The Miami Daily Business Review ran an article yesterday about our Dean search, but it's behind their paywall so I can't link to it. Despite a couple obvious inaccuracies — as far as the faculty knows, for example, it's not clear if we know yet who all the candidates will be — it's a pretty balanced look at what's going on, at least as far as I can tell.
Along the way, the article reports on a view that I am not surprised to hear from some alumni:
But some alumni say the school’s next dean should have strong ties to South Florida’s legal community to support fundraising and create job opportunities for the school’s graduates. Departing Florida Supreme Court Justice Raoul G. Cantero III and Miami lawyer Brian Spector were named as possibilities.
“People like Raoul Cantero or Brian Spector are probably the types of leaders that law schools need for the future,” said Miami forensic accountant and lawyer Lewis Freeman, an alumnus and booster of UM and its law school. It’s “going outside the box of academia for people with real world experience.”
I think it's understandable that smart people who live at some remove from the institution would feel this way. But I also think that as regards our short-term future they are — sorry to be so blunt — dead wrong.
A local lawyer is not going to have much of an edge in getting our students local jobs (and a former judge even less so). On the other hand, it's possible that right local lawyer might be an excellent fund raiser, maybe even better than the right academic (although in all honesty, I'm not actually sure that is true). Fund raising is undoubtedly a major part of a Dean's job. But at this time in our history, what we need as much as money is an administrator who knows law schools, understands how to run a construction project, and whom we don't have to train. Law schools are different from firms (and courts) culturally, politically, and administratively. Let's take each in turn.
The cultural problem is the easiest to overcome. There are practitioners and judges who get the academic mission, and who appreciate the central importance of scholarship in a law school. I certainly know some. So while this is a most critical of these three areas, it's also the one where the supply of qualified practitioner/judges is greatest. But because this is so important, it's the area where a faculty will be most wary: it's not enough for a candidate to talk the talk — they have to have done it. Any practitioner, and probably any judge, who hasn't written at least a few law journal articles or a book is not going to be a serious candidate, especially in this law school where the self-image, at least, is one of scholarship as well as teaching and service.
Which brings me to the second issue: politics. I don't mean left-right — although a far-right torture-loving Dean wouldn't work here — but rather personal politics. A University isn't like a law firm: most of the inmates have life tenure. You can't vote them off the island, or even cut their partnership share in any substantial way. It's the ultimate “herding cats” environment. People used to more hierarchical work environments, not to mention used to judicial independence, are with very very rare exceptions simply not prepared for what's in store. There are almost no whips to crack, and even if you do it, it usually ends up rebounding. Yet you can't go far without significant buy-in from the team.
Then there's the administrative side. From what I can tell, a lot of being a good Dean is making sure that other people have the details covered. To do that, you have to know what they are. On-the-job training is possible, but the learning curve for a person new to law school administration, who hasn't even had a ringside seat as a professor, is frighteningly steep. I'm fairly sure that right now — in a school with a US News deficit and some substantial construction projects likely in its near future — isn't the best time to undertake that training project … if it can be avoided.
I do agree that practitioners have a lot to offer a law school as teachers and members of our community. I've consistently supported ideas such as “practitioner in residence” and the hiring of academically oriented practitioners for various types of faculty posts, including in one case full tenure, depending on their writing experience. But teaching what you know is very different from managing what you don't know.
The key mistakes that the practitioners quoted by the DBR make is thinking that law schools are not part of the “real world” and that being in or even running a law firm gives you easily transferable management skills. Law schools today are in fact complex organizations with tight budgets, unusual rules, peculiar labor forces, diverse and active constituencies, extensive relations with the greater University, and complex goals. They are hard to administer — much harder, I'd think than a court (at the end of the day, there's always a bailiff…), and very different from a law firm. There are very few non-lawyers who you should trust to argue a case for you without some specialized training first; similarly, there are very few non-academics you should trust to be a Dean of a law school without some acculturation and experience first. And all of them see law schools as very 'real world' indeed.