Mary Wood

For Dean Paul G. Mahoney, the key to understanding the famously happy alumni of the University of Virginia School of Law is simple: “Happy students.”

That motto is critical to the success of the Law School, known for providing a collegial experience among students and faculty, and for graduates who join a network of more than 17,600 alumni.

“People really remember their law school experience. I know I do, and I think it shapes the way they think about the legal profession and being a professional,” Mahoney said. “If they come away from their time as a student feeling positive, they will go on and feel positive in their careers, and if we’re lucky, remember the Law School as part of what launched them on a successful and enjoyable career path.”

Mahoney is stepping down after eight years as dean on July 1, when Professor Risa Goluboff will take the helm. He will leave the school financially stronger, with more faculty members, more invested in public service and career counseling, and with a broader curriculum than when he began — all achievements that improve the student experience.

The Path to Being Dean

Mahoney grew up in St. Louis, the son of an electrician and a homemaker. He majored in electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but by his junior year realized something was missing.

“It wasn’t the perfect fit for my entire range of interests — I enjoyed reading and learning about policy issues, history and the design of human institutions, not just electrical and mechanical devices,” he said. He added a major in political science, which in turn inspired him to look at studying law.

After a visit to Yale Law School, he was hooked. While a student there, he learned from faculty such as Ralph Winter, George Priest and Guido Calabresi. After clerkingfor Winter, who was also a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Mahoney pursued a corporate finance practice. At Sullivan & Cromwell he worked on financial transactions in the U.S., Europe, Asia and Latin America, representing major financial institutions and Fortune 500 companies.

But three years into his practice, Mahoney realized “there’s a part of my brain that this isn’t using.” He wanted to look at not only how to comply with a statute or regulation, but why it existed and whether it made sense. As he began to consider a career in teaching, he talked to friends from Yale who were law professors — Pamela Karlan, a classmate, and Dan Ortiz, a year ahead of him in law school, both taught at Virginia (Karlan now leads the Supreme Court Clinic at Stanford, while Ortiz leads the Supreme Court Litigation Clinic at UVA Law).

“They just raved about what a wonderful job it was,” Mahoney said. He made the plunge and moved to Charlottesville after his oldest son, Brendan, was born. His wife, Julia Mahoney, joined the faculty in 1999 and now teaches Corporations, Feminism and the Free Market, Nonprofit Organizations and Property at the Law School.

Mahoney in 1990
Mahoney joined the Law School faculty in 1990.

“I just absolutely loved law teaching — my students, my colleagues and Charlottesville — right from the start,” he said.

Mahoney enjoyed a culture that encouraged interaction between faculty and students. He regularly donated football tickets for the Public Interest Law Association auction and hosted tailgate parties, and became a fan of the UVA men’s basketball team.

Mahoney eventually became academic associate dean (now called vice dean), and was approached in dean searches over the years, but held out until an opening became apparent at UVA. “I was never interested in being a dean for the sake of being a dean,” he said. “But this place is different, and this opportunity was different.”

Prospering Despite the Storm

Just months after Mahoney became dean, the worst financial crisis since the Depression hit the United States and much of the world. Normally Mahoney, an expert in securities regulation and corporate law, might be among the scholars examining the crisis, but his attention was on making sure the Law School weathered the storm with minimal disruption. Many law schools faced tough budget cuts and layoffs, but UVA held steady.

“Our students and faculty were hit a little bit less hard by the financial crisis and the Great Recession than those at other law schools,” he said. “With the help of my colleagues in the Law School administration, we managed to get out in front of the decline in the legal job market and the decline in the financial markets, and to manage our finances and our student services in ways that I think cushioned the blow a bit more for our community than was probably true at a lot of law schools.”

Roger Kimmel ’71, chair of the Law School Foundation board of trustees for most of Mahoney’s tenure, said the dean’s support for career counseling services and loan forgiveness helped students and new graduates.

