Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

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Law school dean once was a dream job for attorneys who prefer the ivory tower to the daily grind of billable hours. These days, the position is more like being chief executive of a sprawling business than a tweed-clad dispenser of constitutional wisdom.

“My job has radically changed,” said Marc Miller, who has served as the University of Arizona’s law school dean for nearly a decade.

The school—ranked in the top 50 by U.S. News—is among those that in recent years have expanded beyond the traditional juris doctor education program for college grads. It now also offers an undergraduate law degree, both on campus and online, as well dual JD/PhD and JD/MBA programs, legal training for foreign diplomats and education for alternative legal service providers.

The growing offerings from the University of Arizona and other law schools are aimed at bolstering bottom lines after a dip in enrollment and amid uncertainty posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Those factors have also changed the role of law school dean, increasingly to focus on making sure cash continues to flow in. ...

After he took over as Pepperdine University’s law dean, Paul Caron said his top job duty became finding ways to fill the enrollment gap. First-year enrollment at the school dropped in the mid-2000s from about 210 students to 160 students annually, he said.

The school scored a lifeline from alum Rick Caruso, a real estate developer who is running for mayor in Los Angeles. It was renamed for Caruso after he pledged $50 million to Pepperdine in 2019.

To boost enrollment, the school also temporarily lowered admissions standards. It has since developed online and master’s programs to keep tuition money coming in.

Caron also wanted to teach, but the former tax law professor said he quickly realized that was unrealistic.

“It almost killed me because of the demands on my time to run the school,” Caron said of the one time he tried to teach during his tenure. “I can handle budgets, but I woefully underestimated the time needed for fundraising.”

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