University pulls a “coup” in landing new law dean

Schill has plans to grow the Law School’s faculty and usher in a new legal movement.

By Michael Lipkin

Michael Schill, dean of the UCLA Law School, will head the U of C’s Law School starting January 1. A national expert in real estate law, Schill has been praised for his fundraising prowess, ability to hire star professors, and administrative skills. He replaces Saul Levmore, who has served as dean since 2001.

Schill has plans to grow the Law School’s faculty and usher in a new legal movement.

“In the 1970s and ’80s, the most exciting ideas and theories to affect the law came from the University of Chicago,” Schill said, referring to the law and economics movement made famous by U of C professors Gary Becker, Richard Posner, and Frank Easterbrook. “I want to position the school so that the most exciting ideas of the next 20 years come from Chicago as well.”

To do that, Schill said he plans on looking for both rising and current stars to woo. He said that he will especially focus on scholars whose work involves business and the social sciences, to build on the University’s strengths across the Midway.

“The process can take years,” Schill said. “You have to get them to see that a career at Chicago will give them a wonderful intellectual home.”

Getting professors to envision that future won’t be too hard, Schill said. “The University of Chicago brings people to the Law School and makes them better scholars. You want to become better.”

Former Law School deans and current professors Geoffrey Stone and Douglas Baird praised Schill’s record at UCLA, where he doubled alumni fundraising and nabbed top professors from the U of C and NYU.

“To be dean, you have to be able to run a $40-million division of a billion-dollar company,” Baird said. “That’s not something you can do puffing on a pipe, talking about the rule of law in troubled times. Michael is an absolute master of the logistical mechanics of running an institution.”

Baird called the hire a “coup” for the University. “You’re not supposed to be able to do this, for a top-20 law dean to drop one school and come here,” Baird said. “President Zimmer must have powers of persuasion.”

The U of C is ranked sixth in U.S. News law school rankings. UCLA is ranked 15th.

Nevertheless, Baird and Stone cautioned, too many new hires that don’t mesh with the U of C’s culture could be hazardous for the Law School.

“The Law School is a no-holds-barred intellectual cauldron and preserving that is one of the special challenges of being dean at Chicago,” Stone said.

“We don’t want to go the route of many of our competitors, who offer goodies to their faculty members,” Stone added. “The easy way to hire people is to say, ‘Whatever Harvard’s giving you, we’ll give you.’ But if we did that, we’d turn into Harvard, which from our perspective, isn’t the right way to go.”

Schill said he recognized the challenges that new administrators face in a new environment.

“Someone who is taking over an institution should not begin the position knowing exactly what they’re going to do. It shows a disturbing lack of humility,” Schill said. “You should have some ideas and then go learn about the culture of the institution.”

But Schill isn’t cautious about fundraising, a role he’s excelled at. At UCLA, he raised over $65 million in three-and-a-half years.

“You better like it and I love it,” Schill said, who isn’t worried about decreasing donations due to the recession. “People have enough resources to give to a school that’s given them their career. It’s something they owe the next generation.”