“Especially during the downturn in the legal market, Virginia was able to stay ahead of the curve and lead, in many ways, the prominent law schools — lead because of his foresight,” Kimmel said. “We had some very unique programs that were very creatively done that really helped our students and enabled those throughout the class to succeed, not just the top of the class, which was great.”

Throughout, Mahoney kept his eye on costs. The Law School was the only top-10 law school recognized for its administrative efficiency in a 2013 ranking by U.S. News & World Report. “He was always very prudent with the funds,” Kimmel said.

Despite the uneven economy, the Law School’s endowment has grown 41 percent, to $486 million, since June 30, 2008, the day before Mahoney took office. Under his leadership, the school has raised an average of more than $1 million a month and is on track to post total gift revenue of $104 million at the end of this year — an average of $13 million annually for every year of Mahoney’s eight-year deanship. More than 50 percent of alumni gave in each of his years as dean (and in the past decade), the highest participation rate of any national law school and near the top in all of higher education. At the conclusion of the school’s last capital campaign in 2012, 72 percent of alumni gave to an effort that raised $173.9 million, exceeding the goal of $150 million. Alumni participation in recent classes has regularly ranged from 80 to 90 percent.

Mahoney testifying
In May 2015, Mahoney testified before the U.S. House Financial Services Subcommittee on “The Dodd-Frank Act and Regulatory Overreach.”

“This is a spectacular endorsement of the way these alumni felt about the law school experience and education that they received under Paul’s guidance,” said Michael Horvitz ’75, also a past chair of the Law School Foundation board of trustees. “Paul worked hard to raise philanthropic dollars to benefit the faculty and the curriculum, but his focus was mostly on the students.”

As students faced a more challenging job market during the recession, the school shored up student services by hiring career counselors, increasing funding for public service fellowships and renovating the spaces that house Career Services, the Public Service Center, Student Affairs, Admissions and Clinics. The Karsh Student Services Center, completed in the fall of 2013 and made possible through a substantial gift from Martha Lubin Karsh ’81, an honorary trustee of the Law School Foundation, and Bruce M. Karsh ’80, was a culmination of these efforts.

“We love the Law School for many reasons. We met there and cherish the professors who taught us and the friends we made,” Martha Karsh said. “As alumni,” added Bruce Karsh, “we have admired the care the Law School’s deans have taken to mind the culture of the place. Paul kept the focus on the student experience, and we were proud to support his vision for the Student Services Center.”

Experiential Learning

When he started teaching at the Law School, UVA had a reputation for sending graduates to “Big Law,” a reputation that Mahoney said was “not entirely fair” because many alumni who started at firms eventually found their way to public service. Dealing with that misperception became more important, Mahoney said, because firms have grown less willing to hire graduates who might only stay for two or three years.

Mahoney meeting with students
Mahoney had lunch with first-year small sections each fall.

“Firms became much more focused on hiring people they could groom for the long run,” he said. “It made a lot of sense for us to help students who wanted a career path that got them to public service sooner rather than later. When I was in law school, Yale was very good at that, and it seemed to me that we could be good at it too.”

In 2009 the school launched the Program in Law and Public Service, an intensive mentoring and curricular effort designed to prepare students for careers in public service. Up to 25 students a year are admitted. In October the school announced it would guarantee funding for Public Interest Law Association fellowships for students who obtained qualifying employment. And the school expanded the Robert F. Kennedy ’51 Public Service Fellowships, which enable recent J.D. graduates to work in public service positions while exploring career options and building a professional network.

Mahoney also strengthened the school academically through recruiting top faculty, including prominent scholars hired from other law schools (see “By the Numbers”). Since he became dean, Mahoney has overseen the hiring of a third of the current faculty. From the fall of 2008 to the fall of 2015, the student-faculty ratio improved from 13.5 to 9.7 students per faculty member.

