Kenneth Randall has an impressive track record when it comes to using innovation to transform academia. The new dean of George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School said it all started from humble beginnings.
“We were a blue-collar family, and I first saw lawyers on TV,” said Randall, who started at Mason on Dec. 1. “Lawyers were people who could make a difference and could make an impact and could help others.”
Aspiring to have a similar impact, Randall became a first-generation lawyer—something he couldn’t have done, he said, without the support of teachers and mentors. That’s one reason he’s passionate about academia.
Prior to coming to Mason, Randall served for two decades as law dean at the University of Alabama. Under his leadership, Alabama’s U.S. News & World Report law ranking leapt from No. 96 to 21.
In addition to being named one of legal education’s most transformative deans of the last decade by Leiter’s Law School Reports, Randall is a successful entrepreneur. In 2013, he founded iLaw Ventures Distance Learning, which has become an industry leader, partnering with 25% of law schools nationwide. He holds doctoral and master’s degrees in international law from Columbia University, a master’s in law from Yale, and a juris doctor from Hofstra.
Randall spoke recently from his home office over Zoom.
What drew you to Mason?
It’s a great university with an energetic new president with a successful track record at other fine schools. I do relate to a student body that has a lot of first-generation students. It has what I consider to be a top 20 faculty and a top 20 student body. The law school is distinguished by having academic centers, and several of them are the best, not only in the country, but in the world. It’s the best law and economics and antitrust law school anywhere. I like what’s happening in Arlington. With Amazon having its headquarters there, I think there’s real potential for interdisciplinary growth.
In my many trips to Mason, whether giving a talk, attending a conference, or interviewing, it felt right. I am really excited and honored to be at Mason.
What is your vision for the law school?
During COVID, our primary goals are to be sure the institution is stable and that we’re taking care of students, faculty and staff in their health, education and welfare.
One of the things that we’ll be working on is to have the law school recognized for what it really is—a top 25 law school.
How will diversity play a role in the strategic plan?
It will be significant, and to start, there are three initiatives:
First, we are initiating enrollment-pipelining programs with [historically Black colleges and universities] in the commonwealth.
Second, we have another program in place to help pipeline Mason undergraduates into law school. Mason has many first-generation students.
Third, we’ll be expanding the part-time evening program to increase inclusive opportunities. We’re going to use technology to make legal education more accessible for nontraditional and adult students. We’ll have a program starting in Fall 2021 that allows students to come to the law school just two nights a week.
You were named one of legal education’s most transformative deans. What is the key to such success and how do you see that coming into play at Mason?
That was a full team effort. Critical components of the success involved using technology, being innovative, being entrepreneurial, [and] taking some best business practices and applying them in an academic setting. For example, we were one of the pioneers in online programming. That provided resources that we wouldn’t have had to provide to faculty, staff and student initiatives, and gave more scholarships to students. We prioritized diversity at my previous school.
What advice do you have for aspiring lawyers?
Remember that ultimately the law is a service profession. It’s about how do we help the client. Ethics in law is absolutely critical. Students need to keep professionalism and ethics in the front and center of everything they do. They need to focus on long-term objectives.
Skills helping clients with counseling, strategy and problem solving will make a great lawyer in the 2020s.