LeRoy Pernell ’74 Takes On Next Challenge
When LeRoy Pernell graduated from The Ohio State University College of Law in 1974 he was anxiously entering what he expected would be a long career as a trial attorney.
Once he passed the bar exam, LeRoy got his foot in the courtroom door by accepting a position as a public defender in Columbus. He worked on a variety of cases, mostly in juvenile and adult criminal courtrooms.
But, after about a year of trial work, he was asked by Ohio State to be a supervising attorney for the College’s clinical program. Although it was not something he had originally planned to pursue, he accepted the challenge.
That challenge was just the first of countless ones LeRoy voluntarily accepted during his 33 years in legal education. Most recently, he was named the dean of Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University’s College of Law.
“(Starting work at Ohio State) was an opportunity to combine my trial experience with educational experience,” said LeRoy, who added that he loved attending law school and welcomed the opportunity to return. “I was very strange in terms of being a law student. I thoroughly enjoyed law school and was sorry that it ended. There were more courses I wanted to take.”
LeRoy, a Brooklyn native, started work in the clinics at OSU but eventually became a full-time faculty member at the College, where he would serve in various roles until he left in 1997.
He left Ohio State after being named the dean of the Northern Illinois University College of Law.
“I went to NIU looking at a challenge and an opportunity,” he said. “I had the challenge of raising the visibility of that school and keeping the school focused on its mission.”
LeRoy said one of his main goals at NIU was to help diversify the school and prove how beneficial diversity can be.
“I thought NIU would be a perfect proving ground,” he said. “I wanted to show that you could have success in diversity with faculty and students, and it is not dependent on being located in a large city.”
LeRoy shaped NIU’s law school into one that is consistently recognized for its diverse faculty and student body.
In 10 years, LeRoy made other noticeable improvements to the DeKalb, Ill., school, which is located about 60 miles west of Chicago. He is credited with establishing the college’s clinical education program; and creating a legal skills training center, which includes a high-tech courtroom, classroom, and deposition room.
LeRoy said that he learned the importance of a practical legal education at Ohio State.
“I was able to see, as a faculty member, the interrelationship between the theoretical and practical experiences,” he said. “I will never underestimate the benefits of practical legal experience.”
LeRoy said that, when he left NIU, he was particularly proud of the fact that the school is now included in conversations regarding Chicagoland law schools.
“People used to talk about the six law schools in Chicago and then that there was another law school out there somewhere,” he said. “Now the conversation has changed. People talk about the seven law schools in the Chicagoland area.”
Late last year, LeRoy announced his resignation from NIU and accepted the position of dean at Florida A&M University’s College of Law in Orlando, Fla. LeRoy’s most immediate task is to make sure the college receives permanent ABA accreditation later this year. The college, which reopened in 2003, is currently provisionally accredited.
LeRoy said that he was drawn to the opportunity particularly because of the law school’s significant past. The school’s first class was admitted in 1951, but the primarily African-American college was shut down by the governing board of the state’s university system in 1966. The last class graduated in 1968.
“There was a great deal of concern about the reduction in opportunities for legal education, particularly for African American students,” he said. “Over the next 30 or 40 years, this was an issue that brewed in the state of Florida, and it was of some notice nationally.”
In 2000, Florida legislators approved the creation of a law school at Florida A&M. The first class of 89 students was admitted in 2002.
LeRoy said he is proud of his choice to join Florida A&M and is inspired by yet another challenge. LeRoy and his wife, Frances Pernell ’81, have three adult children and one grandchild.
“I never could have imagined the types of opportunities that have been presented,” he said of his career. “I have a lot to be thankful for.”