John F. O'BrienJohn F. O'Brien has served as dean of New England Law | Boston since 1988. That makes him the longest continuously serving dean of any law school in the country. And he served as a faculty member and associate dean at New England Law before he became dean.

O'Brien shared leadership strategies that produce successful results in the long term:

  • Combine deep experience with continuous innovation. New England Law was founded as the first law school in the United States for women. It went coeducational in 1938. O'Brien works to keep the institution on the cutting edge. For example, the school offers unlimited summer fellowships for students that the school pays for. Also, officials created academic centers in the areas of international law, business law, and social responsibility so that students can engage in project-based work with faculty. Plus, the faculty keep the curriculum current with concentrations in fast-growing areas of law. And to help students get a head start on their careers, the school gives students free memberships in the Boston Bar Association.
  • Build a good team, and trust those around you. “A law school is too complex of an organization for a dean to manage every detail,” O'Brien said. Many members of the faculty and staff have years of experience. For example, the associate dean started at New England Law in the 1970s as a faculty secretary. Her ability to troubleshoot led her to become director of financial aid, then registrar and director of admission before becoming associate dean.
  • Create an environment that supports teaching and learning. Let faculty do what they are best at doing, O'Brien said. At New England Law, faculty members created and run the academic centers. An enrichment program promotes diversity and provides support to students of color.Because New England Law is independent, it's possible to really streamline the process if faculty members or others have good ideas, O'Brien said. There's no central administration to deal with, just the board of trustees.

  • Pay close attention to students. They are the school's customers. O'Brien hosts regular “pizza with the dean” sessions where he hears students' ideas and concerns. He also meets with the student bar association and with its president. Students have made helpful suggestions about alternative ways of doing things, O'Brien said.

Consider initiatives that support students, advance institution's success

Initiatives that support the needs of students help your institution enroll them in a competitive market and enhance their success after they graduate. O'Brien has led his school through implementing innovative opportunities, including:

  • Paid summer fellowships. Employers can hire students at no cost to themselves, and students get a jump start on their careers. “The school has always stressed being ready to practice from the day you graduate,” O'Brien said. After their first year, all students are eligible to line up jobs at federal agencies or law firms, and the school pays. Many of the students have been offered jobs for the next summer and after graduation.
  • Generous scholarships. Many scholarships go to students from groups who haven't traditionally studied law. That tradition of expanding access to the legal profession stems from New England Law's founding as the first law school in the United States for women.
  • Academic centers. The Center for Law and Social Responsibility, Center for International Law and Policy, and Center for Business Law allow students to pursue their particular interests while they are still in school. Students are exposed to the various areas in their first year. After that, they are matched up with faculty members in the centers to work on projects. This work helps them understand what they might want to do after they graduate.
  • Connections with top legal minds. Seven U.S. Supreme Court justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts, have visited New England Law, lectured at the school, or taught in summer-abroad programs. O'Brien considers what would attract them on a case-by-case basis. For example, Sandra Day O'Connor has visited a number of times and developed a fondness for the school that grew from its mission for educating women, O'Brien said.

Email John F. O'Brien at jfo@nesl.edu.