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June 2, 2011 4:34 PM

Law School Leap: A Q&A with New U. of San Diego Law Dean Stephen Ferruolo

Posted by Dana Olsen

Ferruolo_C_Stephen In what sibling publication The National Law Journal labeled a somewhat unconventional move, the University of San Diego School of Law announced this week that Goodwin Procter business law partner Stephen Ferruolo will become its new dean, replacing Kevin Cole.

Law schools rarely hire attorneys in private practice as deans, as the NLJ notes, but Ferruolo is hardly a stranger to academia. Prior to practicing business and biotechnology law, the former Rhodes Scholar served as an assistant history professor and adjunct law professor at Stanford University, his alma mater. In a press release announcing Ferruolo's appointment, university executive vice president Julie Sullivan called him a "rare combination," touting his dual understanding of legal and educational issues.

We caught up with Ferruolo to discuss his latest career move and get his take on the job market that awaits the students who are, in effect, his new clients.

It's rare for a practicing attorney to become a law school dean. Why make the switch?

I guess I'm unusual as a practitioner. Before I went to law school, I spent ten years in academia. I have a Ph.D. in history and I taught history at Stanford and Bennington College. I've really enjoyed the practice of law, but I always felt that there were two parts of my career that were not connected--the years I spent in academia and the years I spent as a practitioner. This allows me to combine my two careers.

Will you continue to practice at Goodwin Procter?
 

 No, I'm going to leave legal practice. Transitions are difficult, but I've done it for 20 years, and it's time for me to move on and do other things.

It was reported that the other two finalists for the position were a college professor and a law school professor. Why do you think the University of San Diego selected you-- someone who has been outside of the academic world for years?

There's a strong interest in the value of having a dean in the law school who is reaching out and finding ways to more closely connect the law school to the broader community and figure out where there are job opportunities. We need to think of ways to better prepare our students for the changing legal marketplace, and we need to find ways to expand the financial aspects of the law school. I think the school was happy to find someone with ties to the legal and business community. I also think it's important to have someone who understands scholarship.

Do you plan to teach any classes?

Not immediately. It does come with appointment on the faculty, but my priority is to learn this job and to move the law school forward as its leader. I would hope that I can teach in the business area when the time comes. I'd like to teach corporate law, securities, and M&A. I'm also excited to return to scholarship. There are some areas that need to be addressed, particularly in terms of biotechnology and the corporate governance and shareholder activism. My career has focused on the life sciences and biotechnology companies, and those are thriving areas in southern California.

Do University of San Diego law school students enter the biotech field in greater numbers than students in other parts of the country?

There are a number of initiatives that have trained San Diego students for these job opportunities. The school is beefing up its courses in patent law, intellectual property law, and techonology. This is where there are opportunities, particularly in southern California, but also more generally. I hope to work with other schools and other institutions in San Diego to better train law students for those opportunities.

Law schools have been under fire recently for reportedly misrepresenting post-graduation employment statistics. Did you consider that controversy before accepting the dean position?

I know, from the point of view of someone who's been running a law office for the past few years, what has been going on in the legal marketplace. The expectations of law students from the time they began three years ago to their graduation now have changed dramatically. Students have not been able to fund their lives the way they thought they would be able to when they started law school. But I still believe law is great training for a wide variety of opportunities out there. We just need to work hard to provide our students with the best training and show them the way to the best opportunities.

You were the founding partner of Goodwin's San Diego office. What drew you to the area?

I practiced in Silicon Valley for the first half of my legal career. At my prior office, I was involved in an initiative to open a San Diego office for Heller Ehrman. I was attracted to San Diego because it's an important center of life sciences--it's an active technology center. San Diego has specific legal needs, and the biotechnology industry provided me with my background as a lawyer. 

 

Photo courtesy of the University of San Diego School of Law

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