N.C. Lawyers Weekly names Dean J. Rich Leonard, alumna among legal icons

RALEIGH — Campbell Law School Dean J. Rich Leonard and alumna Shelby D. Benton ‘85 have been recognized as legal icons by North Carolina Lawyers Weekly. This award honors senior leaders within the legal community who have left an indelible mark in their respective fields, according to the newspaper.

“Icons are senior leaders of the legal community who have made their mark, in the courtroom or the boardroom, in their law firms or legal departments, with community organizations, and with local, state and national bar associations.”

On July 20, the North Carolina Lawyers Weekly will celebrate the accomplishments of the Icons Class of 2023 at the Hilton Charlotte University Place. 

Photo of Law Dean J. Rich LeonardOver the past decade, Dean Leonard has excelled in his role acting as chief spokesperson, the public face and fundraiser for Campbell Law. A former United States Bankruptcy Judge for the Eastern District of North Carolina, he assumed the role of dean at Campbell University’s Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law on July 15, 2013.

Dean Leonard has initiated myriad beneficial and impactful programs over the past 10 years. The law school has 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 student teams, and expanded its clinical programs to five.

Under Dean Leonard’s direction, Campbell Law added its unique FLEX JD program, the Connections mentorship program, and a Certificate in Patent Law as well as a number of dual degrees and 3+3 programs with area colleges and universities. Internationally, Leonard has partnered with the University of Nottingham to offer LL.M. degrees to not only current law students but practicing judges and attorneys in North Carolina; the University of Reading to offer two advanced international certificates; and the University of Cape Coast School of Law to offer a summer study abroad program in sub-Saharan Africa.

Dean Leonard’s work on the bench and at Campbell Law was publicly recognized when North Carolina Lawyers Weekly named him the 2014 Lawyer of the Year. Most recently he was recognized among the top CEOs by the Triangle Business Journal in 2021 and he was named Bankruptcy Law Lawyer of the Year by Global 100 magazine. He also received the 2018 McKnight Renaissance Lawyer Award from the North Carolina Bar Association and the same year, he was elected to serve as chair-elect of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s General Alumni Association. He then served as chair from May 2019 to May 2020.

In 2020, Dean Leonard was awarded the prestigious designation as a Fulbright Specialist Scholar. He plans to teach in Bhutan later this year as part of his Fulbright.  He was also selected as the only current dean of a law school to be named among the 2020 LawDragon 500 Leading U.S. Bankruptcy & Restructuring Lawyers. In 2019, Leonard was selected to serve as the first president of the new Craven- Everett American Inn of Court when it moved its affiliation from Duke Law School to Campbell Law.

Photo of Shelby D. Benton JD '85

A 1985 Campbell Law School graduate, Benton has practiced law in Wayne County, North Carolina, for nearly four decades. In 1995, she became a Certified Specialist in Family Law by the North Carolina State Bar.  She is the first Campbell Law School alumna to serve as president of the North Carolina Bar Association (NCBA).  A recipient of the Campbell University Distinguished Alumni Award in October 2015, Benton was among a number of women leaders being featured in the law school’s alumni spotlight series.

Read more about her accomplishments at this link.


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 4,700 alumni, who make their home in nearly all 50 states and beyond. In 2023, Campbell Law is celebrating 45 years of graduating legal leaders and 14 years of being located in a state-of-the-art facility in the heart of North Carolina’s Capital City.