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Influential Lawyers- Ellen Suni

University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law

ellen-suniThe last year has been one of transition for Ellen Suni, dean emerita of the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law.

Plans to retire as dean at the end of the school year were dashed by health issues in January 2017, prompting Suni to step down earlier from the position. She’s spent the year recuperating and easing into teaching again.

Suni said it’s been a big change moving between the two roles.

“The life in a faculty office is much quieter than in the dean’s office,” she said. “It’s sometimes hard getting used to pacing yourself when something isn’t happening every second.”

When Suni left the dean post, she was the eighth longest-serving dean in the U.S. She was dean for 13 years, and has been a member of the faculty since 1980.

Suni said she can see why deanships are typically shorter.

“It’s very demanding and it gets more and more demanding all the time,” she said, pointing to pressures such as budget-planning.

Budgeting becomes particularly difficult when it came to providing metrics for the school’s accomplishments.

“If you’re trying to be innovative and at the cutting edge, 20th century metrics don’t fit,” she said. “You’re constantly eager, trying to fly under the radar and not asking for permission.”

Looking back on her tenure, she said she is most proud of helping to refocus the school on its strengths.

She said her goal was to make the school “a 21st century urban public law school and a model.”

“I think we have accomplished or are clearly on the road to accomplishing a lot of those things,” she said.

Under her leadership, the school has developed a small/solo firm program that prepares attorneys for practice in smaller settings; introduced cross-disciplinary programs that open up new job opportunities for graduates and started a law incubator.

Since moving to teaching, Suni said she’s enjoyed having more time with students.

“That’s one of the things I love about being a law professor and that’s especially true at UMKC, because it’s something we absolutely value, students and faculty really getting to know each other as people as well as attorneys,” she said. “That’s how you keep civility in the profession.”

When it came to handing over the reins to Interim Dean Barbara Glesner Fines, Suni said there is value in having new blood in leadership.

“I think new ideas at the top and new ways of dealing with people from the top can help move the institution along,” she said. “I always worried, ‘Am I going to overspend my time as dean?’ I’m happy I never got to that point and I did see it was time.”

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