Dara Purvis

Hometown: Fresno, California
Current Job: Assistant Professor of Law at Pennsylvania State University
Education: J.D., Yale Law School; M.Phil., University of Cambridge; B.A., University of Southern California
YLS Year: 2008
Clerkship: Judge Gerard E. Lynch, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit; Judge Raymond C. Fisher, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
Activities at YLS: Editor-in-Chief, Yale Law Journal; Executive Submissions Editor, Yale Law and Policy Review; Yale Law Women; BLSA; OutLaws


Did you always want to be an academic?

I came into law school knowing that I wanted to become an academic. Before law school, I worked and got a Master’s degree in Cambridge. Although I briefly flirted with the idea of working at a firm, I quickly recognized that academia was for me.

What has your career path been like?

When I graduated from law school, I spent one year clerking on the Ninth Circuit (with Judge Fisher) and a second year clerking on the Second Circuit (with Judge Gerard Lynch). Judge Lynch was also a professor at Columbia so he was a great mentor. In general, clerking provides wonderful mentors. I would strongly recommend clerking in preparation for a career in academia. Clerking brings both a reputational benefit and an exposure to different areas of the law. This exposure really helped my research and writing. For example, the first paper that I wrote out of law school came directly from my clerkship experience. I became interested in gender and disability after working on a few cases that involved women with fibromyalgia during my clerkship. I sent the paper to one judge I had clerked for and he passed it on to other judges. The mentorship was wonderful.

After the clerkships, I did a Visiting Assistant Professorship at the University of Illinois College of Law for three years. This was an ideal introduction to the world of legal academia. I had a relatively light teaching burden and spent a lot of time preparing to go on the teaching market. While working at the University of Illinois, I taught family law and sexuality and the law. Though it was intimidating to teach, it really helped to have teaching experience when I went on the teaching market. The market for teaching today is tough, but Yale grads do well.

What does an average day look like for you?

My days vary depending on the rhythm of the semester and publishing system. Right now, I’m teaching two days a week. On these days I spend a lot of time preparing for and reflecting after class. I love teaching, but preparation takes a significant amount of time. It takes between 10-20 hours to prepare for each 1 hour of teaching. At the same time, I’m working on my own scholarship. I read blogs and SSRN. I edit papers. I also spend a good amount of time connecting with my students over office hours.

I also travel, particularly during conference season in the summer. This summer, I travelled to Boston, Brooklyn, and Ireland. Conferences are a great way to bounce ideas off of colleagues. In addition to travel, I also have the flexibility to work from home.


What inspired you to go to law school?

I’m from Fresno, California, a very agricultural area. My father was a professor at a small law school in Fresno called San Joaquin College of Law. While I was in college, my mother went to law school. I’ve wanted to go to law school since I was a kid. I started as a theatre major at USC. I had a formative moment when I realized at rehearsal that I was the only person interested in talking about the presidential debates. I decided to study Political Science. I was lucky enough to study with Erwin Chemerinsky and knew I wanted to go to law school.

What did you value most about law school?

I really loved law school. It was admittedly stressful, but I enjoyed it for many reasons. First, my friends were amazing. Everyone at the law school was incredible and they are still some of my closest friends. My classmates today are winning public office and doing other incredible things. Second, I valued my relationships with professors. I am still in touch with a few amazing mentors including Owen Fiss, Heather Gerken, and Jed Rubenfeld. The professors at Yale are so generous with their time. Third, I got very involved with student organizations including Yale Law Women and BLSA. YLS is like Disneyland: there is too much to fit in the day. Fourth, I loved the smaller classes. Students argued respectfully with one another. There were a few specific moments from class when I vehemently disagreed with someone, but people were always very respectful and listened to an opposing point of view. Students were genuinely concerned about each other even in the heat of the argument.

I also served as Editor-in-Chief of the Yale Law Journal. I did not come into law school planning to be EIC; I thought you had to be a genius and not sleep. However, I loved academic research and writing and editing. I think I received the position because I really liked the work. I did not sense much gender bias in my work as EIC. However, I know that female EICs at other schools faced more sexism in the past.

What didn’t law school teach you?

It is somewhat true that you do not come out of YLS knowing the practicalities of practicing law. At first, I lacked confidence in my clerkship because I felt I didn’t know where to look for practical things. However, students don’t come out of other law schools knowing these practical skills either.


Have you faced obstacles because of your scholarship’s focus on gender issues?

Prejudice is too strong of a word, but there are people who think that writing about gender is not real scholarship. I have had colleagues who have said that gender law is a tough sell. This is universal throughout legal academia; I also faced it as a student at YLS. However, I love the topic and am willing to accept the challenge.

What has been your greatest accomplishment in your career?

I am much better at working with students on a personal level that I thought I would be.


How have you balanced your work and life?

I have a great and very supportive partner in my husband. We have been together for many years and he has supported me and travelled with me flexibly. Men and women should be advocating together for a gender-neutral work life balance.

What advice would you give law students?

Go to your professors’ office hours. It makes a big difference to get to know your professors. Even if you do not have a specific question you should go discuss anything so they can get to know you personally. Relationships with professors are the keys to many things. Also, work with other female students to develop strategies to speak up in class. For example, if one woman raises her hand in class, another should as well. Even as a professional feminist, I have to remind myself to raise my hand.