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Meet Dehlia Umunna, the first Nigerian to be appointed professor at Harvard Law School


Dehlia Umunna, deputy director and clinical instructor at Harvard Law School Criminal Justice Institute, is the first Nigerian to be appointed as a professor at Harvard School of Law.

Umunna has been a lecturer at Harvard Law School since 2007. She authored the article, ‘Rethinking the Neighborhood Watch: How Lessons from the Nigerian Village Can Creatively Empower the Community to Assist Poor, Single Mothers in America’, which was published in the American University Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law.

As the Deputy Director and Clinical Instructor at Harvard Law School’s CJI, Umunna oversees third-year law students in their representation of adult and juvenile clients in criminal and juvenile proceedings and arguments before Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court and Appeals court, Harvard Law Today reports.

Furthermore, she is a board member of the District of Columbia Law Students Law Clinic, serves as a faculty member for Gideon’s Promise (formerly the Southern Public Defender’s Training Centre) and is a frequent presenter at Public Defender training sessions across the country.

Speaking on her appointment, Umunna said, “I am blessed and honoured to join Harvard Law School’s remarkable faculty. I relish this extraordinary opportunity to continue work that I am truly passionate about, and I am grateful for the deep interest and commitment of the school to issues of criminal justice, mass incarceration, indigent defence and social justice.”

A law degree holder from the George Washington University Law Center, Umunna also received a Masters in Public Administration (MC) from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and a B.A. in Communications from California State University, San Bernardino.

Professor Umunna was an Adjunct Professor of Law and Practitioner in Residence at American University, Washington College of Law from the year 2002 to 2007.

Umunna’s teaching interest and research focus on Criminal Law, Criminal Defense and Theory, Mass Incarceration, and Race Issues. She serves as a Faculty Advisor to some student organizations, according to a biography of her.

In recognition of her outstanding service to the HLS community, she has received Harvard Law School’s Dean’s Award for Excellence and the Southern Public Defender Training Centre Outstanding Faculty Mentor of the Year Award. The awards acknowledged her as a stellar student supervisor, staff manager, lecturer, coach and mentor.

Martha Minow, Dean of Harvard Law School said, “Dehlia’s students revere her; her colleagues at HLS and nationally look to her as an exemplary advocate, teacher, and mentor.

“From her unprecedented win record in criminal defence trials, her deft leadership of the Criminal Justice Institute day-to-day, and her superb coaching of student moot court teams, her published scholarship, to her numerous awards in recognition of her outstanding work as a criminal defence attorney, advisor, and teacher, Dehlia is simply extraordinary, an inspiration to her students and her clients in every way. It is a true privilege to be her colleague.”

Before joining Harvard, the proud mother of two spent several years at the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia (PDS) as a trial attorney. Some of her cases received nationwide media attention.

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