On Jan. 1, 2015, the UGA School of Law welcomed its 13th dean, Peter B. “Bo” Rutledge. A leading scholar in the fields of international dispute resolution, arbitration and the U.S. Supreme Court, Rutledge had served on the faculty of the law school since 2008 and been associate dean for faculty development since 2013.
Rutledge discussed his career and his plans for the law school in this interview, which is reprinted from the fall 2015 issue of the Advocate, Georgia Law’s alumni magazine.
The Advocate: How important is the law school’s role within the overall university? How does it contribute?
Dean Rutledge: The law school is an important partner to the university’s mission. It helps to train some of the state’s future leaders. Its scholarship helps advance the university’s research goals and, at times, can build bridges with other units on campus.
The Advocate: In your communications thus far, you have emphasized the school’s need to provide first-rate legal training and produce world-class scholarship in service to both our state and nation. Can you elaborate on this statement?
Rutledge: These are some of the pillars that make our law school special.
First-rate legal training comes in forms such as the law school’s clinics and its nationally renowned advocacy programs. World-class scholarship comes from our professors whose work helps inform decisions by judges and policymakers. And service is a quality built into many of our students when they are here and manifested when they go on to serve as judges, lawmakers, civil servants or in other public service capacities.
The Advocate: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing law schools today? How do we overcome this challenge?
Rutledge: To be a good return on investment for students. Recall that students applying to law school already have had an undergraduate experience. So, by applying, they are committing themselves to additional years of schooling and a profession.
Law schools constantly need to be sure that they are providing programs designed to help students achieve their professional goals.
The Advocate: What do you think distinguishes Georgia Law in legal education today?
Rutledge: It is a community where professors get to know their students and many alumni and alumnae feel a close connection to the place even after they graduate.
The Advocate: How has being dean been different than what you anticipated?
Rutledge: There are always surprises. What’s been most heartening has been to see the sense of loyalty among the law school’s alumni and alumnae base.
The Advocate: What has been your biggest personal challenge since becoming Georgia Law’s dean?
Rutledge: Trying to get to know everyone. Even coming from within the school, you quickly realize the vast number of alums, colleagues, students and university officials who are bound to the school in some way.
There are only so many hours in the day so you just try your best to build bridges with them to help take the institution forward.
The Advocate: How would you describe your leadership style?
Rutledge: Collaborative. I try to meet with the various units within the school to formulate goals and to discuss how to realize them. We have a tremendous team here, and they are an important part of the process of developing those goals.
The Advocate: How do you handle the stress of your work? How do you relax after a stressful day?
Rutledge: Spending time with my family-whether reading with them, playing board games or a quick pickup sport in the backyard.
The Advocate: What do you consider your greatest academic contribution?
Rutledge: Helping students realize their professional dreams.
The Advocate: What did you want to be when you were younger? If it was not a lawyer, how and why did you decide to pursue the study of law?
Rutledge: I vacillated between being a lawyer (especially after reading To Kill a Mockingbird) and a professor (near the end of my years in college). Eventually, I learned there was a vocation out there that allowed me to combine both passions.
The Advocate: What is the best advice you have ever received?
Rutledge: Treat everyone with respect.
The Advocate: Which individuals in your life have influenced you the most? In what ways?
Rutledge: My wife. She is the best teacher I know and a pillar in our relationship.
The Advocate: What advice do you have for current law students?
Rutledge: Use your resources. Approach your professional training proactively. Some of you may have a plan upon entering law school-invest your time in pursuit of that plan. Others may not. I was that way. In that case, be sure to seek out advice and guidance from faculty, alums and others who can help you make the most of your time here.
The Advocate: What is your favorite thing about living in Athens?
Rutledge: The people are unfailingly friendly.
The Advocate: What is the one thing that will surprise people the most to learn about you?
Rutledge: I was once hypnotized in front of a crowd at a state fair and made to believe I was Miss Piggy from The Muppets.
The Advocate: If you could travel back in time and give the younger you one piece of advice, what would it be?
Rutledge: Never pass up an opportunity to learn.