Welcome Elena Langan as the new dean of Concordia Law!
Though she never imagined her career path would one day lead to a position as a law school dean – much less at a law school in Idaho – Maryland native Elena Langan is thrilled to be taking the helm at Concordia University’s School of Law in Boise. She brings to her new post not just a rich past of legal and education experience but also countless exciting ideas for Concordia’s future.
A change of pace – and place
New year. New job. New place to call home. For Elena Langan, the year 2017 is ushering in some pretty profound life changes.
Up until the deanship at Concordia Law brought her west, Langan has lived and worked strictly on the east coast. Langan grew up in Maryland. Until she took advanced placement calculus, she was sure she wanted to become a math teacher. But then a passion for debate, history, and forensics blossomed during her junior year of high school and pushed toward law school instead. An undergraduate political science major, Langan completed Johns Hopkins University in 3 years and then went on to law school at University of Maryland School of Law. She practiced law in Maryland for three years before moving to Miami, Florida, in 1985.
Though a popular TV show of that era certainly painted a vivid (and rather racy) picture of that steamy south Florida city, “Miami Vice it wasn’t,” Langan chuckles. After becoming a board-certified specialist in marital and family law, a type of law which requires an aptitude for math as well as additional continuing education courses and exams in Florida, Langan practiced in Miami for 22 years. Then came her next big career change.
Taking experience into the classroom
The next change came by chance. Langan just happened to be chatting with a Nova Southeastern University faculty member after a conference and, through that chance encounter, was invited to interview for faculty positions at two area law schools. Langan ultimately picked Nova Southeastern University.
It was a professional shift of focus that came at just the right time – and made perfect sense. “I found that the more time I spent working with young associates, the happier I was,” Langan says. “After practicing for so long, the excitement wears off. The highs of winning (cases) just aren’t that high any more. Working with young lawyers and helping them build their skills and sharing in their successes became the most satisfying part of my job at the firm.”
At that time, Nova Southeastern University took a bit of a risk in hiring a practicing lawyer as opposed to a legal educator, but it paid off. Langan’s extensive practice experience (twenty-five years!) greatly enhanced her role as a professor, lending her instant credibility and making her all the more valuable. “My students immediately trusted me and were able to benefit from my working experience,” Langan says. She could bring to her teaching an understanding of the dynamic of firms, courtrooms, and other real-life legal situations.
This speaks to the huge shift in legal education through the years. When Langan got her JD, “you graduated from law school and didn’t even know where the courthouse was! That’s not the case anymore. Now there’s much more emphasis on developing practical, practice-ready skills. What are the skills that young lawyers need? What are the expectations? These are the type of things law students want and need from their education today.” Her sense of how very necessary these skills are helped bring Elena Langan and Concordia together.
A perfect match
The dean search found Langan just as she was finding out about Concordia Law. Langan met a Concordia Law faculty member through a mutual colleague and “the more I learned about the curriculum and the mission of the school, the more I was convinced it was a perfect fit for me.” For one thing, Langan and Concordia Law are in perfect sync about the value of engaging faculty who have worked in the legal profession and training law students to graduate with practice-ready skills.
Furthermore, Langan grew up Catholic, attended Catholic schools, and holds firm to her strong Christian values. She applauds Concordia Law’s unique Lutheran focus and its mission of servant leadership. “Many law firms and law schools give lip service to this – but may not actually be putting their money where their mouth is. Concordia is.”
While Concordia Law’s focus on instilling a strong moral and ethical code in its students is part of its mission, Langan also sees it as a professional imperative that not all schools take as seriously as Concordia does. “The legal profession is a public service profession, a service industry with moral and ethical obligations to the public.” Simply put, clients must be able to trust their lawyers. “We don’t have people’s lives in our hands in the same way that doctors do. But we have a profound responsibility and obligation to do the best possible job for our clients.”
Langan also appreciates the fact that Concordia Law is a relatively new school. “More established law schools don’t have faculty who are so dynamic, so willing to experiment – a newer school like Concordia is able to mold and alter the curriculum based on the changes in legal education without having to fight the battle with those who want to keep things as they’ve always been.”
First things first
As one would expect, Langan has a first year to-do list as long as it is daunting. Continuing to guide Concordia down the path to full ABA accreditation tops the list. Other areas on which she’d like to focus include further developing practice-ready curriculum; adding more faculty to fill specialty area gaps – experts in to-be-identified specialty areas who “specifically want to be at a university with a strong mission;” and communicating Concordia Law’s unique points of difference to stake its position and solidify its identity in the law school sphere. Managing resources for planned, sustained growth makes the list as well. Langan also plans to work toward bolstering Concordia’s regional and national reputation as a law school chosen as much for its moral and ethical values as for its ability to provide top-notch legal education. Her work is definitely cut out for her – but Langan is more than up for the task.
Becoming a Boisean
Perhaps no two cities in the United States are as different – geographically, culturally, meteorologically, and so forth – than Miami and Boise. But for Langan, that’s part of the fun. And so far, she’s been pleased with her experiences in the City of Trees. “It’s such a welcoming community – my interactions with everyone at the law school have been wonderful,” Langan shares. “Boise has a lovely small-town feel yet it’s a rapidly developing city. Lots of exciting high-tech companies are moving in, it has the highest number of patents per capita – such an innovative part of the country!” Not to mention the appeal of having four distinct seasons again.
No one is more surprised – and delighted – about this work/life change than Langan herself. “If you had asked me 20 years ago if I would be the dean of a law school, I probably would have said no. But I’m excited about the challenge – to do something wonderful and help put Boise and Concordia Law on the map.”