Raleigh’s Hometown Law School
For 40 years, Campbell Law School has been training legal professionals, but the move to downtown Raleigh 10 years ago successfully elevated the program and connected students with the capital city’s expansive network.
By Kurt Dusterberg / Photos courtesy of Campbell Law School
Campbell Law School Dean J. Rich Leonard likes to start his day by basking in the scholarship of his students. “One of my favorite things is coming up in the elevator early in the morning with students and saying, ‘Tell me about your day,’” Leonard says. “It’s the richest mix of tough, doctrinal courses and experience out in the community, learning what the practice of law is like.”
Ten years have passed since the Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law set its sights on Raleigh, after residing for 30 years on the main campus of Campbell University in Buies Creek. By any measure, the relocation and the years since have proved to be a success. The school is celebrating its 10 years in Raleigh as well as the 40th anniversary of its first graduating class in a series of special events, including the 10/40 Gala Celebration at Raleigh’s Union Station on March 22nd.
The relocation to Hillsborough Street was ushered in under then-Dean Melissa Essary, who sought to enhance the law school’s reach. “She realized that legal education had become very entrepreneurial,” Leonard says. “She realized if Campbell didn’t claim Raleigh, someone else would. Then we would have been left as the little country law school 45 miles from here, and some other institution would own all the richness of the Raleigh legal community.”
With courthouses, government agencies, the state legislature, and law firms all within walking distance, the school thrived immediately. “Students wanted real experiences, they wanted externships and clinics,” Leonard says. “They wanted an opportunity to experience the legal profession while they were in law school. That’s very hard to do in Buies Creek.”
Whitfield Gibson, a civil litigation attorney at Manning Fulton Attorneys, spent his first two years in Buies Creek before graduating with the first Raleigh class in 2010. “It was your classic country school [at Buies Creek],” Gibson says. “The law school was in just one of the buildings on the quad. There were only two real classrooms of about 100 people. The building they occupy now is much nicer and more modern, and it’s in the middle of a capital city.”
It didn’t take long for students to recognize the benefits of the new location. “You had access to judges who would be willing to make that 40-minute trek to Buies Creek,” Gibson says. “But even in the first year in Raleigh, it was apparent there were a lot more people coming to the law school from different firms and different courts. In Raleigh, you’ve got a lot more access to that caliber of people.”
According to Charles Meeker, the mayor of Raleigh during Campbell Law’s transition to the city, the move has been good for both parties. “Campbell Law School has been great for downtown Raleigh,” says Meeker, a partner with Parker Poe Attorneys and Counselors at Law. “The students, faculty, and staff bring vibrancy to our urban fabric. And Raleigh has been great for the law school, too, with all the nearby service and employment opportunities, not to mention the restaurants and stores.”
Since 2010, Campbell has graduated 1,196 law students from the Raleigh campus, adding to a legacy of approximately 4,300 over its 40 years. Distinguished alumni include North Carolina Court of Appeals Judge John M. Tyson, who graduated in the school’s charter class of 1979, and Elaine Marshall, the North Carolina Secretary of State since 1997.
Campbell Law plays a key role in the community. According to Leonard, the state of North Carolina allows students to practice law under tight supervision during their final year of law school. The Blanchard Community Law Clinic partners with nonprofit agencies to resolve issues like domestic violence protection orders and landlord/tenant disputes. The Restorative Justice Clinic sends student mediators into 18 Wake County schools to resolve issues between victims and offenders. “If we can get our students into schools before a principal makes a criminal referral and starts some kid down the school-to-prison pipeline, we can solve a lot of these things to everyone’s satisfaction,” Leonard says.
Campbell also offers the Senior Law Clinic and Stubbs Bankruptcy Clinic. “Immigration, veterans, writing wills, domestic abuse—just about any good cause around here, we have a student group that’s helping with it,” says Leonard, who served as the United States Bankruptcy Judge for the Eastern District of North Carolina for 22 years before becoming dean in 2013.
Campbell is also proud to rank 15th nationally in ultimate bar passage, with 98 percent of all students passing the bar exam within two years of graduation. When they do, they’re prepared for an evolving legal community. Campbell has eight joint degrees, such as accounting, social work, and public health. The school recently offered a course in coding for lawyers, responding to students who plan to build apps and programs to enhance their careers.
With the 10/40 anniversary events on the horizon, Leonard is proud of Campbell’s place in the Raleigh community. The downtown campus is always bustling with visitors from the law community and the local agencies served by the students.
Given all the activity, Leonard has another reason to reconnect with the students at midday, one that doesn’t probe too deeply into their academic schedules. “At noon every day,
I stand at the front door, and people say, ‘Dean, what are you doing?’ I say, ‘Well, I’m watching the catering trucks show up to see where I want to have lunch.’ On any given day there will be three or four catered lunches sponsored by someone,” he says with a laugh. “That’s the prerogative of the dean. Any meeting here is my meeting.”
Campbell Law School 10/40 Gala Celebration
March 22nd • 7–9 pm • Raleigh’s Union Station
Tickets: $50 per person