Dean Patrick E. Hobbs featured in the New Jersey Law Journal
A retrospective of Dean Hobbs' 16-year tenure at Seton Hall Law
Hobbs Reflects on Challenges Faced by Seton Hall
Charles Toutant, New Jersey Law Journal
May 22, 2015
At his last commencement ceremony as dean of Seton Hall University School of Law on May 22, Patrick Hobbs urged graduates to uphold high ethical standards in their careers, and said they could call him for advice any time they face a dilemma that would jeopardize their law license. Being so accessible to students is nothing new for Hobbs. For the past 16 years he has given every first-year student his cellphone number on the first day of class and invited them to call if they have a problem.
Hobbs, who is set to step down June 30, steered the law school through unprecedented change during his time at the helm. When law school applications plunged dramatically beginning in 2009, Hobbs instituted a series of measures that allowed Seton Hall’s law school to survive a reduction in tuition revenue while enhancing its reputation.
Under Hobbs, the law school opted to cut class sizes instead of reducing admissions standards. But the drop in tuition revenue necessitated cuts in spending, and faculty accepted pay cuts averaging 25 percent. The school has reduced its faculty largely through attrition and early retirements and has increased the revenue it obtains through non-JD programs, such as master’s programs in health law and industry compliance. Hobbs has presided over a fundraising campaign that collected $25 million. And although the law school’s budget has historically been separate from that of Seton Hall’s main campus in South Orange, Hobbs convinced university leaders to provide financial aid to help the law school close its deficits.
Amid all the upheaval, grade point averages and LSAT scores of incoming first-year students continued to rise, and in 2015 Seton Hall managed to attain its highest-ever score in the U.S. News and World Report rankings of law schools—number 63, up from 77 in 2009, according to Patrick Dunican, who is chair of the board of visitors for the law school and chairman and managing director of Gibbons in Newark. The latest U.S. News rankings also placed Seton Hall fourth among law schools in the New York metropolitan area and fifth among all Catholic law schools nationwide, Dunican said. Hobbs has also excelled at fundraising for the law school, according to Dunican, who credits the outgoing dean with the success of a recently concluded campaign that raised $25 million.
“It was Pat Hobbs’ vision and tenacity that kept the campaign going throughout the great recession,” Dunican said. “The number one job of a dean of a law school in 2015, whether we like it or not, is fundraising.” Thanks to Hobbs’ outreach to alumni, 80 percent contributed, Dunican said.
“He’s an extremely dynamic individual. He’s charming. He’s a great leader. He’s very bright. He’s tenacious. He works through a good humor,” Dunican said. “People want to be around people like Pat Hobbs, and he makes a convincing case that the law school is important to the overall university, because if you look at our graduates and what they are doing, you’ll see numerous judges and CEOs, successful lawyers, the governor. It’s a good story to tell.”
Hobbs said he contemplated leaving the dean’s post around 2010, but when he realized how great the slump in applications would be, he felt it was wiser not to saddle a new dean with such challenges. He said he felt lowering the law school’s standards to maintain the size of the student body was not a viable option.
“We wanted to bring in students who we’re confident will pass the bar and have a skill set to be successful. We wanted to make sure we graduate a number of students who will be employed. We’re really proud of our employment outcomes,” Hobbs said, adding that 86.7 percent of the class of 2014 are in full-time, long-term positions either requiring bar passage or in which a JD is an advantage.
When declining enrollment pointed to cuts in payroll costs, the university sent layoff notices to some junior faculty, but large-scale layoffs were averted after Hobbs convinced the faculty to accept 25 percent cuts in pay. In 2011, he convened a budget working group that included 18 faculty members. After carefully reviewing the entire law school budget, the faculty concluded that pay cuts were needed.
“They were part of the conversation the whole way,” Hobbs said. Hobbs said he sees signs that the demand for lawyers is starting to increase, citing rising salaries for first-year associates at some firms, and he feels the law school is well positioned to take advantage of the recovery because it upheld and improved its academic standards. He is also enthusiastic about his successor, Kathleen Boozang, who he called “incredibly hard-working, energetic, dedicated.” Boozang, who joined the law school in 1990 and is founder of its health care law program, also spearheaded the law school’s expansion of non-JD programs, Hobbs said.
Hobbs said he feels the law school received some unfair criticism in 2006 when Bristol-Myers Squibb endowed a chair on business ethics at the law school as part of a deferred prosecution agreement with then-U.S. Attorney Chris Christie. The drug company reached the agreement in connection with a potential violation of securities law for misrepresenting its earnings. Christie’s involvement in the matter was overstated by some critics, and the arrangement was proposed by the drug company, contrary to some reports that Christie strong-armed a deal to benefit his alma mater, Hobbs said. Hobbs plans to take a one-year sabbatical and is scheduled to visit Peru in June.
Hobbs said he expects to continue in his part-time capacity as ombudsman to the Office of the Governor, a position he assumed in April 2014. He was named to that post after its creation was recommended by Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, the law firm hired by Christie to investigate the Bridgegate scandal. Hobbs previously served as chair of the State Commission on Investigation from 2011 until he took the ombudsman job. He is set to return to the law school in the fall of 2016 as a professor, and he plans to teach tax law, sports law and a seminar on literature and the law. “There has never been a day I have not loved coming in to this,” Hobbs said. “I’ve loved the job and I’ve loved the people. I’ve loved the problems in need of solutions. It’s really about problem-solving.”This article was first published in the May 22, 2015, issue of the New Jersey Law Journal and is republished here with permission. © 2015 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved.