Michael Cahill, a co-dean of Rutgers Law School for two and half years, was named the next dean of Brooklyn Law School.
Cahill is no stranger to Brooklyn Law, where he taught and served as both associate dean for academic affairs and vice dean before leaving for Rutgers.
“I was at Brooklyn for 13 years, so this is a homecoming for me,” Cahill said in an interview Tuesday. “I know the people. I know the institution. I am thrilled to be coming home.”
Cahill is scheduled to assume the deanship July 1, replacing interim dean Maryellen Fullerton. Fullerton has led the school since former dean Nicholas Allard’s abrupt departure in June after six years in the job. Allard said he stepped down to pursue other opportunities. Fullerton will return to teaching once Cahill is installed as dean.
Cahill is based at Rutgers Law’s Camden campus and shares administrative responsibilities with co-dean David Lopez, who is based at the Newark campus.
Cahill became Rutgers Law co-dean on the Camden campus as of July 2016, taking over for Camden Acting Co-Dean John Oberdiek.
Cahill has spent much of the past two-and-a-half years fully merging the two campuses, which until 2015 had operated independently.
Brooklyn Law’s independent status—unlike most schools, it’s not attached to a larger university—gives it greater flexibility to respond to the changing legal education marketplace, Cahill said. He credited the school with innovating both the curriculum and structure of its J.D. program, which can be completed in two, three or four years. One of his primary goals is to expand the school’s non-J.D. offerings into programs such as master’s degrees and certificates.
“[Brooklyn] needs to seize on that opportunity and start developing new programming and building out the kind of legal education it is offering outside of the J.D. program,” Cahill said.
Cahill’s other goals center on bringing in the strongest J.D. students possible and launching a sustained fundraising campaign.
“We are very excited to welcome back Dean Cahill to lead our great law school forward,” said board of trustees chairman Stuart Subotnick in an announcement of the appointment. “His wealth of experience in legal academia; his deep knowledge of [Brooklyn] from his many years here as vice dean and associate dean and faculty member; and his vision to secure and advance the school’s academic excellence while maintaining financial strength made him the clear choice among a field of exceptionally strong candidates.”
Cahill said it’s still not clear whether legal education’s fortunes are improving after a seven-year downturn. National figures from the American Bar Association show that first-year enrollment increased 3 percent this fall, and the number of applicants to law school surged 8 percent.
“Signs are promising that we are not going to continue going down,” Cahill said. “But that certainly doesn’t mean we’re going to go all the way up. We’ll probably end up somewhere in the middle. That’s why law schools need to recognize that they should be something other than just lawyer factories.”
Before joining Rutgers Law, Cahill was Brooklyn Law’s vice dean from 2013 to 2015 and associate dean for academic affairs for two years before that. In those roles, Cahill prioritized affordability by helping to increase scholarships, reduce all tuitions by 15 percent and implement a program in which students are reimbursed 15 percent of tuition if unable to find full-time work within nine months.
At the time he joined Rutgers Law, Cahill vowed to maintain the school’s affordability and remain committed to bringing on the most talented legal scholars. “If anything, the excellence of Rutgers as a law school is underappreciated,” he said in 2016. He said at the time that the issue of declining enrollment facing virtually all law schools “will deal with itself if Rutgers can make the case that it is a good value proposition.”
In 2016, Rutgers-Camden Chancellor Phoebe Haddon and Provost Michael Palis said the search for Oberdiek’s replacement was national in scope, yielding more than 40 candidates.
Cahill, who has authored books on criminal law and been involved with criminal justice reform efforts, is a 1993 graduate of Yale University and 1999 graduate of the University of Michigan Law School.
Earlier this year, Rutgers Law selected appointed Lopez co-dean overseeing the Newark campus. He had been a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Outten & Golden, and before that spent 22 years at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, including six years as general counsel. Lopez replaced outgoing co-dean Ronald Chen, who returned to teaching after five years at the helm of the Newark campus.
The Rutgers Law merger, reuniting the schools after 48 years as separate entities, garnered final approval in a vote by the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar in July 2015 at the ABA’s annual meeting in Chicago.