Elena Kagan - A Women in the Law profile

Issue June 2009 By Tricia M. Oliver

Kagan_Headshot_hi-res.jpgThe first woman dean of Harvard Law School has once again made history with her recent appointment as the country’s first female solicitor general. As if Elena Kagan’s appointment in March was not prestigious enough, her name now appears on a short list of possible replacements being considered by President Barack Obama to succeed retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter.

Her colleagues aren’t surprised.

“This is a tribute to Elena, who has broken such barriers,” said Maureen O’Rourke, dean of Boston University School of Law. “President Obama has looked to Massachusetts for a number of his appointments,” said O’Rourke, who explained that this might demonstrate the caliber of attorneys that Massachusetts, and Boston in particular, attracts.

According to O’Rourke, Kagan’s appointment to solicitor general is another example of the “very prominent roles played by women who have spent a large portion of their careers here.”

Kagan’s transition from Cambridge to Washington, D.C. is a homecoming of sorts. The nation’s capitol is not foreign territory to Kagan, who served in the Clinton White House as the associate counsel to the president and then as deputy director of the Domestic Policy Council.

She also spent a portion of her early legal career there in the late 1980s. She clerked for Judge Abner Mikva of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. She also worked as an associate in the Washington, D.C.-based firm Williams & Connolly for two years.

As reported by the Legal Times, Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-Delaware), during Kagan’s confirmation hearing, complimented her as having “the piercing intellect, the superb judgment and the wealth of experience to be an outstanding solicitor general.”

Back at Harvard, the vacant dean’s post has been temporarily filled by Professor Howell Jackson. The process to select a long-term replacement for Kagan is in progress, but no formal timeline has been announced.

During her six-year tenure at Harvard Law School, Kagan led the charge to expand and enhance faculty, modernized the curriculum, developed new campus facilities, promoted public service and improved the student experience.

According to Harvard Law School Student Government President Brian Aune, “Whether it was one student or hundreds, she genuinely listened to their concerns, and if they had a problem, took whatever steps were feasible to remedy it.”

Whomever Harvard Law selects to succeed the “immensely popular” Kagan will have some large shoes to fill.

For now, Kagan herself is getting her own feet wet in her new role as a U.S. solicitor general.