Lunch with Dean Donovan

Lia Keane '18
Features Editor

When I think back to my freshman year of college (’09) and the wide-eyed look of terror that I received from my academic advisor after I told him I wanted to go to law school, the thought of taking charge of a law school’s career services department during one of the worst periods of legal hiring in recent history seems daunting to say the least. Yet that is precisely the challenge that Kevin Donovan, Senior Assistant Dean for Career Services, took on when he joined UVa Law’s administration in 2009. 

 Photo courtesy of content.virginia.edu

Photo courtesy of content.virginia.edu

Of course, in hindsight, Dean Donovan seems like the natural choice for the role. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania School of Law, Dean Donovan clerked for a district court judge in Cleveland, OH, before joining Morgan Lewis & Bockius’ Philadelphia office, where he worked for eighteen years and became partner in 2000. While at Morgan Lewis, Dean Donovan worked as a litigator and primarily specialized in complex tort litigation. Notably, in addition to assisting with Morgan Lewis’ recruiting committee, Dean Donovan was also put in charge of running the firm’s global pro bono practice. Dean Donovan stated that the work he did during his time managing the pro bono division culminated in what he described as being one of his proudest professional accomplishments. Specifically, under Dean Donovan’s guidance, Morgan Lewis’ pro bono practice gained increased national renown and the firm’s rankings quickly climbed as well.  

In Dean Donovan’s view, his time in private practice gave him the necessary foundation to work with and lead UVa Law’s career services team. When asked how his current role compares to his time as a litigator, Dean Donovan indicated that he misses having the opportunity to write on a regular basis and to engage in complicated legal analyses. Additionally, Dean Donovan wishes that it were easier to remain in contact with his former colleagues, who he praised for making his time at Morgan Lewis particularly enjoyable. Nevertheless, Dean Donovan noted that working in career services has provided him with a new set of organizational challenges and the opportunity to work closely with students. 

When asked to give a prediction about how legal hiring might change in the coming years, Dean Donovan indicated a belief that the On-Grounds Interview system may begin to give way to a less centralized process. Dean Donovan thinks that legal hiring may shift towards what he described as “the business school approach,” which will place greater weight on the connections that students and employers make before the hiring season officially begins. Dean Donovan suggested that this may be a mutually beneficial change because students and firms will have more opportunities to determine whether they are a good fit for one another. Dean Donovan emphasized that forming relationships with your coworkers is a crucial aspect of practice because doing so will make it easier to “get through tough times.” Regardless of which trends ultimately take hold, Dean Donovan stated that the goal of everyone in career services is to constantly “innovate and improve” the programs that are currently in place. 

Dean Donovan’s advice to students will likely offer comfort to those of us who, say, are on the fence about which 2L practice group to join or whether to clerk after graduation. According to Dean Donovan, a legal career should be thought of as a jungle gym rather than a ladder, and our professional progress is unlikely to unfold in an entirely linear fashion. He noted that our generation often expresses anxiety over the possibility of making a misstep but he encourages students to be confident in the decisions they make. Further, he wants us to remember that not every path we take will be immediately appealing. Referring again to his time as the head of Morgan Lewis’ pro bono program, Dean Donovan admitted that he had initially been reluctant to take the position, though he ultimately considered it a fantastic experience.  

When Dean Donovan finds a few moments of downtime in his schedule, he enjoys attending basketball and football games, and spending time with his wife. His three children have all attended UVa, though Dean Donovan joked that he never ran into any of them on Grounds. Dean Donovan also tries to read the books published by members of UVa Law’s faculty, and stated that he particularly enjoyed Dean Risa Golubuff’s Vagrant Nation. He praised the book for causing him to think about an area of the law that he hadn’t previously thought extensively about. Dean Donovan is also an avid runner and regularly runs with other Charlottesville professionals. In fact, shortly after members of the Law Weekly staff sat down with Dean Donovan for lunch, he participated in the Charlottesville marathon. For those who are familiar with the Meyer-Briggs scale, Dean Donovan is an ISTJ and believes that knowing your MBTI score may help you identify the strengths and weaknesses that you may bring to a legal team one day. 

And finally, for everyone who’s ever wondered: yes, he knows we call him KDon.

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lk3da@virginia.edu