Dean J. Rich Leonard celebrates eight years leading Campbell Law School

Photo of Dean Leonard walking with students on his annual Court Crawl

RALEIGH  – Campbell Law School Dean J. Rich Leonard celebrates his eighth anniversary at the helm of Campbell Law School on July 15, 2021. 

Of the six law schools in North Carolina, Leonard holds the longest tenure of any dean. In fact, this anniversary lands him among the rare 10.78% of U.S. law school deans, who have served eight years or longer. What makes these numbers even more impressive is the average law school dean’s tenure is 3.35 years, according to an analysis by TaxProf Blog

Those are some impressively long tenures in a job that is high-pressure under good circumstances, and was made all the more difficult over the past eight years because of a shrinking applicant pool, newfound budget pressures, a difficult entry-level legal job market and declining bar pass rates,” wrote Karen Sloan, legal education editor at, in a April 2019 article.

Early in his career at the school, Campbell Law was given the top spot in Bloomberg Business’ Top 10 most underrated law schools in America list. Leonard has proven the “underrated” title to be more than a misnomer during his eight-year tenure, where the number of applications and students has grown not only in quantity but quality. In addition, alumni engagement, donations to the law school and the bar passage rate have also continued to climb under his watch.

The secret to his success?  “I think the key is an optimistic spirit and an eye always on the future,” he says.

The Honorable Paul Ridgeway ‘86, Senior Resident Superior Court Judge of the 10th Judicial District (Wake County), adds, “Dean Leonard believes in the power of education and is truly devoted to his community. Throughout his tenure, Dean Leonard has been dedicated not only to his students, staff and faculty, but also to the broader Raleigh community and beyond.”

Following are just a few of Leonard’s contributions:

  • In 2015, he brought a historical first female judges exhibit to campus to honor women who made a significant impact in N.C. courts, ‘First Ladies of the North Carolina Judiciary.’ Leonard said, “We are excited and proud to display this fascinating exhibit. Many women have made a significant impact from the bench in our state’s history, and we are honored to be in a position to pay tribute to their leadership moving forward.”
  • He launched a John Marshall Lecture Series (fourth chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court  from 1801-1835) highlighting Marshall’s ties to Raleigh and to share the impact this important historical figure had on our community. He also created a permanent exhibit to honor his legacy including his pre-Civil war rocking chair gifted to Leonard by Marshall’s great-great-granddaughter.
  • In 2019, Leonard dedicated a ‘First African Americans on the N.C. Bench’ exhibit to honor trailblazing African American judges in North Carolina as part of Black History Month. The traveling tribute features a timeline of the lives and achievements of each judge and justice from 1968-2006 and is displayed on a rotating basis at various locations throughout the state.
  • He developed a longstanding partnership with world renowned artist Thomas Sayre to display Raleigh’s most iconic symbols through art for everyone to enjoy. In 2020, Sayre said: “Campbell Law’s gift of public art to the City will make a great addition to the growing downtown Raleigh cityscape. This installation is a visible representation of the evidentiary standard in courts today and its signature form embodies the mission of Campbell Law School and applauds its legacy to our state – both past, present and future.” An accompanying outdoor classroom space is under development by Sayre that is expected to be completed in September.
  • Under Leonard’s guidance the law school vastly increased its already generous scholarship program, performed a top-to-bottom review of its curriculum, identified nine specific practice areas, partnered with leading local law firms to sponsor competitive advocacy program student teams and expanded its pro bono clinical programs to five: the Innovate Capital Business Law Clinic, the Blanchard Community Law Clinic, the Restorative Justice Clinic, the Gailor Family Law Litigation Clinic and the Stubbs Bankruptcy Clinic.
  • He also started the FLEX-JD program so students could attend law school part-time as well as an online and in-person certificate in patent law as well as multiple dual degrees and 3+3 programs with other area colleges and universities. He convinced the faculty to add a required trial advocacy course and a third semester of a required writing class was added in response to comments from practicing lawyers that recent law school grads were lousy writers.
  • Leonard also started the University’s first institute at the law school — the Innovation Institute, which will address how technology will impact the practice of law, the role artificial intelligence (AI) will have in all of our lives, and the ethics surrounding the use of new technologies, among other issues.
  • He has expanded Campbell’s international footprint with competitive advocacy programs and partnerships with the University of Nottingham to offer LL.M. degrees for current law students, practicing judges and NC attorneys. The University of Reading offers two advanced international certificates. The University of Cape Coast School of Law offers a study abroad program in sub-Saharan Africa. Campbell students have traveled to Vienna and Hong Kong to participate in commercial arbitration competitions.
  • Finally, he consistently brings international and national attention to the law school through awards such as being named among the 2020 Legal Awards winners by Lawyer Monthly Magazine. Voters recognized Leonard as the 2020 Bankruptcy Lawyer of the Year in the United States.

Leonard’s outstanding response to the COVID-19 pandemic, is a further testament to his exceptional leadership in our community, his supporters say. He made the bold decision to firmly support holding the bar exam in-person for the summer of 2020. Leonard said at the time he realized how important a law license would be for the future success of his students and knew the exam could not be postponed. Although the test was held indoors, strict safety protocols were in place keeping students and proctors safe with no COVID-19 cases traced back to the exam. The overall pass rate for Campbell Law graduates was 93.1 percent, making it the highest pass rate the law school has seen since 2012. 

After a successful bar exam, Leonard began planning a return to in-person classes as he believed virtual instruction was not an adequate substitute. It was quickly realized that Campbell Law did not have enough classrooms to follow the strict social distancing restrictions. While searching for a solution, Leonard looked out his window at the nearby Episcopal Church, which he also attends, and realized it had a huge fellowship hall. He asked if he could lease it from the church as a classroom. Leonard wanted to further ensure the safety of all Campbell Law students, faculty and staff. An assessment developed by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health evaluated eleven aspects of the school’s reopening during the pandemic. Campbell Law fell into the top category scoring a 91 out of 100 on the assessment for their private accommodations, contact tracing and COVID-19 testing. The school year was a massive success with only a minimal number of active cases (none in the building) and under Leonard’s leadership, the 2021 graduation was held safely in-person at Red Hat Amphitheater.

His contributions are not limited to North Carolina nor the U.S. In August 2020, Leonard was honored as a Fulbright Specialist Scholar to contribute his knowledge to an international project in Bhutan. Delayed due to COVID-19, in August 2022, he plans to travel to Southeast Asia for several weeks to share his extensive legal and academic experience.

Leonard served as a United States Bankruptcy Judge for the Eastern District of North Carolina since 1992 acting as Chief Judge from 1999 through 2006. For more than two decades, he acted as a consultant to the U.S. Department of State, working with judiciaries in many developing countries, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa. Leonard has also worked as an adjunct professor for North Carolina Central University School of Law (1985-86; 1995-98); UNC School of Law (1994-95); and, most recently, Campbell Law (2009-13) prior to becoming dean.


Since its founding in 1976, Campbell Law 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 4,400 alumni, who make their home in nearly all 50 states and beyond. In 2021, Campbell Law is celebrating 45 years of graduating legal leaders and 12 years of being located in a state-of-the-art facility in the heart of North Carolina’s Capital City.