10 Questions with Dean J. Rich Leonard
On the heels of a long and storied career on the bench, J. Rich Leonard officially began serving as dean of Campbell Law School on July 15, 2013. A former United States Bankruptcy Judge for the Eastern District of North Carolina, Dean Leonard took the time to share his thoughts on his transition into the dean’s office, as well as where he intends to lead the institution over the next several years.
Q1: What attracted you to this position?
“There’s nothing not to be attracted to about this position. We have a distinguished faculty that’s made its mark in areas on all sides of numerous issues. The students have been enormously successful, both in the traditional measure of passing the bar exam but also in becoming serious players in the practice of law, the courts, and the politics of North Carolina, and also at an increasing rate, outside of this state. On top of that, the move to Raleigh has done nothing but enhance all of those aspects. This is a wonderful city and it’s a laboratory for teaching new lawyers how to practice law.”
Q2: For several years you have taught as an adjunct faculty member and served on the Campbell Law Board of Visitors. Discuss your familiarity with the institution and the growth you’ve witnessed here over the past several years.
“This building is a testament to the strength of the law school, and it’s a facility that, in my experience, is unsurpassed by any in the country and I’ve seen any number of them. The number of students that the law school has taken on has increased, the credentials of those students have increased, and the externship and clinical programs have begun to expose those students to life and legal culture in ways that were simply impossible when it was 45 minutes away.”
Q3: What is the reputation of Campbell Law attorneys in the court room based upon what you’ve witnessed personally, as well as the opinions and experiences shared by your peers within the legal community and on the bench?
“There’s no doubt that the law school has steadily grown in reputation and stature. We had our best national ranking ever last year. My personal experience has been that students in my seminars get better and better in terms of their analytical and writing ability.
“Two of my last four law clerks have been Campbell Law graduates, and these two particular students are first-class. They can hold their own with anybody from any law school in the country in terms of the thoroughness of their research and ability to write. I know that the product that Campbell Law is turning out right now is world-class.”
Q4: What sets Campbell Law apart from our peer institutions throughout the region and other North Carolina law schools?
“Campbell Law being in Raleigh gives it opportunities, frankly, that no one else in legal education in North Carolina, and very few in the country, have. We have all three branches of state government within walking distance of this law school. We have the state appellate courts across the street, the federal courts down the street, and the brand new state courthouse a few blocks away.
“There are all sorts of opportunities to observe, participate, and practice that we can offer. That doesn’t mean, though, that we’re going to abandon our core competencies that set Campbell Law apart. We teach the substantive law that you need to know to practice law across a wide range of areas in this culture and we don’t intend to back away from that in terms of gimmicks or quick changes.”
Q5: You’ve spoken at length about how your original motivation for going to law school was a career in higher education. Prior to law school you earned a master’s degree in education, and you’ve taught at several institutions as an adjunct faculty member. Throughout your tenure on the bench, did you ever really foresee a full-time career in academia developing?
“I am elated and surprised that this opportunity came my way. I earned a master’s degree and entered law school thinking that higher education would be my career for life. In fact, I tailored my law school experience to prepare me for that. Bill Friday and Terry Sanford were both role models and mentors of mine. The federal courts were an incredibly enjoyable detour for me. I am humbled that this University and the Campbell Board of Trustees think highly enough of me to give me this chance.”
Q6: What about your time on the bench best prepared you to serve as the dean of Campbell Law?
“First, I spent 30 years on the trial bench listening intently. I like to listen for long periods of time because you never know all of the facts, viewpoints, and aspects on any matter until the very end. I plan to listen to everyone involved with Campbell Law, be that our students, faculty, staff, alumni, or partners in the community.
“On top of that, I am a decision maker. I’ve made a career of making tough choices and decisions with regard to complex matters. Once I have all of the facts, I have no problem with, and waste no time, in making a decision that is within my domain.”
Q7: In a recent interview you mentioned the importance of staying true to our core curriculum that has paved the way for the success that we enjoy now and helped to solidify our reputation as a challenging institution that produces practice-ready lawyers. How delicate is the balance between keeping that core curriculum and altering it to address changes in the legal profession and market-based needs?
“There are a lot of issues that we’re going to have to work out in collaboration with a very talented faculty. As a start, three years is a long time to go to school, and in those three years you can accomplish a great deal. You can accomplish all of the core competencies that we’ve always required, including our rigorous trial advocacy program. There are folks that say there are people that might not want to be trial lawyers and is that really necessary, and my answer is yes because in anything that you do in this profession, you are going to have to be able to take a position, defend it, and advocate for it. If it’s not in the courtroom, these are the skills that will allow you to be successful in a boardroom, governmental office, or anywhere else.
“With that said, the market’s changing. There are more demands in legal education being made by the private and business sectors that employ lawyers for distinct sets of skills. And technology is changing the practice of law. Again, Raleigh is a wonderful place to explore these trends and develop those opportunities.”
Q8: What ideas and strategies do you plan on implementing to continue the upward trajectory of Campbell Law?
“My current tentative view is that we are going to dramatically expand our externship and clinical programs so that there are all sorts of opportunities for our students, particularly in their third year, to get out in this community and learn how to actually be lawyers. That comes from watching experienced lawyers and having the opportunity to do it themselves.
“Moving forward, I have several distinct ideas regarding clinical programs that would be an asset to our community. There is a wave of people trying to represent themselves in courts and administrative agencies because they simply cannot afford legal representation. This is the case in several areas of law, including immigration, bankruptcy, family law, and entrepreneurs looking to start their own businesses. Our streets are full of veterans that need help. And these are just a starting point. So many of these initiatives would be true to our Christian mission of assisting those that need it, while developing practical and marketable skills at the same time, but these initiatives are costly, and we will need our partners in the community to help with support.”
Q9: What advice would you give to a prospective student with an eye on law school that is having a tough time justifying the cost?
“I completely understand that concern. I myself came from a very modest family and borrowed much more money than anyone could’ve ever imagined attending one of the most expensive law schools in the country at Yale. It took me two decades to pay that off. At the same time, I made an investment in myself that has given me the opportunity to enjoy the life and career that I have been blessed with to this point, and it all comes full-circle back to that decision.
“There will always be a place and need for talented lawyers that are committed to seeking justice and serving the community. If you believe in yourself and are committed to the task at hand, I believe the investment in cost is well worth the personal and professional satisfaction that you will enjoy throughout your life.”
Q10: Why should that prospective student give Campbell Law a look?
“At the end of the day you go to law school to be a lawyer, and no one has been more successful than us in preparing students for the practice of law. We provide our students with a broad set of knowledge across several key areas. Our students learn how to work, research, write, and advocate on their feet. On top of that, we offer practical opportunities to explore various areas of law within a location that provides essentially limitless opportunities.
“In addition, Campbell Law School is a community of people with strong moral values who care about society and the place of law within it. We equip our students with the skills you need and give them the experience to really think through what it means to be a lawyer.