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Looking Back, Moving Ahead

Q&A with Concordia Law’s Founding Dean Cathy Silak

Despite the fact that Boise is the legal center, hub, and state capital of Idaho, for years it remained one of the only state capitals in the United States without a law school. That all changed in 2007 when Concordia University-Portland’s vision for a nonprofit, community-focused Lutheran law school in Boise came to fruition – and Founding Dean Cathy Silak took her place to lead the charge.

Under Silak’s leadership, Concordia Law opened its doors and welcomed its inaugural class in 2012, with top-rated faculty, staff, and mentors throughout the Boise legal community. 

An attorney by profession, Founding Dean Silak served as an Idaho Supreme Court Justice from 1993 until 2000, and was Vice-Chief Justice from 1997 to 2000. Prior to her appointment by the Governor to the Supreme Court, Silak was the first woman appointed to an appellate court in Idaho’s history, serving as a Judge on the Idaho Court of Appeals from 1990 to 1993.

In addition, Founding Dean Silak was a partner at Hawley Troxell Ennis & Hawley in Boise, President and CEO of the Idaho Community Foundation, Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Special Assistant United States Attorney for the District of Idaho, and was an associate at Morrison & Foerster. She was a law clerk to U. S. District Judge William Schwarzer in San Francisco.

Silak will return to Concordia School of Law on May 4, 2019, to deliver the Keynote Address at the 2019 Commencement ceremony – the first commencement ceremony since Concordia Law earned full approval from the American Bar Association. 

We sat down with Founding Dean Silak to discuss this momentous occasion.

What was it like to be Founding Dean of a brand new law school back when Concordia opened its doors in 2012?  
It was such a challenging and invigorating role – I often said that each day brought at least one new opportunity and one new obstacle!  I started as Dean well before there was even a building, so it has truly been amazing to see the progress of Concordia Law and its entire community of students, faculty, staff, and supporters in just over 10 years.  

You helped pioneer the community focus at Concordia Law, which now lives and breathes through 5th & Front. Has it been gratifying to watch the expansion of 5th & Front over the years? 
Concordia Law has always been committed to serving the legal needs of the most vulnerable in the greater Boise area.  5th and Front as a distinct focus not only brings the great knowledge of Concordia Law’s services to the community but also helps the Law School expand those services.  It was originally named after one of our faculty members recounted that she always told her community clients to “come to 5th and Front.” And yet it is so much more than its location – it truly is where law and social justice meet, for Concordia and for the Boise community at large. 

What has it been like to see Concordia Law reach the milestone of full ABA Approval?  
It has been thrilling! The milestone of full ABA approval means that Concordia Law can now be recognized nationally for its fine student outcomes and programs that serve the community, such as its clinics and pro bono volunteer programs. While it is an enormous accomplishment for our leadership, faculty, and staff, our alumni should also be recognized for their outstanding record of Bar passage and employment. 

You’ll be delivering the keynote commencement address on May 4 - the first commencement ceremony after full ABA Approval. What is it that you’ll want to share with the graduates on that special day?   
While I don’t want to give away too much, it will be such a special experience to speak at this commencement ceremony – to recognize that not only have we opened a law school in Boise and addressed a community need, but we have also achieved the milestone of full approval. I am looking forward to sharing some memorable moments from the early days of the law school – memories that will strengthen the graduating class’ sense of pride and school spirit as they become esteemed alumni.   

As Founding Dean, you have an extensive list of accomplishments. If you had to choose one moment or one accomplishment that you are most proud of during your time at Concordia, what would it be?  
That’s a hard question! My Dean’s Advisory Council was such an important part of our founding, along with the amazing support from President Chuck Schlimpert and other Concordia University leaders. We were all together to celebrate the opening of Concordia University School of Law to its first class in August of 2012, so welcoming our inaugural class of students was certainly a high point I will never forget.  

Learn more about Concordia University School of Law’s 2019 commencement ceremony.

Concordia University School of Law is fully approved by the Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar of the American Bar Association, 321 North Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60654, 312-988-6738.