Mark Martin: ‘I’ve Always Been a Builder’

By Bob Friedman

Former NC Chief Justice Mark Martin smiled like a kid on Christmas Day when he talked about High Point University’s new law school over lunch recently in the university’s Slane Café. It was filled with students chattering and connecting with friends and professors. In two years, he’ll be joined in the café by 1Ls.

Martin is excited to be High Point University School of Law’s first dean. “Are you kidding? To start a new law school?” said Martin. “I’ve always been a builder. What a tremendous opportunity and challenge. Look around our country and the world. We need lawyers who can unify, help others independently of politics, and learn to think generationally.”

Martin is in the midst of the “storm before the storm.” By 2024, he must hire full-time professors and staff, plus adjuncts, recruit the first class of law students, arrange for campus housing for the students, and weigh in on the construction of the new law school building on HPU’s campus.

Long-term, targeted enrollment could be approximately 100 students per class with a faculty of 20-24 full-time, plus adjuncts. “We aspire to be a national law school with students from across the country,” said Martin. Initially, students will be recruited from the South, the Mid-Atlantic, and New England.

“In addition to the general JD degree, we are considering certificates in several areas, including intellectual property, health care law, business law, access to justice, and dispute resolution. And this could change as we better understand student preferences and the ever-evolving landscape of the legal profession.”

A Level of Prestige

HPU’s new schools of law, optometry, and nursing and the construction of the Workman School of Dental Medicine were announced in the spring by HPU President Dr. Nido Qubein. These schools and other construction on campus are supported with three recent donations to the school totaling $100 million.

The university has grown from approximately 1,500 traditional undergraduate students when Qubein was named its president in 2005 to 6,000 undergraduate and graduate students this year. Over the same period, the university has grown from three to 11 schools, 14 with the additional new schools noted above.

“I do think that when you have a law school in the university you add a level of prestige,” said Qubein. “I’m trying to make sure that we’re doing things that will set this university at a good place for decades to come. I just believe that the law school would add that level of awareness, brand building, and prestige.”

“I think intentional congruence is a good strategy for any organization,” Qubein continued. “If you think of HPU as a jigsaw puzzle, when you put in a law school, suddenly, you’ve almost completed that puzzle because of the congruence, in other words the interdisciplinary benefits. I think our law school is going to benefit from our business school. I think our business school is going to benefit from our law school. I think our communication school will benefit from our law school, on and on the story goes.”

Life Skills

HPU defines itself as “The Premier Life Skills University.” “By focusing on the life skill of professional identity formation, law students will develop those character and leadership skill sets so necessary to succeed in the legal profession,” said Martin.

“First, we will be training law students to be excellent and ethical lawyers. We will create an academically rigorous environment that pays close attention to bar passage and the placement of our graduates. Second, we plan to have a great deal of experiential learning. I believe in a close nexus between the law school community, on the one hand, and lawyers and judges, on the other hand. We expect to provide numerous opportunities for students in this regard. Third, we will work to foster professional values—including civility and professionalism.

“We will be challenging the students to leave nothing on the field, and to take steps now so that when they look back at age 60 or 70, they will know that they have done everything to be a lawyer of excellence, to uphold the highest ethical values as a lawyer, and to have made a positive impact in our profession and the world,” Martin continued.

HPU is affiliated with the United Methodist Church. “There is also a faith community at HPU for those students who would like to consider how their faith identity relates to their study and practice of law,” said Martin.

A Frontline View

Martin served on the bench for 26 years in North Carolina. From 2014 to 2019, he served as chief justice. He was the dean and a tenured law school professor at Regent University School of Law in Virginia Beach, Virginia, from 2019 until this year.

Martin will be hiring most of the initial faculty within the next year or in 2024. He is actively recruiting deans who will have supervision over academic affairs, student affairs, and admissions.

The foundation for any new law school is built by its faculty, so he has been busy evaluating potential full-time faculty members. Drawing on his extensive network from his years on the bench, Martin has also been busy recruiting distinguished judges and lawyers from around the country and the world to serve in various adjunct roles, including as senior lecturing fellows.

