The newly appointed dean of USD’s School of Law, Stephen C. Ferruolo, welcomed an audience comprised of new students, staff, administrators and dozens of faculty members last week to the start of the academic year. His remarks, given during a busy first day of orientation by San Diego’s most prestigious law school, also produced a flashback moment.
“During the speech, I was focused on the students and I was wondering how they were feeling about being here,” recalled Ferruolo a few days later. If new students seemed a little unsettled, busy thinking about the journey that awaited them as fall classes started this week, Ferruolo could relate.
Ferruolo was a Stanford University history professor when in 1987 he left to pursue his law degree at Stanford. “I went to the law school orientation and that’s when it really hit me. My role had changed. I was a student again. … My first day of law school was intimidating and welcoming. I was pretty nervous.”
Ferruolo, an accomplished scholar, author and owner of 20-plus years of legal experience, has outgrown the nerves. His focus now is giving law students a solid legal education and the resources of support to make the most of it.
“I think about the contrast when I started law school in the late 80s, when everything seemed so wide open, the opportunities seemed so great and no one, at that point, was questioning the value of a legal education,” Ferruolo said. “There are people and articles now questioning the value of a legal education. They talk about this being the biggest recession in the history of the legal profession. It made me think that these students are pretty brave to come in under these circumstances even if they might be nervous about realizing their dream and ambition of becoming a lawyer.”
So how does a new dean alleviate concerns and remind students that a legal education is a viable entity in today’s society?
Ferruolo points to the trust he has in an experienced and highly-rated USD law faculty; resources such as law centers, institutes and clinics that offer cutting-edge opportunities to put classroom theory into actual practice; and an overall program that enables proactive students to maximize their potential. In essence, a USD legal education is as valuable now as it was when the law school opened 57 years ago.
The credentials of the leadership at the top — Ferruolo’s legal experience, expertise and his relationships within the San Diego business and legal communities – plays a major role too.
Provost and Executive Vice President Julie H. Sullivan described Ferruolo as “a rare combination — an attorney who has practiced law extensively at the highest levels and also has a deep understanding of academic excellence and students’ needs. He is ideally suited both to enhance our impact on the region and to further the law school’s national reputation for scholarly and educational quality.”
Ferruolo, who worked with Goodwin Procter LLP and Heller Ehrman LLP, focused on transactional law, with emphasis on corporate finance and governance, mergers and acquisitions. He represented technology and life science companies in San Diego, nationally and internationally. Ferruolo is the vice chairman of BIOCOM/San Diego, the largest regional life sciences association in the world. Since the mid-90s he’s been involved with CONNECT, regarded as the world’s most successful regional program linking inventors and entrepreneurs with resources for the commercialization of products. The USD Technology Entrepreneurship Law Clinic, which pairs students with established local practitioners to help start-ups with corporate, intellectual property and employment legal needs, is linked to CONNECT.
“I think my relationships as a professional are positive ones and I can build on that,” Ferruolo said. “There has been enthusiastic support from partners in the law firms of San Diego who’ve reached out to us and talk about how terrific it is to have someone who is sort of like them doing the job here. We want to find ways to better connect the law school to the business and legal community, enhance the kind of legal education we provide and better serve the needs of that community.”
Ferruolo wants to build on the success of his predecessor Kevin Cole, who was dean for six years and an administrator for 10 before opting to return solely as a USD law professor. Orientation gave Ferruolo a glimpse into what’s here and what’s ahead. He appreciated hearing students recite USD’s Oath of Professionalism and seeing them engage with alumni at other events. It helps his quest to set a good tone.
Ferruolo envisions three themes for USD law students: those who are fully engaged in the law school and university as a whole; are actively searching beyond just local boundaries for beneficial career opportunities; and are benefactors to the law school by “doing good, meaning volunteering, being an ambassador, or just how they relate to their fellow students and how they can set an example, the way in which our best alumni do.”
— Ryan T. Blystone