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Q & A with TU Law Dean Levit

By Travis Pickens

Oklahoma law schools are fortunate to have lawyers of impeccable professional backgrounds lead them.  Dean Janet Levit was appointed dean of the University of Tulsa College of Law on July 10, 2008, and recently sat down with OBA Ethics Counsel Travis Pickens to talk about her background and perspective.

Q. What inspired you to be a lawyer?

I grew up surrounded by lawyers — my grandmother was a lawyer, my grandfathers were lawyers, and my father was a lawyer. I learned from a very early age that the law is a powerful tool to help people and organizations solve their problems. A good lawyer invaluably helps clients prepare for, and ultimately take, calculated risk as a part of a strategy to achieve important goals.

Q. What is the best advice you ever got about a career in law?

Careers unfold over long horizons, and a law license opens infinite possibilities to make a difference. The career trajectories of our alumni are diverse and impressive, illustrating countless areas of legal practice and numerous ways to utilize a law degree beyond traditional law firm practice. The trick is finding the niche that sparks your passion and running with it. For me, that niche has been international law and legal education.

Q. What can practicing lawyers do to help lawyers coming up?

First and foremost, be a gold standard example of excellent, ethical practice. Next, be a mentor. Take a law student or a young lawyer “under your wing” — check in periodically, invite your mentee to view you “in action,” introduce your mentee to your network, suggest your mentee for bar association or other nonprofit boards and working groups, and be an open, non-judgmental ear.

Q. What is included in your personal definition of an “ethical lawyer?”

At a minimum, an “ethical lawyer” follows the applicable rules of professional responsibility. Additionally, an “ethical lawyer” demonstrates impeccable judgment and steers clear of situations or influences that might compromise that judgment.

Janet Koven Levit
Dean and Dean John Rogers
Endowed Chair

Professor Janet K. Levit earned her J.D. in 1994 from Yale Law School, where she was book reviews and articles editor of the Yale Journal of International Law. She earned a M.A. in international relations in 1994 from Yale University and an A.B., magna cum laude, in 1990 from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. She served as law clerk for Stephanie K. Seymour, Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, and for the chair of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States. Professor Levit practiced in the international trade and finance areas at the Export-Import Bank of the United States, as well as in the private sector. She writes about international finance and international human rights issues and published her most recent articles in the Emory Law Journal, Yale Journal of International Law, Harvard International Law Journal and the Columbia Journal of Transnational Law. In October 2007, the president of the University of Tulsa appointed Professor Levit as interim dean of the college of law, and on July 10, 2008, she was appointed dean.

Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal -- Apr.14, 2012 -- Volume 83, No. 11
Travis Pickens is the OBA Ethics Counsel. He can be reached at