Serving as the dean of a top law school can be an immeasurably difficult job, but for some, it’s just not enough. Some are looking for a little more of a challenge. But what could possibly be more challenging than working as a law school dean? Working as a top law school dean while advising as of counsel to a top Biglaw firm, all at the same time.
This is the challenge that Dean A. Benjamin Spencer of William & Mary Law School recently welcomed to his life when he accepted an of counsel role at McGuireWoods, a firm that brought in $977,373,000 gross revenue in 2022, putting it at No. 52 on the most recent Am Law 100.
Spencer, a noted civil procedure scholar, will work part-time in the firm’s business and securities litigation department while at the same time working on learning initiatives and client development opportunities — and he’ll do all this while fulfilling his full-time duties as the dean of the top 50 law school. Did we mention that Spencer also serves as a major in the U.S. Army Reserve Judge Advocate General’s Corps? Phew, this is one busy law school dean!
So, why has Spencer taken on all of these additional roles? In an interview with Law.com, he explained that he went to law school to practice law. “Being able to provide advocacy and sound counsel for those who need it is what being a lawyer is all about, and I am a lawyer through and through,” he said.
An of-counsel work arrangement like this is actually quite rare for a law school dean. Law.com spoke to Jim Rosenblatt, dean emeritus of Mississippi College School of Law and creator of Rosenblatt’s Deans Database, for more insights on this unique situation:
“Serving ‘of counsel’ to a law firm is unusual for a dean,” Rosenblatt … told Law.com. “I am of the opinion that most law school deans would say there was not room on their plate for such an arrangement.”
“There are clearly advantages to the law school as well, particularly with regard to career services and development and the contacts and relationships the arrangement will bring to the law school,” Rosenblatt said. “It also enhances the reputation and regard for the law school dean.”
Spencer downplayed the situation, telling Law.com that “[t]he work with McGuireWoods involves only a couple hours (no more than four) each week of consultative and advisory services.” He continued, offering that “[i]t is not an employee-employer relationship or a part-time job as is the case with Army Reserve service.”
As for McGuireWoods, the firm is simply “delighted” about Spencer’s affiliation. Managing partner Tracy Walker referred to the dean as a “gifted lawyer and a wise and thoughtful leader,” and went on to note that McGuireWoods and its clients will “benefit mightily from his counsel.”
Congratulations and best of luck to Dean A. Benjamin Spencer!
Staci Zaretsky is a senior editor at Above the Law, where she’s worked since 2011. She’d love to hear from you, so please feel free to email her with any tips, questions, comments, or critiques. You can follow her on Twitter and Threads or connect with her on LinkedIn.