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Justice O’Connor highlights Dean O’Brien’s leadership in legal education

Event at Four Seasons Hotel draws Massachusetts legal and civic leaders

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(Boston, 12/18/12) New England Law | Boston:  For a year, Dean John F. O’Brien juggled his work as dean and leader of New England Law | Boston with his responsibilities in the highest-ranking, most prominent role in legal education regulation and policy, chair of the Council of the American Bar Association’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. During a November 2012 visit to New England Law by retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Dean O’Brien reflected on the past year and asked Justice O’Connor about issues of importance to her in public policy and the judicial system.

The event was hosted by the New England Law Board of Trustees to honor the prominent role that Dean O’Brien continues to play nationally as a voice for legal education.

Sitting on a small stage with Dean O’Brien, Justice O’Connor called him “America’s favorite dean” and added, “You can’t say enough good about Dean O’Brien… He is fabulous, and he’s just done wonders, I think, for law schools across the country.”  

Before an audience of nearly 200 Massachusetts leaders in law, government, and business, Justice O’Connor and Dean O’Brien engaged in a lively exchange. The conversational format recalled the school’s Centennial Celebration in 2008, when Dean O’Brien interviewed Justice O’Connor before an audience of 2,700 at the TD  Garden. Justice O’Connor and Dean O’Brien have known one another since her first visit to the law school in 1991.

Their warm conversation, punctuated by audience laughter at quips both made, ranged across a variety of topics important to them. They began by discussing iCivics, the online civics education program that Justice O’Connor founded to revitalize civics education. The project focuses on middle school students – whom Justice O’Connor described as “eager to learn and very open and receptive” – and uses online games to teach students about the three branches of government. The project is free to states and schools.

Another topic of great importance to Justice O’Connor is a merit selection system for judges, which she successfully championed as an Arizona legislator, after having run for a judgeship under Arizona’s previous system. Electing judges “means [the judges] have to run campaigns, collect money, and who gives the money?” she asked. “The lawyers who are most apt to appear before them… There’s something wrong about it; I felt very squeamish at the time [when she ran for the judgeship].”

In discussing legal education, Justice O’Connor and Dean O’Brien agreed that excellent faculty who are outstanding teachers are key to the quality of a law school. Capable students are important, too, and Dean O’Brien cited New England Law’s generous scholarship policy as helpful in attracting top students. Justice O’Connor referred to her afternoon meeting with students at New England Law, saying, “It was fun to meet with your students today. They’re lively and intelligent and asked good questions; they’re great.”

As much as Dean O’Brien has frequently commented on his admiration for Justice O’Connor, her respect for him was evident as well. “This is a marvelous law school that you have,” she told the audience, which included faculty, trustees, and alumni leadership. “You have been very fortunate here to have Dean O’Brien. He has really been wonderful for this law school, and he’s widely respected across the land. And I just think you really have a gem here so you take care of him, OK? And that’s a court order!”

A video of the full evening's program is available to view online.

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