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Law schools these days don’t need much from a leader. Just someone who is skilled at building consensus, has big-money contacts, can devote days, nights and weekends to the job and has a vision for the school’s future. Outstanding scholarship doesn’t hurt, either. More so than ever, law schools want deans who not only demonstrate academic acumen and the ability to corral free-thinking faculty members, but who are also smooth enough to work a room and savvy enough to close donations. Fierce competition to achieve high rankings along with cutbacks in funding allocations for state schools have spurred both private and public institutions to seek deans who can sell their schools to business leaders and can woo alumni for support. But they also have to fill the traditional scholarly role by maintaining academic credibility with other faculty members. “You really need to have someone who has good advocacy skills,” said Joseph Kearney, dean of Marquette University School of Law. The Milwaukee school has seen a good deal of success recently. Last month, it received a $30 million gift from real estate developer Joseph Zilber, and in May the school received a $51 million donation from shipping magnate Raymond Eckstein and his wife, Kathryn Eckstein, who met as students at Marquette. The school will use part of those funds to build its planned $80 million new facility and to enhance scholarship programs. Kearney said the donations were years in the making and stemmed from a team effort led by the president of the university, Robert Wild. The university’s department of advancement also played a big role, he said. In addition, the gifts were a result of having a clear direction for the school, formed with input from faculty members, Kearney said. “You want faculty who will push you, and you want faculty who are respectful. You have an obligation to balance all sorts of interests,” he said. Kearney took the job as dean after serving as a faculty member at the law school, a fact that helped, he said. “I had to spend less time, early on, proving myself to the faculty as truly being an academic or being committed to a teaching venture,” he said. Search is on at Minnesota As Marquette did, most schools today launch national searches to find the person with the right combination of polish and smarts. The University of Minnesota School of Law is looking far and wide for a new dean. It started the search in May and hopes to have the position filled by the end of the year. One of the major attributes a dean must have is the ability to “appreciate the difference between leading at the macro level and managing at the microlevel,” said E. Thomas Sullivan, a former dean of the law school and now senior vice president for academic affairs and provost of the University of Minnesota. The law school’s most recent dean, Alex Johnson, stepped down in April 2006 after four years. Jon Binks, who is on staff of the dean search committee at the University of Minnesota, said that public law school deans have the added responsibility of seeing that the law schools get their fair share of the ever-dwindling state funds doled out to the universities as a whole. “The resource needs are highly competitive,” he said. He estimates that the school’s nominee list at one point had about 175 people. Binks identifies several qualities his school is looking for in a dean. Besides a commitment to academic excellence, some of the factors include the individual’s ability to articulate the school’s vision “to a number of constituencies.” They also include the ability to build a strong relationship between the local business community and the national legal community for the school, he said. In addition, “a clear potential for fundraising” is necessary. “Vision and budgets go hand in hand,” said Binks. Among the individuals whom the school is considering are candidates with non-traditional backgrounds for a dean’s job. Binks notes that Duke Law School Dean David Levi was chief U.S. district judge in the Eastern District of California before joining the school. Many schools, including state schools, have hired more fundraising personnel in the last few years and have created new programs designed to encourage students and alumni to donate. Public law schools have increased their efforts to fund loan forgiveness to students who take certain jobs in the public sector and are boosting their endowments, much like private law schools. At the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law, for example, state funding has dropped to less than 40% from 70% of the school’s budget. State funding at the University of Minnesota fell from 35% to 3%. Also hunting for a new dean is Hofstra University School of Law, a private school in Hempstead, N.Y. Hofstra University President Stuart Rabinowitz said that he wants someone who can schmooze with community leaders, but he cautions that schools should not discount the importance of strong academic skills necessary for effective deans. “I’m a little worried with all this emphasis on fundraising and networking that people are going to think that the internal academic side becomes irrelevant,” said Rabinowitz, a former dean of the law school. “I don’t want just a salesperson.” But he also notes that tuition increases are finite. “You have to be comfortable going outside and making the case that your school is worth investing in and asking for money,” said Rabinowitz. “There are a lot of people who can make the case but can’t make the ‘ask.’ “ Giving fundraising efforts time to flourish also is critical, he said, adding that the success of a dean’s fundraising push can take at least seven years to materialize. And for schools that already have a successful dean, Rabinowitz has some advice: “If you find an effective law dean, hold on to her or him.”

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