New dean keeps his ear to the ground and focus on the students

by Sarah Bello,

Brian Gallini takes on his role as dean of the College of Law.

  • Brian Gallini

During the week, students at the University of Arkansas School of Law constantly lined up outside then-Professor Brian Gallini’s office door. Despite long days spent preparing for class, teaching, coaching Razorback hockey and answering emails — not to mention exercising and spending time with family and friends — Gallini met with every student.

Gallini’s friend and former faculty colleague, Dustin Buehler ’00, now deputy general counsel for Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, says Gallini is a workhorse and tireless advocate for students “with an amazing ability to do it all.”

“He’s going to be an outstanding dean,” Buehler says. “I remember meeting him and instantly wanting to know him more. He comes across as so sharp and smart and yet so personable, friendly and warm.

“He’s somebody who’s the real deal. When you meet those people, you just want to be around them.”

Gallini, announced as the new dean of Willamette Law in December 2019, joined the school in Salem in July. Ever popular throughout his tenure at the University of Arkansas, he brings knowledge, expertise and a “people-first” attitude to his first deanship. Helping people is at the center of everything he does, and he’s thrilled to do just that at Willamette.

Early Years

Gallini spent most of his early years on the East Coast. As an undergrad, he attended the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he was captain of the ski team and played varsity hockey. He originally intended to go on to medical school, but after a formative experience with a professor in a Russian history class, he changed directions.

“She made this passing comment that I was a good writer and asked if I had thought about these other options,” Gallini says. “I hadn’t. She took a lot of time with me to refine my writing and my approach, and that totally shifted my perspective.”

Finding that he had a love for writing, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Russian studies and a history minor. Then his friend’s father, a law professor at Suffolk University Law School in Boston, took him to lunch one day. 

That was it, he says. He told Gallini he could write a lot and help people as a lawyer. He was in.

He attended the University of Michigan Law School, where he particularly enjoyed the upper- level years. Criminal procedure really stuck with him, he says. After graduation, he went on to clerk for the Hon. Robert W. Clifford on the Maine Supreme Judicial Court — another significant life experience.

“I remember feeling a little overwhelmed in the first couple months. Justice Clifford would say, ‘Write me a recommendation on how this (case) should come out,’” Gallini explains. “I felt like I wasn’t qualified to do that. But it gave me just a profound sense of responsibility that we have as attorneys, and, likewise, the impact we can have.”

That knowledge carried into his first full-time job in a law office in Washington, D.C., where he practiced white-collar criminal defense at Duane Morris LLP. While there, he picked up a possession of child pornography defense case — not every attorney’s cup of tea.

“For as challenging as the factual material was, it was really important for me to reconcile the emotional piece with the need for everyone to have a zealous defense pursuant to the Constitution,” he says.

A couple of years later, Gallini dropped everything and jumped at the opportunity to clerk for the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Northern Michigan. What he saw was a springboard to an academic career, where he knew he could make a difference.

From there, he became a teaching fellow for Temple University Beasley School of Law in Philadelphia — but first, he turned down an exorbitant offer to join a larger law firm. At the same time, he accepted a position as assistant hockey coach for the University of Pennsylvania. Neither job was lucrative financially, and a lot of people thought he was crazy. But he couldn’t have been happier.

“I never looked back,” Gallini says. “I don’t mind saying I was petrified in both positions. But follow your passion, and the finances will take care of themselves. I’ve told that to hundreds of students whom I’ve had the privilege of mentoring over the years.”

Academic Career

Gallini’s bet on his first teaching position at Temple paid off — he met his wife there, began a years-long second career as a successful collegiate hockey coach and received a job offer at the University of Arkansas School of Law, where he climbed the academic ladder over the past decade.  

For seven years, Gallini worked under Dean Stacy Leeds, serving as associate dean from 2014 to 2018. He says he was privileged to learn from her leadership style, and she, in turn, says he’s also an exceptional leader.

“He is one of the hardest-working people I’ve ever known — whether that’s as a law teacher and scholar, hockey coach and student recruiter, dad and endurance athlete,” Leeds says. “Great deans are able to juggle many roles and make it appear effortless. He has been doing just that ever since I have known him.”

