Campbell Law School dean, student featured in NCBA’s November 2020 magazine

RALEIGH — The November 2020 edition of the North Carolina Bar Association‘s magazine features a first-person perspective on COVID-19 by Campbell Law School Dean J. Rich Leonard as well as the other North Carolina law school deans.

Photo of Campbell Law Dean J. Rich Leonard
Dean J. Rich Leonard


In the post, published by the NCBA’s Russell Rawlings, Leonard writes:

“Candidly, the past six months have been the most difficult of my professional life. The nation is polarized, the pandemic is relentless, and systemic racism is rightfully coming under attack.

“In mid-March, I oversaw moving an in-seat curriculum with a fabulous teaching faculty, who had little use for distance education, onto a virtual platform in 72 hours. Graduation was cancelled, which I replaced with 75 individual ceremonies, one student and family at a time. The Floyd murder generated peaceful protests that went violent. My innocent statement that our gorgeous law school was not damaged in the riots led to bitter complaints that I cared more about a building than Black lives. When I did issue my statement, alumni accused me of being an apologist for looters.

“Whether the North Carolina bar exam could be given safely was a guerilla war. I took the view that it could. Many of my students are only truly in the job market when they have a law license, and are completely out of energy and resources by late July. I did not see that things would get better if we just postponed it. However, a loud and vehement minority of my students and faculty disagreed, and they made themselves heard. Luckily, it was given without incident and our pass rate was the highest since 2012.

“I do not believe virtual instruction substitutes for in-seat teaching, particularly in the first year. We spent all summer, under the leadership of Deans Zeke Bridges and Dan Tilly, meticulously planning how to return to an in-person environment, but with options in every class for virtual attendance. It required leasing additional classroom space at the Episcopal Church next door to reduce the load on our building and adhering to spacing and room capacity requirements. My faculty have learned to teach in masks behind plexiglass shields, instructing simultaneously students in person and others virtual using multiple monitors. The podium looks more like the cockpit of a jet than a teaching platform.

“With three weeks of class to go in the semester, it has largely worked. My terrific dean of students, Evin Grant, uses our mandatory notification rules and daily health checks to move students between in-seat and virtual platforms as quarantining and contact tracing require. Our number of active cases has been minimal. We are on course to safely leave the building at Thanksgiving (with the exception of first-year exams) and return in mid-January. But, much like the novel coronavirus itself, every day presents a set of new issues with which deans have never had to deal.”

The magazine also features recent graduates from each N.C. law school and their reflections on what it was like to take the North Carolina bar exam in person during a pandemic. The article was written by the NCBA’s Jessica Junqueira.

Campbell Law’s Zachary Johnson ’20 is originally from Atlanta, Georgia, but he now enjoys calling Raleigh home. “It’s just such a beautiful place. It feels so young and growing and vibrant.”  He previously lived in Chapel Hill, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in management and society at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Before attending UNC, Johnson was a Corporal in the United States Marine Corps for four years. He was stationed at Camp Lejeune. You can read more about his experience at this link.

Photo of Zach Johnson
Zach Johnson (photo courtesy of the NCBA)



Since its founding in 1976, Campbell Law School has developed lawyers who possess moral conviction, social compassion, and professional competence, and who view the law as a calling to serve others. Among its accolades, the school has been recognized by the American Bar Association (ABA) as having the nation’s top Professionalism Program and by the American Academy of Trial Lawyers for having the nation’s best Trial Advocacy Program. Campbell Law boasts more than 4,300 alumni, who make their home in nearly all 50 states and beyond. In 2019, Campbell Law celebrated 40 years of graduating legal leaders and 10 years of being located in a state-of-the-art facility in the heart of North Carolina’s Capital City.