Rich Leonard was named dean of the Campbell Law School last July. The Davidson County native is a graduate of UNC where he was a Morehead Scholar. He earned a master’s degree in education from UNC and a law degree from Yale Law. Leonard previously served as chief judge of the United States Bankruptcy Court Eastern District of North Carolina.
Leonard sat down with Publisher Bob Friedman to talk what’s ahead for the downtown Raleigh-based, 485 student law school.
Q: Do you foresee any major changes to the curriculum?
Leonard: We have a rigorous substantive required curriculum that has stood our students in good stead for 30 years and we’re not moving away from that. We have divided the curriculum into nine practice areas that we think match the current market. We are doing focus groups with lawyers in those practice areas to see what courses need to be tinkered with and which ones need to be abandoned. And there are opportunities for growth. For instance, if you look nationally at all the turmoil in health care and health care administration, it’s just fraught with legal issues. All the surveys we read say that this is where lawyers will be in demand. I hope by the end of this year, we will have a very honed and approved expansion of our health law curriculum.
Q: How about any changes in the school’s vision for the future?
Leonard: We’ve always built on skills in all of our courses. Sometimes our competition will say we are nothing but a trade school. We say, in some ways you are right. These people are here to be lawyers. That is craft. So, yes, we do teach the practical skills of lawyering. Yes, we do teach the substantive knowledge that lawyers need in order to advise clients soundly. We make no pretense of that. We are not a graduate school of jurisprudence, although we have plenty of fine courses in that area. We are a law school and we are going to continue to be that.
Q: How are you addressing the challenge law school graduates face of finding a job?
Leonard: We have a good career services office. We have a steady flow of employers in here looking to fill positions. We exploit our faculty contacts with all of our alumni to try to keep our nose to the ground to find out what’s going on. And we have some programs that prepare students for specific niches in the job market, such as a prosecution advocacy course for students who want to become prosecutors. Ten of the 18 students who took the course last year have jobs with district attorneys waiting for them. We’re trying every way possible to find the niches where our students have performed well and have found placements in the past.
Q: The legal industry has become very competitive and some attorneys say that law school didn’t prepare them for the business of running a practice.
Leonard: We have two courses on starting your own law firm for 3Ls. We’ve had programs for years because so many of our students plan to either go in together and start a firm or plan to work for a small firm where they will have some management responsibilities. We now have an Accounting for Lawyers course. We have constant workshops on employment skill sets such as how to find clients and how to use social media to attract clients.
Q: What does the 1L class look like?
Leonard: We have 185 1L students and we are elated. The total number of applications for law schools is the lowest since 1974. The competition for students has just been intense. We had 121 1Ls last fall so we are right now where we need to be and it’s a great source of pride for me. We were incredibility proactive in all of our recruiting strategies, the quickness with which we made decisions and the retooling of our scholarships to make us more attractive to certain groups of students. For instance, we have a new Honoratos Emeritus scholarship that offers any honorably discharged veteran who comes here $15,000 a year guaranteed for three years.
Q: What is the value for your law school students of being within walking distance of the state capital, the courts and law firms of all sizes?
Leonard: The city is a laboratory for teaching students how to practice law. Almost every law school student will do one or two externships which are carefully controlled placements with lawyers in every branch of government, private practice and business.
Q: How did Connections, the mentorship program you launched in the spring with 40 3Ls and the WCBA fare?
Leonard: The results were just spectacular. We are again matching students with extraordinary lawyers who will be a confidant, sponsor and personal guide to the practice of law by way of a mentor. The student gets a one-on-one connection with a distinguished lawyer in an area of law in which they have an interest who can give them advice on opportunities and help them navigate through those opportunities.
Q: What do you see as the role of your law school alumni?
Leonard: Our school is only 36 years old. We don’t have a lot of 80-year-old gray beards who have made fortunes and are ready to leave us a pot of money in their wills. In our early days, there were fewer law schools in North Carolina. Campbell was the place that would take a chance on you if you didn’t have the grades or the scores to go to Duke or Wake Forest or Chapel Hill. We have a lot of people out there who know that but for Campbell, their lives would have taken a very different course. I plan to, in a much more systematic approach, remind them of that as we go forward.
Q: What is your philosophy for Campbell?
Leonard: We teach how to practice law in the most ethical way you can and we teach law as a calling. The ministry, medicine and law – the three great, time honored calls to serve your fellow man.