Remembering Leary Davis: 2005 Interview
The following interview was conducted in 2005 for North Carolina Lawyer magazine and is republished here in tribute to Leary Davis, founding dean of Campbell Law School and Elon University School of Law. Davis died July 20, 2017, at the age of 75.
Thirty years after signing on as the founding dean of the law school at Campbell University, Leary Davis is at it again. Davis, 64, has been named the founding dean of the Elon University School of Law that will open in Greensboro in fall 2006. The law school will be located in the former Central Public Library building.
Davis, founder and president of the National Institute to Enhance Leadership and Law Practice (LAWLEAD/NIELLP) and a member of the Campbell law faculty from day one, has also been involved with the Elon venture from the ground level. He served as the Law Feasibility Study Committee’s consultant beginning in 2002, and earlier shared his advice and expertise with university officials during preliminary discussions.
A 1967 graduate of the Wake Forest University School of Law, Davis also holds a bachelor’s degree from Wake Forest (1964) and a Master of Laws from Columbia University (1984).
Davis, who assumed his full-time duties at Elon immediately after President Leo Lambert announced his appointment on March 8 and is currently preparing to announce the hiring of the law school’s first admissions director and librarian, recently in the following Q&A session for North Carolina Lawyer.
Q. When did you decide to apply for the position, and were you by chance recruited?
A. I made the decision several days before the deadline last fall. As for being encouraged to apply, I would probably say yes but it would be up to those people to answer. I know when I first starting consulting, (University Provost) Gerry Francis asked me if I would ever want to be a dean again. Being a lawyer, I had to answer honestly, and said that I would have to tell him the same thing that I would tell other people who have asked me that: I do not want to be dean of an existing law school but I would love to start a law school again.
Q. When did you come on board?
A. From the very beginning when they first started looking at it. It was a much longer process than I had been involved with in consulting with other people who were starting law schools or who had thought about starting law schools. Generally, it is sort of like helping a law firm in strategic planning in that it’s about a six-month process, whereas this process stretched over two years. It was really much more thorough and proved a lot of the rules for strategic planning are valid, like involving all of the people who are going to be affected by the plans with the planning process so that they get information that they might not otherwise in order to build a commitment and vested interest into the process at the beginning and make allies of them instead of at the end when they to defeat the plans.
Q. Did this help sell you on being a part of the law school beyond the role of a consultant?
A. Certainly. Also, the things that they are doing at the undergraduate level appealed to me – their emphasis on engaged learning, leadership, globalization, international studies, communication – are all things that I thought needed to be done in legal education. And the big one was the synergy, which made me believe there were some things that could be accomplished there that could not be accomplished at other universities.
Q. Who pulled you into the Elon picture?
A. The main one was probably Noel Allen. Noel had taught at Campbell. He and several other young lawyers from Raleigh were our initial adjunct faculty members. That would have been in the late ‘70s. And then I also consulted with his law firm and did some strategic planning. He grew up in the town of Elon and attended Elon before he went to law school at Carolina. Then he was on the board of trustees there and was in charge of their strategic planning.
Q. How did the lure of being a founding dean ensnare you again?
A. It fits in with this “spiral of experience” that the Center for Creative Leadership uses. I have been teaching leadership courses in law school for a long time, which is how I first got engaged with them. The way the spiral works, essentially, you do something, then the next time you get a chance to do it, you do it better.
Q. How do you intend to build on the approaches you used at Campbell?
A. What we will be trying to do is go beyond the trial advocacy skills. Many schools are doing alternative dispute resolution work now. Certainly we want to do that, but we want to that at a higher level. We think that if you’re talking about alternative dispute resolution skills you’re still talking about leadership skills, so we want to do more of that, and earlier. When we talk about how we’re doing this, this is not something that we are doing instead of the basic law; what we want to do is give students something extra that does not interfere with the first year of study.
The way we are planning to do that is to have about seven days of orientation in which we will be putting the students through a foundational leadership development experience that would be similar to a week at the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro before they even begin law school. We will be teaching them things about themselves that will help them succeed as law students.
Q. How will this play into the ABA accreditation process?
A. The way it has worked is that the accreditation standards end up being a checklist, and they’re sort of like the questions that the Elon faculty had: “Have you thought about this?” What we want to do is design the law school first to accomplish what it is that we want the law school to do. Then we will go back and look at the accreditation standards – of course, we know what they are now – and know that what we are designing meets those requirements, because they are valid requirements. I think the accreditation should really be a by-product; if you do the job right, you should not have to worry about accreditation. What we will do is go back through accreditation standards, and if there is something required that we haven’t done, then we will make sure that we comply with those standards.
Q. How did Campbell fare during the accreditation process?
A. We went from provisional to full in the minimum amount of time. We did not get provisional after our first year but we got it before any of our students graduated. One of the reasons we did not get it was because we did not have the building completed, so rather than appeal to the House of Delegates, we just went ahead and finished the building, got our faculty completely in place, and then we got provisional approval without any difficulty. After that, we got full approval in only two years, which was before any of the schools that had gotten provisional approval before us.
Q. In other words, in addition to your knowledge of the accreditation, you also know something, literally, about building a law school?
A. I am on my way to Boston where I will be looking at the new Suffolk Law School, which is the site of the ABA’s Bricks and Bytes Conference which is the conference in which you look at physical facilities and technology. Shepley Bulfinch is the primary architect for Elon’s renovation and is in Boston, so we will be looking at the Suffolk facilities. We’ve already had several outstanding librarians from around the country visiting who will be giving their input into the library facilities because it takes up almost half the building.
Q. Do you have any apprehensions about completing the renovations in time?
A. At Campbell we started in November 1975 and shortly after that we decided to open in the fall of 1976 instead of the fall of 1977. So I actually feel that I’ve got extra time this time, and really the people at Elon have been working very hard for months on the building and what it’s going to look like.
Q. What do you say to friends and colleagues who question the wisdom of starting a law school at an age when, as you noted earlier, the law school graduates of the 1960s are starting to retire?
A. I had someone call me the other day and ask me when I was going to stop and smell the roses. And my answer was, I’m smelling the roses; the roses are in Greensboro. It is a very exciting time for me and everyone who is involved in the law school and the downtown revitalization of Greensboro.