After graduation from Harvard Law School, Professor Dessem served as law clerk for Judge William K. Thomas of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. He then served as Assistant General Counsel for the National Education Association (1978-1980) and trial attorney (1980-1984) and senior trial counsel (1984-1985) with the Civil Division of the United States Department of Justice.
In 1985 Professor Dessem joined the faculty of the University of Tennessee College of Law, serving as associate professor, professor, and, from 1993 to 1995, associate dean for academic affairs. From 1995 to 2002, Professor Dessem served as professor and dean of the Mercer University School of Law, becoming dean and professor at the University of Missouri in July 2002. He served as dean until August 2012.
Professor Dessem is the author of Pretrial Litigation: Law, Policy and Practice (West, 5th ed. 2011), as well as articles in various law journals. He has been elected as a fellow of the American Bar Foundation, as well as to membership in the American Law Institute.
Professor Dessem has served on and chaired the faculty for the ABA New Deans’ Seminar, has chaired the AALS New Teachers’ Workshop, has served as a member of the AALS Executive Committee and the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) Membership Working Group, and has served on and chaired the AALS Membership Review Committee and the AALS Audit and Investment Committee. He also has served twice as co-chair of the ABA Annual Deans’ Workshop and on the Search Committee for the ABA Consultant on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. He now serves on the Advisory Committee of the Institute for Law School Teaching, on the Federal Advisory Committee of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, as a member of the Audit Committee of the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), and as vice-chair of the Task Force on The ABA Accreditation Process. He is a trustee of Macalester College, the American Inns of Court, and the Law School Admission Council. He served on the executive committee of the AALS Civil Procedure section, and he now serves on the civil procedure drafting committee for the Multistate Bar Examination.
Since 1996 Professor Dessem has served on and chaired ABA/AALS law school site inspection teams. At the University of Missouri, Professor Dessem teaches Civil Procedure, Complex Litigation, Pretrial Litigation, Professional Responsibility, and the Judicial Externship Seminar.