. The same is true for environment law and energy law. We have also been expanding our public interest law program. Being very conscious about the experiential learning opportunities for our students, I want to continue that expansion.

TC: How will your experience as vice provost for faculty affairs at UVA affect faculty recruitment at Duke Law?

KA: I have a lot of experience in recruiting and retaining faculty across a university, which is directly applicable to recruiting and retaining Duke Law faculty. This informs me on how to recruit and retain mid-career faculty who are looking for new directions and wanting to expand their research. 

A lot of law professors only have colleagues who are also law professors. If you have law professors who want to make an impact in law and public policy, being next to the Sanford School of Public Policy makes it easier for mid career faculty who want a new direction as well as Duke Law School being accessible to so many other departments.

TC: How do you hope to work in conjunction with the University at large in supporting its goals and initiatives? 

KA: I am very much looking forward to working with the deans of all of the other schools. I want to take advantage of the geographic proximity of Duke Law School as well as the interests of students and faculty in collaborating with other schools. A lot of the faculty members found the Bass Connections program rewarding, and there is continued interest in the program.

TC: What cross-collaborations would you like to see happen with Duke Law?

KA: Public policy is a really natural fit, and the Nicholas School of the Environment has collaborations going that I would like to foster more. I think the sky's the limit. That collaboration can happen with any of the schools including the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences and the Pratt School of Engineering. My job is to not dictate what directions of collaborations should happen.

Correction: This article originally stated that Abrams said "I am very strong in technology, innovation and intellectual property law." It has been updated to reflect the correct quotation, that "Duke Law School is very strong" in that area. The Chronicle regrets the error.