Some people describe Danielle Conway, the incoming dean of the University of Maine School of Law, as a force of nature. To understand why, it helps to know her mother’s story.

After having four children, Gwendolyn A. Conway spent 10 years in night school at Temple University to earn her accounting degree and become a city tax manager. Still striving to advance, the single mother went to Temple Law School at night, earned her law degree at the age of 46 and started her own practice because she couldn’t get hired by a firm. She then ran for and won a seat as a Philadelphia District Court judge.

“When you have people like my mother telling me, ‘You can do anything’ and ‘I’m going to do everything possible to get you to that point,’ that’s what made a difference between me and everyone else in the neighborhood,” Conway said in a telephone interview from her mother’s home in Philadelphia, where she is vacationing.

Danielle Conway is coming from the William S. Richardson School of Law at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where she had been the Michael J. Marks Distinguished Professor of Business Law and the director of the Hawaii Procurement Institute.

In 14 years of teaching law in Hawaii, Conway earned a reputation as an expert in government procurement law and entrepreneurship, and as an advocate for minorities and indigenous peoples, said professor Jeffrey Maine, who chaired the seven-member search committee that selected Conway.

“She has impeccable credentials as a teacher, lawyer and scholar, but she also possesses administrative experience,” Maine said Friday after her selection was announced. “When we did our due diligence, she was praised by her colleagues for her ability to motivate and inspire colleagues and students and for being fearless in tackling tough issues.”

Conway will become the first African-American dean of the state’s law school in July, succeeding Peter Pitegoff, who has served as dean since 2005 and will remain at Maine Law as an active member of the faculty.

Conway takes over the helm of the law school at a challenging time. Across the country, many law schools, including the University of Maine School of Law, have seen declining enrollment as job opportunities in the profession remain limited after the recession. At the same time, the skills lawyers need are rapidly changing and the school’s curriculum needs to evolve to meet those needs.

“She brings incredible energy and ideas and entrepreneurial skills,” Maine said. “She’s very creative. I think she’s going to be great at helping develop a strategic vision to advance Maine Law.”

Conway got her law degree from Howard University and her master of laws degree from George Washington University.

Conway’s undergraduate degree at New York University’s Stern School of Business was paid for by the Army because she was a member of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. She was allowed to delay her active duty commitment to attend law school and then served for four years writing administrative decisions for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in cases where contractors challenged the corps’ application of procurement regulations.

A MILITARY BACKGROUND

Conway then joined the reserves and has more than 20 years’ service in the Army, where she is currently a lieutenant colonel. Since 2003, she has been a member of the Hawaii law firm Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing LLP.

Conway believes strongly in public education and the importance of the legal profession.

“We need to put out the best lawyers that we can possibly graduate because lawyers are the people who stand between justice and injustice,” she said. “These are the guards of our social norms … the people who are going to represent those who cannot represent themselves. … What we need, and what we must continue to graduate, are good lawyers who respond to that calling.”

Conway also says the law school needs to explore opening up access to legal education for those who won’t be practicing lawyers but would benefit from legal training.

She supports integrating the law school’s work with that of other disciplines, something envisioned in the proposed Alfond Professional and Graduate Center, which would house the University of Maine School of Law and graduate business programs that now operate at the University of Southern Maine and the University of Maine in Orono.

“There should be a center along those lines to be responsive to the network economy we are enmeshed in,” she said.

Conway was the Godfrey Visiting Scholar at the University of Maine School of Law in 2008 and taught a course on intellectual property law.

Conway, 46, will earn $212,000 when she starts in her new post July 1.

Maine said the search committee did not set out to hire the institution’s first African-American dean.

“We set out to hire the best candidate for the job and we believe we have,” he said. However, the historic nature of appointing the first African-American law school dean in a state with relatively little ethnic diversity is not lost on the search committee. It reflects the Maine law school’s commitment to diversity, Maine said.

MAKING HER CASE

Conway hopes her success as an African-American and as a woman in the legal profession helps encourage others.

“Whatever they can find in me that motivates them to succeed – use it to pursue the calling,” she said. “My calling was to be a citizen who contributes to her community, and I had great, great role models, and the most important one was my mother.”

The decision for Conway, her husband, Emmanuel Quainoo, and their 3-year-old son, Emmanuel, to move from the tropical warmth of Hawaii to the Northeast, where it’s currently frigid, wasn’t difficult, she said.

“For me, paradise is a good opportunity for public education for my son, a great opportunity for me to continue innovating and building in a place where people want to see change … and where I have a good network and good people around me and my family,” she said. “Paradise has nothing to do with the temperature.”

David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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