Dean Limelight: Jeremy Paul, Northeastern U School of Law


Jeremy Paul knew shortly after starting Harvard Law School that he wanted to teach. He began doing so as soon as he graduated in 1981, holding positions that included professor in residence for the U.S. Department of Justice, and he was named dean of Northeastern University School of Law 31 years later. jeremy paul CROPAlong the way, he taught for 23 years at the University of Connecticut School of Law, where he was also dean, and worked as an assistant to the president of Travelers Group. He also clerked for Judge Irving R. Kaufman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Among the challenges in legal education today, Paul said, is a focus on how successful graduates are at finding work as lawyers within nine months of graduation. That perspective can easily overlook other positions that lead to satisfying careers.

“My first job out of law school as a legal writing instructor did not require bar admission and was clearly capped at nine months,” he recalled. “Yet I was thrilled to win the position, and it got me started on a satisfying path.”

LAWDRAGON: What drew you into the field of academia?

JEREMY PAUL: I know it sounds corny, but I was drawn to academia by an old-fashioned love of learning.

I relish what I describe as having the truth as my principal client. I also had inspiring teachers in law school, so that I decided in my first couple of weeks that teaching was for me.

I started teaching right after clerking on the Second Circuit hoping that I would later have a chance to experience law practice at a higher level than I could as a first-year associate. This worked out well for me, because after five years of teaching I had the privilege of serving as a professor in residence at the Appellate Staff of the Civil Division of the Department of Justice.

And five years after that I was serving as assistant to the president at a large corporation called Travelers Group. My days at TravelersGroup were exhilarating, but my nights often found me wondering whether consumer allegiance to my products was the right aspiration. I was impressed that corporate colleagues held high ideals and a passion to make a difference for people. But I always intended to return to the university and remain glad to this day that I did.

LD: What distinguishes your institution from other law schools?

JP: Northeastern has always been a special kind of law school. Our signature Cooperative Legal Education Program provides students with four full-time placements in professional workplaces, so that graduates leave with both rigorous classroom training and nearly a year of legal experience. Our emphasis on leaving the world a better place fosters commitment to the lawyer’s role as the architect of a just society. And our diverse, collaborative environment makes us a place where success is prized in familiar and nontraditional ways.  Let me elaborate:

The Northeastern Advantage. Traditional legal education excels at teaching students to learn from books. Northeastern is second to none in training law students in conceptual analysis and in the written and oral expression vital to professional success. Our faculty devotes more time to student feedback, and our curriculum requires more introductory credits of structured writing than students will find elsewhere.

But the last time we checked, government officials, executives and lawyers in leadership positions did not find a written manual waiting when they took the reins. The faster pace and the likelihood that today’s graduates will have many jobs during longer careers means successful lawyers will be those who can learn at work. Northeastern’s experiential program is based on enabling students to do just that. We prepare students with key questions to ask about the mission and structure of the organizations in which they are placed, so that the process of learning at work is built into our program. Students who must navigate the co-op interview process four times come to reflect on their careers in ways that will serve them well in the new, more entrepreneurial economy.

Architects of the New Economy: Tomorrow’s lawyers will be those who know how to invent and revise legal structures that foster economic growth while serving human needs.  At Northeastern, outstanding teachers and scholars are shaping the fields that will mark the trajectory of expansion in the 21st century: health care law; cyberlaw; intellectual property; immigration law; international law; elder law; energy law; law of the workplace, and, of course, the laws of trade and finance that govern economic development itself.

These faculty leaders share a commitment to understanding how people actually behave within contemporary markets and within diverse cultures so that abstract models are always tested against observed realities.

Ours is a law school that believes the new economy will be won with guidance from lawyers who build public values into private enterprise, and who design intelligent regulations to channel growth in ways that best serve human needs. The new economy will inevitably create disruptions. Many workers will struggle to learn new skills or risk being left behind, even in a period of prosperity. The ease of selling premium goods and services across world markets may funnel huge returns to small numbers of winners.

The pace of change may threaten cultural patterns of authority, thus rendering a strong commitment to the rule of law essential to curtail malfeasance by corrupt and sometime violent actors. We expect our students to understand their obligation as lawyers to spend time delivering justice to those who need it most. We award full-tuition Public Interest Law Scholarships to students who demonstrate a commitment to using their degree to serve the public good. We place students in small teams from day one to tackle important social justice projects.  Every student must satisfy our public interest requirement prior to graduation. No law school is right for everyone. But if you want to learn how to act like a lawyer and not just think like one, how to write the rules to shape growth in the 21st century and how to make a difference and not just a living, Northeastern promises to be the very best place for you.

LD: What are your biggest challenges as dean and how are you meeting them? 

JP: There is a great deal of noise in the press right now distracting prospective students from the high quality of legal education provided by most law schools and ignoring the successful careers ultimately pursued by most graduates. People need comparison metrics, but the over-emphasis on jobs obtained within nine months of graduation that require a JD produces a distorted impression of where a law degree might lead.

My first job out of law school as a legal writing instructor did not require bar admission and was clearly capped at nine months. Yet I was thrilled to win the position, and it got me started on a satisfying path. The constant challenge is to tell the story of how lawyers play a vital role in helping people work together to produce a broader array of goods and services than the world has ever seen. It’s also a challenge to keep up with a world in which technology is rapidly transforming law practice.

A challenge I relish is bringing legal knowledge to a broad array of students, not merely the fabulous J.D. students who choose Northeastern. I do a great deal of writing for the popular press to spread the word about the strengths of our profession and our law school. I try hard to keep up with how law is practiced today. And we are diversifying our student body with new programs for LL.M. and Master’s degree students.

LD: Are you seeing any trends in the types of jobs your students take?  

JP: As one of the nation’s top public-interest law schools, we’ve traditionally seen about 25 percent of our graduates take public interest positions. This trend continues and, because public interest jobs hire on a slower cycle, the February 15 (soon March 15) deadline is not a fair comparison number from school to school.

We also encourage our graduates to pursue rewarding and challenging positions that do not require bar passage, even if they have passed the bar. For example, those who work for law schools, those who go into finance, those who go into business, HR, human rights advocacy, etc. Perhaps this explains why we have more alumni career satisfaction than most schools.

For more information, see our Outcomes Assessment Project, headed by Bill Henderson at:, as well as the recent Above the Law survey, which finds that we are “wicked awesome” based on alumni feedback. See

Despite the tough times,the majority of our graduates continue to find fulfilling jobs in the private sector — and many secure jobs through connections made within our co-op program. One change of particular note is that employers in many settings such as compliance programs, consulting firms, search firms, government affairs offices and nonprofit organizations are beginning to see the value of law-trained people in jobs outside traditional law practice.

Our co-op program provides us the opportunity to expose our students to such nontraditional career paths so that they have a broader array of potential choices with how to use their degree. We will continue to emphasize these new paths and won’t be content until our graduates achieve the robust post-graduate success they expected when they decided to attend Northeastern.

LD: What do you do outside the law school when you’re not being dean?

JP: I have run a book group (mostly nonfiction) for more than a decade. This year’s books are Tomorrow’s Lawyers by Richard Susskind; For Discrimination: Race, Affirmative Action, and the Law  by Randy Kennedy; The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America by George Packer;  Simpler Government by Cass Sunstein; Early Decision by Lacy Crawford; Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo, and My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor. I am a big fan of pop culture, such as the music of Elvis Costello and HBO shows such as “The Wire” and “The Newsroom.” But mostly I try to spend as much time as I can with my wife of 32 years, Laurel Leff, a journalism professor at Northeastern, and my two sons – Jason, 27, and Russell, 24.