Dehlia Umunna: Meet Nigeria’s First Harvard Law School Professor


Harvard Law School (HLS) has appointed a Nigerian Woman, Dehlia Umunna, a clinical Professor of Law making her the first Nigerian to achieve such feat.

Dehlia Umunna was appointed Clinical Professor of Law at Harvard Law School (HLS), thus becoming the first Nigerian to achieve the feat.


Who is Dehlia Umunna?

Dehlia Umunna’s Profile:
Dehlia Umunna is a 43-year-old Nigerian woman, who knows her onions and is well seasoned in her chosen legal profession as she is one of Harvard Law School’s best.

Details of her exploits are celebrated in Harvard Law School’s official website,

According to the website, she has been a lecturer at Harvard Law School (HLS) since 2007. She is also the Deputy Director and Clinical Instructor Criminal Justice Institute (CJI) of HLS, where she supervises 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.

Umunna is renowned for providing classroom instruction on legal skills and the application of criminal law, procedure, rules of evidence, motions and trial practice, and constitutional protections to the development of defensce strategy. She also coaches HLS teams at the National Criminal Justice Trial Advocacy and the HLS BLSA Trial team. Both teams have won numerous national and regional awards.

Her colleague, the dean of Harvard Law School, Martha Minow has this to say; “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 defense 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.”

Prior to her joining Harvard Law School, Dehlia Umunna spent seven years as a trial attorney with the D.C. Public Defender Service and an adjunct professor of law and Practitioner in Residence at the Washington College of Law, American University. She was also a board member of the District of Columbia Law Students in Court Clinic and was a guest lecturer for several years at the George Washington University Law School.

At Public Defender Service, Dehlia Umunna represented indigent clients in hundreds of cases that ranged in seriousness from misdemeanor charges of theft, assault, and drug possession, to felony charges of narcotics distribution; firearms possession; armed robbery; kidnapping; child sexual abuse; rape and homicide. Some of her cases received nationwide media attention. She was a felony one trial attorney, representing clients in the most serious of felonies and serving as lead counsel in many trials at Public Defender Service. She also served as a presenter in training attorneys under the Criminal Justice Act and supervised junior attorneys in trial.

From 2002 to 2007, while she was adjunct professor of law at American University, Washington College of Law, she created and taught a seminar entitled “The Lawyer’s Role in the Judicial Practice.” While at Washington College, she was also a supervising attorney and practitioner-in-residence in the Civil Practice Clinic.

She supervised second and third year students in a general civil practice clinic representing low income clients in state and federal courts and administrative agencies in the District of Columbia and Maryland. She also taught a clinical seminar on lawyering values, including interviewing, case theory, fact investigation, strategic planning, counselling, negotiation and trial skills.

Dehlia Umunna is the author of the article, “Rethinking the Neighbourhood Watch: How Lessons from the Nigerian Village Can Creatively Empower the Community to Assist Poor, Single Mothers in America,” published in the American University Journal of Gender, Social Policy and the Law.

Revealing how privileged she feels to be a part of Harvard Law School and attain the feat of Clinical Professor of Law, she said, “I am blessed and honored 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 defense and social justice.”

Dehlia Umunna currently serves as a faculty member for the Southern Public Defender’s Training Center (SPDTC) and she is a faculty member for Gideon’s Promise, she is a frequent presenter at Public Defender trainings across the country and is the recipient of SPDTC’s 2011 “Outstanding Faculty Mentor of the year Award.”

She is a member of the Massachusetts, Maryland, District of Columbia and New Jersey bar associations. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Communication from California State University, San Bernardino, and earned her law degree from the George Washington University Law School. She also holds a Masters in Public Administration (MC) from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

She has two kids – Ifeanyi and Edozie.


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