Students also have a broader curriculum today from which to choose courses. The Law School has added clinics in Consumer Law, Nonprofit Law, Alternative Dispute Resolution and Entrepreneurial Law (which helps startups through the Darden School of Business incubator).

Mahoney also expanded the Appellate Litigation Clinic with the hiring of Stephen Braga, famous for securing the release of two men who had spent decades in prison for wrongful murder convictions, including one of the “West Memphis Three,” who was on death row. (The Innocence Project Clinic at UVA Law also launched in the fall of 2008, after being approved by Dean John Jeffries ’73.)

Leading by Example

Mahoney has also served on the ABA Council of the Section of Legal Education, working on the formulation and implementation of standards and policies for accrediting law schools.

Mahoney said the range of clinics offer students an opportunity to see what practice is about.

“We’ve managed to develop a clinical program with aspirations beyond legal aid,” he said. “One might have been a little skeptical initially about whether it was feasible to do that in Charlottesville rather than New York City or Washington, D.C., but it’s turned out to be very successful.”

The John W. Glynn, Jr. ’65 Law & Business Program was also named during Mahoney’s tenure, and Andrew Vollmer ’78, former deputy general counsel of the Securities and Exchange Commission, was hired to lead the program. The program’s effort to teach law in the context of real-world business problems has influenced other areas of the curriculum. One of the program’s touchstones is bringing in practicing lawyers and business leaders to teach students how to handle problems they may face in practice.

“That way of teaching has spread beyond Law & Business into other areas of the curriculum,” Mahoney said.

Another way students can now get hands-on experience is through the Externships Program. Launched in 2013, it allows students to earn a semester of academic credit while working full-time or part-time for nonprofit or government employers.

Taking these programs into consideration, graduates may be more ready for practice than ever.

“Our graduates emerge with the most career-advantageous mix of analytical and people skills that you can obtain in a law school,” Mahoney said. “Our students, through their interactions with the faculty and their interactions with one another, get a lot of experience in negotiating, solving problems in a team setting, and working well with their boss, the people they supervise and their peers. They routinely graduate from UVA and become key members — and often leaders — within their institutions.”

One measure of prestige among law schools is clerkship placement, particularly at the Supreme Court and in federal courts. The Law School is fourth among law schools, after Yale, Harvard and Stanford, in placing graduates at the Supreme Court during Mahoney’s deanship, and has also placed an impressive 592 clerks in federal courts during that time (see “By the Numbers”).

Mahoney praised the efforts of the faculty, Senior Assistant Dean for Career Services Kevin Donovan and Director of Clerkships Ruth Payne ’02, who “have just been unbelievably hard-working” in getting students’ names and resumes in front of judges and preparing students for interviews.

Mahoney at Heaphy ceremony
Mahoney at the swearing-in ceremony of former U.S. Attorney Timothy Heaphy ’91 in 2009. Guests included then-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Gen. Eric K. Shinseki.

“Paul Mahoney has been a preternaturally astute and capable dean, alert to every development in legal education in the United States and fiercely protective of his beloved University of Virginia,” Yale Law School Dean Robert Post said. “All of us in law school administration have been lucky to count him as a colleague during these last many difficult years. His judgment and insight have been indispensable and sterling.”

Mahoney provided mentorship closer to home as well. Former Vice Dean Elizabeth Magill ’95, who began her term in 2009 under Mahoney, was selected to be Stanford’s dean in 2012.

“Paul is a great listener and he always gives reasons for his decisions,” Magill said. “To my mind, these are essential traits in a dean because a dean has to make decisions that cannot please everyone. It is not easy to make decisions that disappoint people, but listening to others and explaining the reasons for your decisions will, one hopes, allow people to respect you even if they do not agree with you.”

Current Vice Dean George Geis has worked closely with Mahoney since 2012, and has seen him make tough choices.