While serving on the Arkansas hiring committee, he brought in Buehler and Jon Marshfield, now an assistant professor at Nebraska College of Law. Marshfield and Leeds say that, although Gallini held high-level positions, he was a student favorite.

“Brian remained popular with the students because he is an excellent classroom teacher, and they know he personally cares about each of their lives and careers,” Leeds says. “He is able to manage many things and not lose sight of what matters the most — the students.”

Gallini says many people have had a great impact on his life and career. He’s had a student who was a rape victim, one who took his own life, and another who dealt with a murder in her family.

As a professor of criminal law, they’ve reminded him of just how significant the material really is.

“Those illustrative experiences have been powerful reminders for me,” he explains, “that no matter how far down in my career I go, no matter how many years pass, making sure to pay attention to the student experience is profoundly important.”

As dean at Willamette Law, Gallini won’t be teaching as much as he has in the past. He’s looking forward to teaching the first-year Criminal Law course during the Spring 2021 semester and thinking about how he can best support students in the classroom.    

“I want to present to students as accessible,” he says. “I want them to know me personally and know me as a teacher and a scholar as well.”

Dean at Willamette

With his move to Salem, Gallini took a step away from his hockey career. He was head coach of the Razorback hockey team from 2009 to 2018, where his teams earned five conference titles and made three appearances in the Division III National Tournament. Following the 2013-14 season, he was named SECHC Coach of the Year. 

For years, people asked him when he would decide whether to pursue just one passion — hockey or law. In 2018, he finally answered, deciding he could have the most impact and help more people in law leadership. 

Rather than coaching for the past two years, he served as the Razorback program director, focusing on advancement, development and external relations.

It’s not lost on him that the skills used in that position prepared him well to be dean, he says.

At Willamette, he hopes to leverage the history and pre-existing strengths of the law school to continue its positive trajectory. Under former Dean Curtis Bridgeman’s leadership, the school saw growth in student enrollment and alumni involvement while developing new, effective strategies to improve bar passage.

Gallini says Bridgeman’s work has helped him tremendously, setting up his deanship — and the school — for success.

“I want to be as inclusive as possible and find ways to connect with all of the stakeholders in the law school and the university in a way that brings them in and helps them feel valued as part of this next chapter,” he says. “I want to find where we can get the biggest ‘bang for our buck’ in a way that gets people excited and helps people feel heard — giving them a stake in the process — and we’ll build out our agenda from there.”

Marshfield says Gallini is a powerful leader who will get people fired up and inspired about what’s next for Willamette Law.

“He has a genuine desire to listen to you and figure out how he can come alongside you,” Marshfield says. “In some sense, I almost feel like he is made for this role as dean, because he has that leadership opportunity, but I think he’s still going to have his ear on the ground.”

Gallini is joined in Salem by his wife, Beth, and their two sons, Braxton and Caden.

A Message from Brian Gallini to the Willamette Community

About the Willamette University College of Law

Willamette University College of Law was the first law school to open in the Pacific Northwest. Building on deep historic roots, we focus with pride on educating the next generation of problem-solving lawyers and leaders. Our location in Salem, Oregon, directly across the street from the Oregon State Capitol and Supreme Court, cannot be matched in the region. Our thought-leading scholars advance and promote our shared responsibility to make a difference in society, placing justice, fairness, and equality at the heart of everything we do.

The College of Law produces the best problem solvers, community leaders, legal dealmakers, and changemakers in the most innovative region of the country. We have had several years of remarkable growth in academic achievement, as our bar passage rates and employment outcomes reflect. We also consistently have the highest graduate employment rates among all Oregon law schools, and are among the best on the entire West Coast.

We are a dynamic force within our university’s vision of an “Only at Willamette” education and have worked to develop one of the most forward-thinking and creative legal education programs in the country. Our student-centric approach manifests in the robust experiential learning opportunities we provide alongside curricular strengths in public service, business law, advocacy, international law, and health law.  

Willamette University

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Salem Oregon 97301 U.S.A.

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