In considering who would make the best dean for the University of Connecticut School of Law, search committee members looked for someone who could bridge the gap between the study and practice of law.
They believe they found that person in Tim Fisher, a partner in the Hartford office of McCarter & English. The choice is somewhat unconventional. After all, few experienced, private sector lawyers have gone directly from high-rise office buildings to such a lofty perch in legal academia.
Fisher said he was drawn to the position out of a desire to serve his home state. In an interview last week, he outlined four primary goals. "The first is to preserve and build upon the superb record of scholarship of what is a nationally- and internationally-respected faculty," he said. "Second is to engage the law school with all of its communities within the profession."
The third, he said, is "to assure that we are graduating complete professionals who are job-ready for today's legal market. And fourth, to attend to the life of the school so that it is enjoyed by all as an exciting, intellectual environment for high level exchange of ideas."
Recent years have been difficult for all law schools, as enrollments have hit record lows and job prospects for graduates have dimmed. There has been ongoing debate over how schools can balance traditional academics with the practical experience graduates need to succeed. The result has been an emphasis on providing "real world" legal experience through clinics and externships.
Fisher, who has worked extensively in areas of construction and commercial law and is a former managing partner of McCarter's Hartford office, was seen by many on the faculty as an excellent choice because he knows what law firms want from law school graduates.
But veteran professors said the selection was also based on Fisher's long-standing commitment to public service, his relationship with state bar leaders and fund-raising and management abilities. Fisher is currently chair of the Connecticut Bar Foundation, which raises money for legal aid agencies.
"The faculty was not necessarily looking for someone who came from a law practice," said Leslie Levin, a law professor and the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. "[Fisher] was somebody who just impressed us all. He is someone who understands what is going on in the current legal market. He is also very concerned about access to justice; he has a long commitment to that."
Richard Kay, another professor, recalled Fisher presenting a lecture on check fraud years ago during a course Kay was teaching. Like others, Kay was impressed with Fisher's intelligence and ability to effectively communicate ideas.
"This is a change for us, in that we've gone for someone who is a practitioner and who does not have an extensive academic background," Kay said. "I think the idea is he's going to be able to bring some fresh thinking to the institution, especially with regard to the law school's relationship with the bar and community. In addition to the fact that he's a first-rate lawyer."