by Roger Abrams, Richardson Professor of Law
This fall I start my 41st year in legal education, teaching Torts, exactly as I did in 1974. Over that period of time, I have taught at five law schools and served as dean at three of those schools, including Northeastern. I thought it might be useful to share with you my experiences at those various schools.
Most American law schools are regional in nature. I began teaching at Case Western Reserve Law School in Cleveland after clerking for a judge in the First Circuit Court of Appeals and practicing for three years in Boston. Case is a terrific private school. It has a genuine Midwestern feel to it with many of the students coming from Ohio and most of the graduates practicing in Ohio. It was a very pleasant experience, and I would recommend the school to anyone interested in Midwestern law practice – quite a different experience from practicing on either coast.
I served as dean at Nova Southeastern in Fort Lauderdale which was then only ten years old. Most of the students came from Broward and Palm Beach counties in Florida and entered small firm practice upon graduation. It was great fun serving as dean because the school was yet to develop many “traditions,” and we were able to do that as a community. I moved to New Jersey, my home state, to become dean of the State’s law school – Rutgers in Newark. Rutgers competes with all the New York area law schools in placing its students, doing well in some instances, but having some difficulty breaking into the major New York City firms. The student body and faculty did not always get along, and at times that was a real challenge for a dean. When I left that deanship in 1999, I had completed fourteen years as a dean. (By comparison, the average tenure of a law school dean is about three years.)
While on sabbatical teaching in the United Kingdom, I received an email from Professor Wendy Parmet, who was chair of the Dean Search Committee here at Northeastern. She asked whether I might be convinced to be a candidate for the deanship. My wife, who is from the Boston area, thought it would be a great idea if I pursued this opportunity. I have to admit that I knew very little about Northeastern when I agreed to be considered, but I am certainly glad I decided to be a candidate.
Northeastern is by far the best law school where I have ever taught, and that includes the year I visited at Harvard Law School. The Northeastern student body is absolutely delightful, and my colleagues are deeply committed to the success of the institution. When offered the deanship, I was pleased to accept. It took me a while to really appreciate how co-op works, and when I did I was afraid that every law school would adopt this same system of introducing students to the actual practice of law. In fact, no one has been able to fully replicate our cooperative legal education program, and we remain the best co-op law school in the country! I can see the difference in my students when they return from working with a firm or for a judge. Combined with the school’s commitment to serving the public interest, the co-op program makes Northeastern the best choice for many students.
Northeastern may not be the right choice for a student who enjoys the cut-throat competition of those law schools who rank order their students. It might not be the place for those who only see the practice of law as a way to make piles of money. It is probably not a good choice for those who would prefer instructors who do not respect their students or have no interest in mentoring them. But for students who want to join a community of bright young men and women, who appreciate making life-long friends within the student body, and who look forward to visiting law faculty in their offices to talk and learn about practice opportunities, Northeastern is the place to learn to be a lawyer.