Melanie D. Wilson Named Next Dean of Washington and Lee University School of Law
Melanie D. Wilson has been named the next dean of Washington and Lee University’s School of Law. She will also hold the Roy L. Steinheimer Jr. Professorship in Law.
A highly respected scholar on issues of criminal procedure, Wilson is currently dean emerita and Lindsay Young Distinguished Professor at the University of Tennessee College of Law.
Washington and Lee Provost Lena Hill announced Wilson’s appointment, which will be effective July 1, 2022. Wilson succeeds Brant Hellwig, who stepped down from the position in 2021. Michelle Drumbl, the Robert O. Bentley Professor of Law and director of W&L’s Tax Clinic, has served as interim dean during the national search for Hellwig’s successor.
“I am excited to welcome Melanie Wilson to W&L,” said Hill. “Melanie’s remarkable leadership experience, together with her investment in the values of our legal studies program, will enable her to hit the ground running. Her campus visit left our community impressed by her passion for students, dedication to faculty achievement, investment in staff success, and commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. I look forward to her deanship with great anticipation.”
Wilson completed a successful five-year term as dean of the University of Tennessee College of Law in 2020 before stepping down to return to teaching. Under her leadership, the college achieved significant gains in fundraising, graduate employment and student recruitment; reduced graduate debt loads; increased entry-level faculty salaries; and raised faculty summer stipends. The college also created partnerships with other U.T. programs and campuses, added a semester-in-residence program for students in Nashville and established a Master of Legal Studies degree for professionals.
As Washington and Lee’s law dean, Wilson will work with a diverse and collaborative intellectual community comprising a faculty with proven commitments to scholarship and teaching, and a student body whose members have chosen to study at a small law school with an innovative curriculum that combines the rigorous study of legal doctrine and analysis with simulated and actual practice experiences.
“I am deeply honored and excited to join the Washington and Lee University community at a time of great promise,” said Wilson. “The law school is a special place with extraordinary and influential faculty scholars and an engaged and talented staff who put students first. The students, who are incredibly bright and talented, arrive with unlimited potential and leave W&L Law prepared to make an indelible mark on the world. W&L Law is positioned well to become a national model for legal education in the 21st century, and I can’t wait to collaborate with the faculty, staff, students, alumni, university leaders, the Board of Trustees and other friends of the law school to cultivate its many strengths and to create a compelling vision for our future.”
Wilson earned a J.D. (magna cum laude and Order of the Coif) from the University of Georgia School of Law. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a minor in business, also from the University of Georgia, where she was an Academic All-American and a member of the 1986 SEC Championship women’s golf team.
Before entering academia, she clerked for a federal district court judge and practiced for 13 years in both the private and public sectors, including six years as an assistant United States attorney and four years as an assistant attorney general for the state of Georgia.
Wilson joined the faculty of the University of Kansas School of Law in 2011, where she went on to serve as professor of law, associate dean for academic affairs, and director of diversity and inclusion. An accomplished teacher and scholar, she received the Howard M. and Susan Immel Award for Teaching Excellence at the University of Kansas School of Law in 2011 and was named Outstanding Woman Educator of 2015 by the University of Kansas. She has co-authored three books on criminal procedure and published more than a dozen articles and essays addressing the Fourth and Sixth Amendments, as well as prosecutorial ethics.
Wilson is also active in the profession, having served the Association of American Law Schools in numerous capacities, including current membership on its Executive and Audit & Investment Policy Committees. She is a fellow of the American Bar Foundation and a member of the State Bar of Georgia.
“Melanie Wilson distinguished herself among an exceptionally strong pool of candidates,” said W&L President Will Dudley. “I was highly impressed by her accomplishments at the University of Tennessee and her ability to connect with students, faculty and alumni. I look forward to working with her on behalf of W&L Law.”
The search committee was chaired by Rob Straughan, the Crawford Family Dean of W&L’s Williams School and professor of business administration. Other committee members included interim Law Dean Michelle Drumbl; law professors David Baluarte, Jill Fraley, Brandon Hasbrouck ’11L and Allison Weiss; Assistant Dean of Career Strategy Cliff Jarrett ’91L; Associate Dean of Law Student Affairs Trenya Mason ’05L; Law Council President Michael Spencer ’96L; and two members of the university’s Board of Trustees, Laurie Rachford ’84L and William Toles ’92, ’95L.