William & Mary Names Its First Black Dean

Benhamin Spencer, professor of law
Spencer, J.D., the newly appointed dean of the nation’s oldest law school, The William & Mary Law School.

The William & Mary Law School, the nation’s oldest law school, named A. Benjamin Spencer, J.D., its new dean, effective July 1, 2020. Spencer is a civil procedure and federal courts expert and current professor of law at the University of Virginia (UVA). He succeeds Davison M. Douglas, who will return to the faculty after serving as dean for more than 10 years. He will be William & Mary’s first African-American dean of any school at the university and will also serve as the school’s Chancellor Professor of Law.

Service, leadership, scholarship, and teaching
A Hampton, Va., native, Spencer began his career in legal education at the University of Richmond School of Law. He has been a member of the UVA faculty since 2014 and recently completed a year as the Bennett Boskey Visiting Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. He currently serves as the Justice Thurgood Marshall Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Virginia School of Law.

Spencer’s teaching and scholarship focus on civil procedure, federal civil litigation and military law. Before joining the UVA faculty, he served as director of the Francis Lewis Law Center and associate dean for research at Washington and Lee University. While there he mentored younger colleagues, students and early-career faculty.

Spencer credits his family with instilling in him the importance of public service
Although he did not have prior military experience, he joined the U.S. Army Reserve
Judge Advocate General’s Corps five years ago and holds the rank of captain. He is
assigned to the Government Appellate Division, where he briefs and argues appeals on behalf of the Army.

Spencer’s numerous awards include a Virginia Outstanding Faculty Award, the highest honor for faculty working at the state’s colleges and universities. He was the first law professor chosen in the “rising star” category for the award, which is presented for excellence in teaching, research and public service. He has been active in multiple university committees, working with faculty and students to help to shape their institutions in areas ranging from curriculum to inclusion.

Spencer has authored numerous law review articles, book chapters and books. He is an author of the iconic Wright & Miller Federal Practice and Procedure treatise, which is devoted to Civil Procedure. Last year the treatise published its first volume under the name of Wright, Miller & Spencer in recognition of his contributions.

At UVA, Spencer has been the faculty advisor for the Black Law Students
Association and the Thomas More Society. He was a member of the Student Services Committee and Diversity Committee at the University of Richmond, and worked as faculty advisor to the Honor Court, the Black Law Students Association and the Patrick Henry Chapter of the Phi Alpha Delta Law Fraternity.

Spencer shares his expertise with professional associations and other civic groups, serving on numerous committees for the Virginia State Bar and Virginia Bar Association. He is a member of the American Law Institute and the West Academic Law School Advisory Board. He has served on the board of directors for such organizations as the Virginia Poverty Law Center, Piedmont Court Appointed Special Advocates, Comfort Zone Camp and Girl Scouts Commonwealth Council of Virginia.

Broad academic and professional experience
Graduating from Harvard Law School in 2001 as a member of the esteemed Harvard Law Review, Spencer received the Judge John R. Brown Award for Excellence in Legal Writing and won the ABA Section of Antitrust Law Student Writing Competition. At Harvard he was named best oralist in the semi-finals of the Ames Moot Court Competition and won best brief in the first-year Ames Moot Court Competition. He holds a master’s degree in criminal justice policy from the London School of Economics and a bachelor’s degree in political science from Morehouse College.

Spencer was appointed to the U.S. Judicial Conference Advisory Committee on Civil Rules in 2017 by Chief Justice of the U.S. John Roberts and remains a member of that committee today. He served as a special assistant U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia from 2009 to 2013, where he handled appellate cases in the Fourth Circuit on behalf of the government on a pro bono basis.

His other legal positions have included litigation associate for Shearman & Sterling and judicial law clerk for the Hon. Judith W. Rogers with the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Transatlantic ties
Spencer has forged longstanding ties in the United Kingdom. He was a British Marshall Scholar at the London School of Economics, where he received his Master of Science degree in 1997. As a Marshall Scholar, Spencer was one of 40 college seniors in the nation selected for advanced study in the United Kingdom, with a full scholarship. In the years that followed, he has fulfilled the “ambassadorial” spirit of the Marshall: serving as a member of the British Ambassador’s Advisory Council, as chair of the Marshall Scholarship selection committee in Washington, D.C., and as a longtime member of the board of directors for the Association of Marshall Scholars.

A family of “firsts”
Spencer’s new appointment follows a family tradition of pioneers and professional
success. His father, James R. Spencer, was the first African American chief judge in the 215-year history of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. His grandfather, Adam S. Arnold, Ph.D., was the first African-American professor at Notre Dame University, where he taught finance for 30 years. His mother, Alicia Spencer, is a retired elementary school principal in Newport News.

“It was not until the hiring committee from William & Mary approached me
back in 2003 that I gave any thought to becoming a law professor. I am tremendously excited that after all these years, I am finally able to join this wonderful community of impactful scholars,” Spencer says. “I am particularly enthusiastic about the university’s commitment to a whole-person, whole-university approach to learning and its commitment to understanding and meeting the most pressing needs of our time.”