Dean Gillian Lester Announces Plans to Step Down in 2024

In her message to the Law School community, Dean Lester reflects on her nine years as dean and shares her plans for the upcoming year and her hopes for the future.

Gillian Lester, Dean and Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law

Dear members of the Columbia Law School community,

I write to let you know that I plan to step down from the deanship of Columbia Law School at the end of the 2023-2024 academic year. I had originally intended to make this announcement in early October, but my plan was unexpectedly overtaken by current events. In light of this delay, and to ensure a smooth and seamless transition, I am willing to remain in place through the end of calendar year 2024 should the search for my successor extend beyond the current academic year. After I step down, I look forward to returning to full-time teaching and scholarship as a member of the faculty.

I find it bittersweet to make this announcement—I have treasured my time as Dean, and marvel at how much we have grown and achieved together during the past nine years. At the same time, as I enter my tenth year as Dean, I am excited about the prospect of a new leader for a new phase in the School’s history and the energy this will bring to our pursuit of our mission.

It has been (and continues to be) a privilege beyond measure to lead such a wise, accomplished, and generous faculty and administrative staff in our deeply collective endeavor. At every turn, I have benefitted profoundly from warm collaborations, friendships, and a shared sense of purpose in our important work as one of the world’s leading institutions of legal education and research. And it has been the thrill of a lifetime to welcome 25 new faculty colleagues, while also honoring the contributions of the many others who came before and will forever be a part of our firmament.

To our students: You astonish me each year with the talent, ambitions, and experiences you bring to our community. I've learned from you as much as you’ve learned from me, and your support and partnership have helped move our institution forward during a time of complexity and change. It has been a joy to usher nine classes of graduates across the stage (albeit some virtually) who have gone on to become brilliant, skilled, empathic legal professionals equipped with the skills and tools to become the next generation of leaders in our society.

My partnership with our alumni, particularly our advisory boards, has been a source of enduring inspiration and gratitude. Our alumni contribute to the profession and our society in ways both consequential and meaningful, model the best of the profession for future generations of graduates, and contribute to the School in ways too numerous to measure, ranging from advising and mentoring students, to teaching in our classrooms, to hiring and collaborating with one another, to giving generously to the School so that we can achieve our highest aspirations. The success of the Campaign for Columbia Law—exceeding our initial goal of $300 million to ultimately raise $325 million over five years—is a perfect illustration of how our alumni go above and beyond.

Not a day has passed when I have felt anything less than inspired and moved by the good work the CLS community undertakes every day. This work will (and must) continue because it is vital to the progress of society—we are, indeed, a force in the world.

But for now, I’m not going anywhere. We still have much to accomplish in the current academic year, and we have already rolled up our sleeves. Preparation for our library renovation is well underway, with the advance work more than half completed and construction in the library itself set to commence next summer. Ensuring an environment welcoming to students across all life paths and experiences—be it through financial aid, supporting career choice, or innovating in our curriculum and pedagogy—remains a critical priority. The importance of supporting our world-class faculty in their scholarship, teaching, and service to the community cannot be overstated; it is deep in our DNA that our faculty will continually strive for higher heights of excellence and impact.

Let me close by reiterating a sentiment woven throughout the paragraphs above. I have been deeply honored and proud to serve as your dean for the good part of a decade. Not a day has passed when I have felt anything less than inspired and moved by the good work the CLS community undertakes every day. This work will (and must) continue because it is vital to the progress of society—we are, indeed, a force in the world.

I am excited about what lies ahead under new leadership—including under our new President, Minouche Shafik—and look forward to lending my continued and undivided support as a member of the faculty. President Shafik will shortly share an announcement of my decision with the University community, and her office will be in touch soon about the search process for the next dean of Columbia Law School.

With gratitude and admiration,

Gillian Lester
Dean and Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law