From District Attorney to Dean

Tamara Lawson ’95 Becomes Dean of St. Thomas University School of Law

Posted Tue, 11/06/2018 - 00:00

As a student in Kendrick Hall, Tamara Lawson ’95 never dreamed she would one day occupy a law school dean's office. But this fall the former civil rights attorney did just that when she was appointed dean of St. Thomas University School of Law in Miami. 

After law school, Lawson spent six years as a deputy district attorney in Las Vegas and then more than a decade as a law professor, focusing primarily on criminal law, criminal procedure, and race and the law. She has published on criminal law topics that ultimately impact civil rights, including an analysis of the Trayvon Martin killing, and has conducted extensive research on stand-your-ground laws.

“I didn’t see it at first, but now I realize that as a criminal law expert, I’m having an impact on civil rights. Criminal procedure is basically the back end of civil rights law,” Lawson said. “As a professor, I’m still able to participate on the national stage and have an impact on issues.”

Now, as dean, Lawson also is helping to train the next generation of attorneys by continuing the school’s emphasis on access and social justice. “I’m committed to our mission as a school of access and to our social justice Catholic mission. I’m very proud to be a part of that, particularly in our region as it relates to our clinics on human rights, human trafficking, and immigration.”

As dean, Lawson is focused on improving bar passage rates, increasing alumni participation rates, and ensuring the school remains accessible to all students who have the grit necessary for law school. Prior to her appointment, Lawson had served in associate dean roles for several years in addition to teaching.

Such plans weren’t in Lawson’s mind when she started at the USF School of Law. Drawn to USF because of its Jesuit Catholic heritage, Lawson discovered a welcoming community, including supportive faculty members who were always accessible and ready to help. She participated in the law school’s civil rights clinic, worked in the law library, and, as a 3L, tutored for a first-year law class.

But it wasn’t until she taught as an adjunct professor while a deputy district attorney that she considered a career in academia. She ultimately returned to law school full-time, this time at Georgetown University pursuing an LLM. Her goal was clear — position herself to obtain a law professorship in the competitive world of academia.

Throughout the process, Lawson relied on the support of her former USF professors for guidance and coaching. “They encouraged me always,” she said. “They were helpful and encouraging and never said you can’t do it.”

“USF gave me my legal foundation, but it also gave me my confidence to tackle areas where a lot of people haven’t gone,” Lawson said. “Practice is not the only use of a law degree. Working in academia has been a great use of my degree.”