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Alan C. Michaels named dean

January 5, 2009 | Faculty

The search for a dean of The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law ended right where it began: at Moritz. In May, Alan C. Michaels was appointed interim dean when Nancy Rogers was appointed Ohio Attorney General.

In November, the Board of Trustees named him permanent dean.

Unlike a typical dean search, which can last upwards of a year, there was no drawn out search process, no months of meetings and interviews, no parade of candidates and time of uncertainty and lack of leadership and direction. Instead, Dean Michaels begins his tenure with the full support of the faculty, provost, and president, and pre-established relationships with many alumni and students.

“The provost and the president would not have used the procedure that was used unless they were extraordinary confident that not only would Alan be a great dean but that there was no need to go to the outside,” said Professor Joshua Dressler, the Frank R. Strong Chair in Law. “The fact that there was this universal belief within the law school, the people that know him best, that Alan is the best person is an important sign. We are absolutely confident that he is going to be a great dean. He is a person that everybody sees as good and decent with great integrity.”

Dean Michaels, the Edwin B. Cooperman Professor in Law, previously served as associate dean for faculty from 2001-03 and has been on the faculty since 1995.

“We could have looked nationally and internationally and have found no one better than Alan,” President Gee said. “Once in a while the stars line up, and in this instance they lined up in our good favor.”

Former Dean Rogers personally recommended Dean Michaels to the president and provost. Dean Michaels met with the president and provost over the summer and the provost in turn met with faculty and senior staff to establish a selection process.

“Occasionally, there is someone who is so clearly the right choice,” Rogers said. “All of the faculty, all of the university, and all the alumni who are very involved in the College, all see that the choice is clear. It could not have worked out better in my view.”

Meet Alan C. Michaels

From clerkships to high-profile positions and cases, Dean Michaels’ career has been anything but boring.  His colleagues describe him as focused and charismatic, and he passionately talks about his family, his students, and New York Mets baseball.

“When he was associate dean, I came to realize how brilliant he is and how helpful it is to talk through things with him,” Rogers said. “He not only understands strategy and people, but also substance and the process of engaging everyone involved.”

Dean Michaels was raised near New York City and attended Harvard College, where he graduated magna cum laude. He went on to Columbia University School of Law and was the notes and comments editor for the Columbia Law Review.

“I went to law school certain only that I wanted a career involving public service of some kind, but far from certain about the form it would take,” Dean Michaels said.

After law school, Dean Michaels secured a clerkship with Chief Judge Wilfred Feinberg of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit during 1986-87. The following year, Michaels clerked for Supreme Court Associate Justice Harry A. Blackmun. Michaels said that through the clerkship he learned much about hard work – working 12-to-16-hour days for 362 of the 365 days he was there – and Blackmun’s devotion to the rule of law.

Michaels said that Blackmun became a “personal hero” of his. “Regardless of whether one agreed or disagreed with his views on particular cases, his devotion of every ounce of his ability and every fiber of himself to being absolutely the best Supreme Court justice he could be was extraordinarily inspiring.”

Following the clerkship, Michaels began working at McGuire & Tiernan in New York City, where he was outside counsel to the Major League Baseball Players’ Association.

“When I worked for the baseball players association, there was one big case I was hired to work on and that was the collusion cases in the late 1980s. The owners breached the collective bargaining agreement by agreeing with each other not to hire free agents from other teams,” Michaels said. “If you are a player on team x and you became a free agent, which meant you were entitled to sign with any team, if team x was still interested in you, no other team would make you an offer. So obviously the salary team x had to offer you was much less than if there were competition for your services. It is guaranteed in the collective bargaining agreement that once you’ve made it to the major leagues and succeed in the major leagues for six years, you become a free agent. The owners breached the agreement and the result was that it destroyed the salary structure of major league baseball. We ultimately settled for $280 million in damages that the owners paid to the players. It went to guys that didn’t have the salaries they should have because of the breach.”

Dean Michaels left McGuire & Tiernan to work as an assistant district attorney in the New York County District Attorney’s Office. A member of the office’s Career Criminal Bureau, Michaels prosecuted a broad range of recidivist offenders. He was also assigned to high-profile white-collar crime cases.

“There are some great stories there, but the best ones are probably R rated for violence,” Dean Michaels said. “I was fortunate to work on a variety of cases that range from some incredible frauds to a quadruple homicide with horrifying, horrifying details. Alumni who meet me can ask me about my work in New York, and I will be happy to retell the stories. I think criminal lawyers, both prosecution and defense, have the best stories. I offer that as a challenge and would be glad to hear from other areas of practice that feel like they have better stories.”

