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When Will Your Law Dean Step Down?

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

With more than 200 nationally accredited law schools, there is always a new dean taking over somewhere.

Since the fall semester began, at least eight law schools have welcomed new deans, four had begun searching for new ones, and on average one dean leaves every month. Dean Daniel Rodriquez said last week he will return to teaching after six years as dean of Northwestern Pritzker School of Law.

It's a law school fact that no dean stays on forever. But just how long is it before a dean steps down?

How Long?

Jim Rosenblatt, former dean of Mississippi School of Law, pondered that question himself. As a new dean in 2003, he attended a "New Deans Course" and heard that the average tenure was seven years.

"While the tenure of interim deans was naturally relatively brief, some
regular deans also left their positions after fairly short periods to return to the
faculty, to move to another deanship, or to follow other callings," he wrote. "These moves caused me to wonder if the average or median tenure of a dean was really seven years."

Rosenblatt created a Deans Database to track deans, and the database outlived his own tenure. It says that the average is 3.66 years and the median is 2.79.

Paul Caron, dean of Pepperdine University School of Law and editor of TaxProf Blog, says tenures are going down. Two years ago, the average was at an all-time low of 2.78.

Not So Long

No so long ago, law school deans served an average of 12 years. A few still fit that mold, and for good reason.

Dean John O'Brien of New England Law Boston has the longest continuous service at a single institution of any law school in the country. This year, he will mark 30 years there -- and reportedly with a salary and benefits around $900,000.

In the modern era, however, law school deans often leave after several years. Whether it's to the faculty ranks or for other aspirations, the career-long dean is a thing of the past.

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