“These students will have a frontline view, a focal point to really appreciate the innovations taking place in practice and on the bench from the practicing lawyers and the judges themselves,” explained Martin. “So, we won’t be telling the students about what judges or lawyers are doing. Instead, they themselves will be giving the students that narrative.”

Most of the law students will live on or near the campus. Construction of housing is underway for an additional 500 undergraduate and graduate students in dorms and on-campus houses.

I believe in a close nexus between the law school community, on the one hand, and lawyers and judges, on the other hand.

Look at This Place

The pitch to potential faculty members is a chance to work at a new law school with significant resources for fast-track growth and a broad array of highly acclaimed jurists and legal practitioners with whom to interact.

Then there’s the inspiring campus. “Look at this place. Just look around us,” said Martin fanning out his arms during a walking tour of the campus.

The 520-acre, 288-building university looks like it was drawn in a Disney animation studio. The colors burst. Green grass, fresh flowers, purple and white HPU banners. Red, white, and blue banners and flags. Fountains.

Seated on sidewalk benches are bronze statues of leaders from the worlds of art, science, and history. From Ronald Reagan to Rosa Parks. From Beethoven to Mother Teresa.

Martin explains that the “excellent physical environment” sets the expectation of “excellent student performance.”

“As President Qubein says, ‘People rise to the level of the environment in which they live.’ Whether students are in class, walking down the International Promenade or in one of the library learning common spaces throughout campus, students are consistently surrounded by excellence,” said Martin.

Dean Martin speaking with HPU President Dr. Nido Qubein

Access to Justice

A 2020 study by the NC Equal Access to Justice Commission and the Equal Justice Alliance reported that more than two million low-income North Carolinians were eligible for the services of legal aid providers in 2018. Eighty-six percent of those legal needs go unmet because of limited resources for civil legal aid.

“This unmet need should concern us all. Equal justice under law is not possible unless everyone—regardless of socioeconomic status—has access to competent, caring, and ethical legal counsel,” said Martin.

“I’ve decided that every law school should have a commitment to provide access to justice. We intend to do that here at HPU. I’ve been talking to members and leaders of the Legal Aid community and getting some very good ideas about how to get started.”

He said driver’s license restoration and post-pandemic evictions would be high on the priority list.

“When we get students involved in a clinical setting, they benefit from that experience in so many ways. They are helping to research and to be a problem solver for the client. In some cases, they also get to meet the client and to go to court on behalf of that client.”

Affordable Tuition

The cost of law school ranges from an average of $84,558 for public universities to $147,936 for private universities, according to The American Bar Association reports that 90% of all law school students will graduate with student loan debt.

“We are very conscious of affordability and inclusivity,” said Qubein. “We will be keeping the tuition at an affordable level. You make the entry-level a reasonable number. As an example, our dental school is $85,000 to $90,000. Law school might be in the 30s per year. We are also looking at significant upfront scholarships to get the best students and ensure they have ample financial support.”

“We will be competitively priced. Certainly, for the inaugural class, scholarships will be offered to well-qualified students,” Martin added. “We invite everyone to give us a chance, and we will do everything we can to make their law degree affordable.”

Qubein hinted that donations from future law school alumni would also be a part of the tuition and scholarship calculus.

“At HPU, I believe many of these attorneys will go to work in law firms, corporations and other organizations and be able to make significant or appropriate revenue streams.”

We want to produce lawyers of excellence. Excellent advocates. Ethical lawyers.

Architects of a Nation

“We want to produce lawyers of excellence. Excellent advocates. Ethical lawyers. Lawyers who understand that they are also public citizens,” said Martin. “De Tocqueville said it best when he came over to America in our early days as a nation; he said, ‘The new world does not have the oldworld nobility. In its place are the lawyers who have become the architects of a nation with a written constitution.’

“We want to educate law students in the life skills of effective written and oral communication, critical thinking, active listening, and cultural competence so that they will succeed as client-centered legal professionals in a competitive and rapidly changing world,” Martin concluded. “And we will ground these skills in the knowledge, values, and mindset of a free society and the marketplace of ideas that is a part of that free society.”

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