Peter Davidson, the new deputy dean for strategic initiatives at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School, admits his law degree opened many doors for him throughout his career, and he wants Mason law students to have a similar experience.
“Law school is the place to go to develop the skill set to make a difference in the world in [the areas of governance and policy making],” Davidson said. He’s ready to boost that critical experience for students by providing them with increased interaction and learning opportunities with the school’s academic centers.
“Our dual mission here is to give our students the best education we can and to influence legal analysis and policymaking to the benefit of society overall,” Davidson said.
Davidson, who has been in his position since August, brings with him extensive experience in all three branches of government and the private sector. Prior to Mason, he served as general counsel to the U.S. Department of Commerce since 2017. As the third most senior official at the department, he supervised nearly 400 attorneys in 13 bureaus. Before joining Commerce, Davidson served as senior vice president, federal and international relations, for Verizon from 2003 to 2016.
Davidson spoke recently in his office on the Arlington Campus.
What drew you to Mason?
The Scalia Law School has such a unique place in the legal education universe. Nowhere else will you find the talent and expertise focusing on markets with the proximity to the center of law and policymaking in Washington, D.C. I feel very honored and humbled to be a part of the team that is constantly setting the standard for legal research and writing that makes a difference in the development and execution of law and policy at the federal, state and local levels.
What are your goals as the first deputy dean for strategic initiatives?
I’m focused on strategic planning and execution with the law school’s centers and programs, making sure that we are using them all effectively, having the greatest impact on law and policy, and improving the learning opportunities for our students.
The first task is to explore more cross-disciplinary work among the centers. We are already planning several conferences that will showcase their combined work.
We will also focus on joint research and programming to tackle some of the most important global problems, such as legal policy issues associated with advances in technology. These issues cross boundaries constantly. Same with big data—there are potential issues with antitrust, national security, First Amendment, privacy, administrative, intellectual property law and more. We need to be the best place to go to find answers.
How will these synergies benefit students?
One of my goals here is to find more opportunities for our students to interact with the centers. I look at this in three stages:
1) The centers are a recruiting tool for new students.
2) The centers enrich the learning experience while our students are here.
3) The centers are a resource for future employment.
The centers draw the highest-level government officials, scholars from around the world, and private-sector and NGO leaders on a regular basis to the law school and its programs. We need to figure out more ways to expand student interaction with these activities, and I’ve already heard from several law students about how they could take advantage of these opportunities.
What is your vision for the future of research and programming at the law school?
I really see tremendous potential for the growth of the influence for the centers and for the law school overall. The faculty we have here and the emphasis on studying markets and human behavior provide us with the foundation to do things that no other law school can do. The proximity and relationship we have with the legislative, executive and judicial branches [of government] put us in a position to take our influence to the next level by developing an integrated strategy for the assets we currently have in place, and then look to see what else we need.
How will a law degree open doors for students, and what is your advice for aspiring lawyers?
A legal education is a second liberal arts education. It will give you a whole new toolbox of analytic skills, writing, speaking, arguing—all of which you will need to be successful in the future. Most students today will change jobs many times, probably across a wide spectrum of required skills and knowledge.
So, explore a lot of different topics in law school—go outside your comfort zone—so that you will be ready when that next great opportunity comes knocking, or better, when you go out and knock on the opportunities you want to pursue. Be flexible and open to doing things that you may not have planned to do. My life has been a series of seizing interesting opportunities as they come along.