News and Information
May 03, 2022

Dean of William & Mary Law School A. Benjamin Spencer Receives Leadership in Education Award

A. Benjamin Spencer, dean of the first law school in the country, William & Mary, has been named the recipient of the William R. Rakes Leadership in Education Award from the Virginia State Bar Section on the Education of Lawyers in Virginia. 

Dean Spencer, a nationally renowned civil procedure and federal courts expert, has had an illustrious and historic career marked by an unswerving dedication to educating Virginia’s lawyers. The first African American to be a dean at William & Mary, Spencer has had academic roles at Harvard Law School, the University of Chicago School of Law, the University of Virginia School of Law, George Washington University School of Law, Washington & Lee School of Law, and the University of Richmond School of Law. He is an author of the preeminent Wright & Miller Federal Practice and Procedure treatise, as well as Civil Procedure: A Contemporary Approach, and Acing Civil Procedure: A Checklist Approach To Solving Procedural Problems. 

The Rakes award recognizes an individual who has demonstrated exceptional leadership and vision in improving legal education, and in advancing relationships and professionalism among members of the academy, the bench, and the bar within the legal profession in Virginia.  

In a continuum that has now come full circle, Spencer was the chair of the VSB Section on the Education of lawyers in 2012 when the Rakes award was established. Bill Rakes, the award’s namesake, is a member of the Section’s Award Selection Committee that chose Dean Spencer for his years of dedication to the education of lawyers in the Commonwealth. According to Rakes, senior counsel at the Roanoke firm Gentry Locke, 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.” 

Prior to entering academia, Spencer worked in both private practice and the government. In 2017, John Roberts, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, appointed him to the U.S. Judicial Conference Advisory Committee on Civil Rules. He is a permanent member of the Fourth Circuit Judicial Conference. Spencer also served as a special assistant U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia from 2009 to 2013, where he handled appellate cases in the Fourth Circuit on behalf of the government on a pro bono basis. He has also worked in private practice as a litigation associate for Shearman & Sterling and was a judicial law clerk for the Hon. Judith W. Rogers with the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. 

Dean Spencer’s career combines a truly remarkable array of national and international awards, appointments, writing accomplishments, speaking engagements, and academic achievements. He graduated from Morehouse College summa cum laude, where he was valedictorian, with a degree in Political Science before receiving his masters from the London School of Economics, where he was a British Marshall Scholar. He then received his law degree from Harvard Law School where he was articles editor of the Harvard Law Review, and won two national legal writing awards and the best oralist award in the semi-finals of the Ames Moot Court competition. 

In addition to his prolific and accomplished career, Spencer serves as an officer in the U.S. Army Reserve as a member of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps. Dean Spencer and his wife, Marlette, are parents to nine children, and it is not uncommon to find the family playing (and winning) the bingo games or the raffles at the Annual Meeting.  

The Rakes Award will be presented to Dean Spencer on Friday, June 17, 2022, at the Virginia State Bar’s Annual Meeting in Virginia Beach. 



Updated: May 03, 2022