When Michaels decided to leave the district attorney’s office and pursue academia, he and his wife began looking for a top-rated law school in a desirable location. Moritz fit the bill.

“It is an excellent law school in an excellent location,” he said. “After learning more about the faculty and the community, we were sure that it was the place for us.”

Since joining Moritz, Michaels was twice presented the College’s Outstanding Professor Award as voted by the graduating classes of 2000 and 1999. In 2007, Michaels was given the university’s Alumni Award for Distinguished Teaching.

“What attracted me to the teaching is a desire for service.  I was very interested in the law and when you are professor it is teaching and research,” Dean Michaels said. “What those things have in common is an opportunity to study the law, think about the law, and see what can make it better, and then obviously teaching and training the new lawyers that are actually going to go out and make a difference in the world. That seemed like a wonderful way to give back and try to improve the world through my own small contribution.”

Dean Michaels’ research, primarily in the areas of the mens rea of crimes and the adjudicatory portion of criminal procedure, has been published in a variety of leading journals, including the Columbia Law Review, the Harvard Law Review, and the Southern California Law Review.

“Alan has charisma. You can see it in the classroom,” Professor Dressler said. “I sat in on one of his classes and he was teaching a topic that no one can make interesting – statute of limitations, what a dry subject. He found a way to make it provocative and interesting, for the students and me. He has won teaching awards because he is so good in the classroom and is creative in how he goes about it. He understands what needs to be done to help people learn.”

Dean Michaels is coauthor with Professor Dressler of Understanding Criminal Procedure (4th edition) and serves as co-managing editor of the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law. He also was the recipient of the 1998-99 Outstanding Scholarly Paper Award from the Association of American Law Schools. In 2003, Dean Michaels was a visiting professor of law at the University of Michigan Law School.

He teaches criminal law, criminal procedure, white collar crime, sports law, and legal writing.

Reaching for the Stars

Dean Michaels is inheriting a law school that is on the upswing in almost every measurable category – student credentials, rankings, student placement, alumni giving, and faculty publications and citations.

“I think we are an outstanding law school … outstanding faculty, outstanding students, great alumni base, terrific staff; there are a lot of exciting things going on here,” Dean Michaels said. “One thing about stepping into the deanship is being wowed by all of the exciting initiatives at the College now. I have been amazed by the strength of our teaching faculty. The College is truly extraordinary.”

And President Gee and Provost Joseph A. Alutto look forward to working with Dean Michaels in continuing to improve Moritz.

“I believe that this is an audacious university, and I want us to have audacious goals,” President Gee said. “I know that Alan has those in terms of having our law school not only take a leadership role in terms of legal education but also take a leadership role in this very complex university. The law school has launched itself into a new stratosphere and now we just need to reach for the stars. I think Alan will be able to help us do just that.”

In recent years, Moritz has continued to recruit a multitude of highly qualified students, which has significantly improved its entering class statistics. The class of 2008 boasts a median GPA of 3.6 and a median LSAT score of 162.

“Obviously the most important thing that we can do is bring in the most talented students and have them taught by the most talented faculty,” President Gee said. “So the recruitment of very talented students and the recruitment and re-recruitment of talented faculty is absolutely critical. I think Alan will be an excellent recruiter.”

Through the generous contributions of alumni, Moritz has also been able to dramatically increase the amount of scholarships provided to students. In addition, changes in the career services department have led to improved student placement, including the number of students accepting judicial clerkships.

“One pressing issue … in law schools today is access,” Dean Michaels said. “That means access to law school in the first place and access to practice in a variety of ways upon graduation. Because the cost of legal education continues to increase, that means many students are graduating with increased debt loads. We have had a scholarship initiative to try to address that need where we can, and there is federal legislation that, if you go to work in public service, allows you significant debt relief. That is certainly an ongoing issue that people can graduate and not be burdened with such debt that they only have one possible career choice. But also, in legal education certainly there are consistently new ideas about how to train lawyers, and we are very much in the forefront of that here at Moritz.”

Dean Michaels has already met with dozens of alumni and will be sharing his vision for Moritz with them throughout the upcoming year. He said that he is eager to continue the momentum started by Dean Rogers.

“There is no doubt in my mind that Alan will be turning to alumni and speaking to alumni and wanting alumni to be a big part of what is going on in this school,” Professor Dressler said. “He is an incredibly inclusive person. I think what they are going to see is a person who is very open to alumni concerns, alumni interests, and alumni involvement because we cannot be and cannot be what we want to become without alumni support in every meaning of the word support and Alan Michaels knows that.”