The Out-of-the-Box Thinker

After more than two decades of service, Jeannie Forrest departs the Law School. 

Several years ago, Vice Dean Jeannie Forrest found herself on a street corner in Florence, Italy, with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. The two were on the verge of arriving late to a Law School conference at NYU Florence, waiting for a bus that would seemingly never come. “I said, ‘Well, cowboy up,’ and the justice responded, ‘Now you’re talking my language,’” Forrest recalls. “And we walked so fast we didn’t have much time for conversation, but I always remembered that moment of connection.”

Connecting with people—whether stranded in a foreign country or standing in the Vanderbilt Hall lobby—is one of Forrest’s great talents, a result of what Dean Trevor Morrison describes as her “deep humanity.” Forrest holds a PhD in counseling psychology from NYU, and in the two decades she has worked at NYU Law, her knowledge of psychology has helped her spearhead a multitude of innovative programs, including the Law School’s leadership initiatives and the new Women’s Leadership Network. Led by Forrest, the Law School developed an emotional intelligence training program in which students learn to cultivate the self-awareness and relationship skills essential for strong leadership.

"Jeannie is one of the most dynamic, innovative, out-of-the-box thinkers I’ve ever met—she’s a real pioneer,” says Rachel Robbins ’76, senior independent nonexecutive director at Atlas Mara and an NYU Law Trustee. “She’s got a warmth that makes everyone comfortable and want to work with her."

When asked what brought her to NYU Law in 1994, Forrest says, with characteristic modesty, “I type really fast.” A graduate student at the time, Forrest was looking for any University job when she was hired by the Law School’s Institute of Judicial Administration. And while she could indeed type fast—an impressive 103 words per minute—the NYU Law community quickly learned the many other ways in which Forrest’s well of intelligence and interpersonal insight could help strengthen the school. In Forrest’s 23 years at NYU Law, she has served in positions including associate dean for development and alumni relations as well as vice dean, tasked with overseeing student services and special events.

As the vice dean for development and leadership initiatives—her most recent role—Forrest secured the two largest individual gifts in NYU Law’s history. Over the years, her development efforts have enabled the Law School to expand scholarships and financial aid and to nourish faculty research and campus intellectual life. “Her tireless dedication to NYU Law—together with her combination of intelligence, wisdom, compassion, and wit—has had a transformational impact on the Law School community,” says Morrison. 

Now, Forrest is departing the Law School to embark on her next chapter. “I’m leaving with my heart really full of love for this place and for the people here,” Forrest says. “I’ve been a psychologist surrounded by lawyers, thinking differently than the people I’m surrounded by. But I’ve also been infected by good lawyerly thinking, and I’ve been seized with this notion that the rule of law is what makes a difference in the world, and that’s how genuine change happens.” 

If “lawyerly thinking” has changed Forrest, her own creativity has certainly left its mark on the school to which she has devoted so much of her time, work, and wisdom. “In some ways, she leaves an enormous void,” says Richard Revesz, Lawrence King Professor of Law and dean emeritus. “But, on the other hand, so many of us are better people and more effective professionals because we had the privilege of working with her. All that will persist. And NYU Law is so much better as a result.” 

Posted September 1, 2017