“In order to successfully lead a law school, a dean needs to make hundreds, if not thousands, of decisions each year,” Geis said. “I have been fortunate to work with Paul on many of the more difficult calls, and I remain amazed at his abilities. He possesses enormous integrity and is always willing to do the right thing — even under very challenging or stressful situations. He has shrewd strategic vision, an eternally positive attitude, perceptive people skills, and a continued willingness to sweat the small details. Each of these traits is valuable; finding a dean with all of them is rare.”

The dean’s stature as one of the leading experts in corporate law was a critical asset to the school as well, said Edward J. “Ned” Kelly ’81, former chairman of Citigroup Inc.’s Institutional Clients Group who also teaches at the Law School. Kelly knew Mahoney through his work as chair of the Foundation’s Investment Committee and through their shared interest in financial markets and regulation.

Kelly said he frequently refers to Mahoney’s book, “Wasting a Crisis: Why Securities Regulation Fails,” which was published last year, in his course on responses to the financial crisis.

“What’s remarkable to me, given Paul’s other considerable responsibilities, is that he’s continued to be a thought leader on issues of financial market structure and the unintended consequences of regulation,” Kelly said. “I’ve very seldom raised an issue or explored an issue with him where I haven’t found he has something interesting to say about it.”

Looking Ahead

Mahoney will spend the fall working on his research while at Stanford Law School, where Magill has offered office space to him and Julia. The location will allow them to be close to their youngest son, Matt, a Dartmouth graduate who works at 3LP Advisors in Silicon Valley.

Mahoney with his wife, Julia
Paul and Julia Mahoney

Mahoney will return to UVA in the spring, and will resume teaching in the fall of 2017. His oldest son, Brendan, also a Dartmouth graduate, works at Cogo Labs, a venture accelerator in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Mahoney said he is looking forward to getting back to research and teaching more intensively.

“My area of research became a front-page issue within six months after the time I became dean,” he said. “I didn’t have the opportunity to participate in academic debates about financial regulation to nearly the extent I would have liked. My biggest goal in my post-dean career is to try to catch up and try to further establish myself as an academic expert in my area.”

Though Mahoney has been meeting with Goluboff about the coming leadership transition, he said his best advice is “to develop strategies for turning on a dime.”

“A dean has to constantly be asking, are we doing everything we can to educate the students better and prepare them better for their careers? Are we doing everything we possibly can to hire the best faculty and to provide them with every tool they need to do their best work?”

Mahoney said one of the hardest parts of stepping down from his post will be the loss of frequent interaction with alumni on the road.

“Our alumni are wonderful people and it is a real pleasure to be around them,” he said.

By the Numbers: Dean Mahoney's Tenure

Through June 30, 2015, except where noted

41% growth in endowment (from $344 million to $486 million) 
$91 million raised 
$1 million in gifts per month

Alumni Loyalty 
71% of alumni contributed to the Law School’s capital campaign (2004-12), which raised $174 million 
More than 50% of alumni gave each year

Supporting Public Service 
$18 million spent on public service fellowships, loan forgiveness, the Public Service Center, and the Law and Public Service Program

A Generation of Graduates 
3,200+ degrees awarded since July 2008 (expected through May 2016)

Alumni Clerkships (2009-16 Court Terms)* 
23 U.S. Supreme Court 
223 U.S. Courts of Appeal 
369 U.S. District Courts and Other Federal Courts 
132 State Courts 
747 Total 
*Hiring is still taking place for the 2016 court term

9.7:1 student-faculty ratio in fall 2015 (13.5:1 in fall 2008) 
1/3 of current resident faculty have been hired since Mahoney began his tenure.

Lateral Faculty Hired: Margo Bagley, Darryl Brown, Michael Collins, Michael Doran, John Duffy, Kimberly Ferzan, George Geis, Deborah Hellman, Jason Johnston, Douglas Laycock, Ruth Mason, Gregory Mitchell, Saikrishna Prakash, Frederick Schauer, Barbara Spellman, A. Benjamin Spencer, Ethan Yale 

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