William & Mary Law Dean A. Benjamin Spencer Receives Virginia State Bar Leadership in Education Award

  • Rakes Leadership in Education Award
    Rakes Leadership in Education Award  Dean A. Benjamin Spencer accepted the Rakes Leadership in Education Award on June 17 during the VSB’s annual conference in Virginia Beach. With him was William R. Rakes, senior counsel at the Roanoke, Va., firm of Gentry Locke, for whom the award was named.  Photo by Laura Heymann
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A. Benjamin Spencer, Dean and Trustee Professor of William & Mary Law School, was recently honored with the William R. Rakes Leadership in Education Award from the Virginia State Bar Section on the Education of Lawyers in Virginia.

Spencer received the award at a reception on June 17 during the Virginia State Bar’s (VSB) annual conference in Virginia Beach.

The award recognizes an individual who has demonstrated exceptional leadership and vision in developing and implementing innovative concepts to improve and enhance the state of legal education, and in advancing relationships and professionalism among members of the academy, the bench and the bar in Virginia. It was established in 2012 to honor former VSB president and founder of the Education Section, William R. Rakes, senior counsel at the Roanoke, Va., firm of Gentry Locke.

A nationally distinguished scholar of civil procedure and federal jurisdiction, Spencer became dean of William & Mary Law School on July 1, 2020, and was awarded the Marshall-Wythe School of Law Trustee Professorship the following year. He is the first Black dean of any school at William & Mary.

Spencer has authored multiple volumes of the renowned Wright & Miller Federal Practice & Procedure treatise, in addition to numerous articles published in journals including, most recently, the UCLA Law Review and Florida Law Review. He is one of the nation’s most-cited civil procedure scholars, with a widely used civil procedure casebook, as well as a member of the U.S. Army Reserve Judge Advocate General’s Corps, serving in its Government Appellate Division as a captain. In 2017, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts appointed him to the U.S. Judicial Conference Advisory Committee on Civil Rules.

One of Spencer’s first acts in his new position at William & Mary was unveiling “Why We Can’t Wait – An Agenda for Equity and Justice.” This twelve-point plan of action includes, among other initiatives, creating a university-wide, law-school-located Center for Racial & Social Justice in 2020, establishing a Community Law Clinic, and providing increased need-based aid through newly established scholarships.

Under Spencer’s leadership, the Law School has also created an Assistant Dean position to support students of all backgrounds, and a Director of Academic Success & Bar Preparation. Also in development are pipeline programs to recruit first-generation students and students from less-advantaged backgrounds and underrepresented groups, as well as a new Concentration in Public Interest & Social Justice Law.

Spencer holds a B.A. from Morehouse College, a J.D. from Harvard Law School and a master of science from the London School of Economics, where he was a Marshall Scholar.

Spencer was the chair of the VSB Section on the Education of lawyers in 2012 when the Rakes award was established. The following year, he honored W. Taylor Reveley III, then President of William & Mary and former Dean of the Law School, with the Rakes Award.

As a member of the Section’s Award Selection Committee that chose Spencer for his years of dedication to the education of lawyers in the Commonwealth, William Rakes has been impressed with the scope of Spencer’s career and reach.

“[Spencer] exemplifies the criterion of the award by being actively involved in encouraging the three prongs of the legal system—the academy, the bench, and the bar—to work together to improve the legal profession,” Rakes said.

About William & Mary Law School
Thomas Jefferson founded William & Mary Law School in 1779 to train leaders for the new nation. Now in its third century, America’s first law school continues its historic mission of educating citizen lawyers who are prepared both to lead and to serve.