People of SU / Society, Justice and Law
Written by Mike Thee
February 11, 2014
In high school Paul Holland dreamed of becoming a lawyer and fighting for justice in court. He never considered a career as a law teacher or administrator. And yet it was a turn into the academic world that allowed him to realize his dreams.
Last month Holland, associate dean for academic affairs at the School of Law, was named the 2014 McGoldrick Fellow. "Those who know Paul attest to his intellect, his calming presence and, perhaps most important, his deep care and concern for the law students," wrote President Stephen Sundborg, S.J., in announcing Holland's selection. "James B. McGoldrick, S.J., was an extraordinary teacher and administrator who modeled Jesuit education at its best and always put Seattle University's students first. These are the same values that Paul demonstrates as a teacher, scholar and leader."
The president also recognized the high esteem in which Holland is held by the legal community and his leadership on child advocacy issues, including his service as chair of the Governor's Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee.
"Paul is a consummate professional in all his dealings with others, whether faculty, students or our external constituents," School of Law Dean Annette Clark wrote in nominating Holland. "Remarkably, he was named Director of the Ronald A. Peterson Law Clinic and then Associate Dean for Academic Affairs even before he received tenure with the institution. This is a very rare occurrence, but it's a reflection of Paul's talent, work ethic and commitment to the law school enterprise."
A week after being announced as the McGoldrick Fellow, Holland spent a few moments reflecting on the somewhat unlikely course his professional life has taken.
"I didn't grow up with lawyers in my family," said Holland, "and I didn't know what lawyers did on a day-to-day basis. But I was inspired by social movements throughout American history, including the civil rights era, in which I was born, and I knew that becoming a lawyer offered the chance to speak out for those whose voices were too often ignored."
As an undergraduate at Harvard, he took a Constitutional Law course that he said "was taught as if we were in law school," and he knew right then he was hooked.
During his 1L year at New York University, he decided to commit himself to child advocacy. It's a decision he now traces largely to his mother's influence. "My mom worked for a hospital in New York that cared for abandoned and neglected children," he said. "She always had a commitment to kids, and while I was in law school, she and my dad became foster parents. They took in an infant who is now my 23-year-old brother and two other adopted siblings joined our family after him. . I had not even made the connection between her commitment and my own career path until I was several years into the work."
(Holland similarly credits his social justice ethic to his father: "My dad was a banker most of his adult life, but he carried the spirit of the 60's with him. He always reminded us of how fortunate we were and how important it was to reach out to those without the same opportunities.")
While studying law at NYU, Holland volunteered in Covenant House's legal department. On his first day there, he interviewed a teenager who had recently immigrated to the U.S. by himself. The young man had little chance of remaining in the country and, it appeared, bleak prospects if he was returned to his native country. "I remember just thinking about what it would be like to be in his shoes and how ill-equipped I would have been, even in my early twenties, to face the challenges in front of him."
The encounter cemented Holland's commitment to doing what he could to help those living on the margins of society. After earning his J.D. from NYU, with a summer spent working at the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia, he attended Georgetown University as a Prettyman Fellow, pursuing his Master of Laws degree through working and teaching in the Juvenile Justice Clinic representing juvenile clients charged with crimes. Amid historically high levels of teen violence, Holland and his students fought to keep their clients from being swamped by a set of punitive juvenile justice policies and practices the country has only recently begun to recognize as misguided." As difficult as this was for my clients and their families, it only sharpened my desire to become a public defender specializing in representing young people."
A twist of fate would intervene when the professor with whom he had been working in the clinic needed someone to take over for him while he went on sabbatical. Holland accepted the offer, which was for a one-year position, thinking that after the year was up, he'd finally start his career in public defense practice. More than two decades later, he's still inside the academy.
"Clinical teaching is a dream job, really. You have the chance to serve clients, while at the same time guiding students engaged in their first experience of being lawyers. I was ruined for 'real work,'" he laughs.
Holland went on to serve as a clinical professor at Loyola University Chicago and the University of Michigan before arriving at SU in 2004. Among other reasons, he chose to come to the law school because of its commitment to clinical education and social justice.
Holland's professional path took another unanticipated turn when he became associate dean in 2009. "When you're appointed to a position like this, folks will congratulate you and express condolences at the same time," he says with a laugh. All kidding aside, he has enjoyed the opportunity. "I feel like my understanding of how to promote students' development as lawyers is both deeper and sharper because of what I have learned in this role."
Even with all the administrative responsibilities that go along with his current role and the active role he continues to play as a leader in the legal community on child and juvenile issues, Holland continues to teach in the Youth Advocacy Clinic. And he continues to be amazed at SU's law students. "They are a joy to work with. They don't all have a clear project when they start with us-any more than I did when I entered law school-but they have a remarkable sense of purpose. They are looking for the chance to serve, to make a difference. And we get the opportunity to help them make that happen."
Holland is grateful to receive the prestigious McGoldrick Fellowship, which comes with a one-semester sabbatical. "It was a wonderful surprise. I'm deeply honored to be recognized by this community that has offered me so much already.
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