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‘On the shoulders of giants’: Roscoe Jones Jr. to enter Drake Law Deanship

A profile headshot of Dean Roscoe Jones Jr. Roscoe Jones Jr. comes to Drake Law School with experience in many areas of law. His number one priority is to be a “good listener.” Photo Courtesy of Roscoe Jones Jr.

With a mother who worked as a teacher and a father who served in the U.S. Marine Corps, Roscoe Jones Jr. walked away from his childhood with a desire to do good. 

“I come from a family where service was always paramount,” Jones said. “We talked about what it means to serve and what it means to make an impact on something bigger than yourself and the broader community, so I always wanted to live a life where I was going to make an impact.” 

Jones’ next steps will take him from Washington D.C. to Drake Law School deanship, where he plans to keep service on his mind. Jones said he is honored to help lead an institution that believes so much in student success. He will start as dean on July 1, 2024. 

“Higher education is really transformative for individuals and communities. It’s the reason I’ve taught for so long,” Jones said. “I always believe the greatest service you can render is to make sure that the next generation is prepared to pick up the torch and move it even farther.” 

Drake Law searched for a new dean for about six months, according to professor of law and head of the search committee for the new dean, Danielle Shelton. 

 “We had good choices, great candidates and Roscoe distinguished himself from an already really strong field of candidates,” Shelton said. 

Shelton said that Jones stood out from other candidates because he has had a lot of experience as a leader in different law-related organizations, intellect, energy and great listening skills. These are all things that Drake Law needs, according to Shelton.

“He is going to be very hands-on in helping everyone figure out what their role is in the law school and ultimately helping our students become great lawyers, so I think he is very student-oriented,” Shelton said. “He’s very focused on what we are doing to train our law students and to contribute to the legal profession”

Jones said that his number one priority is to be a good listener. He plans to spend the first 100 days meeting with every faculty member, staff professional and student group at the law school, as well as alumni.

“My top priority is to listen and learn. I am new to the Drake Law community, and I have lots to learn from our community,” Jones said. “Academia prioritizes the concept of shared governance, and I will be a collaborative leader who listens and engages in dialogue to solve problems. We will have a shared vision, and I look forward to working with the faculty to build it.” 

After clerking for federal judges post-law school, Jones moved to inner-city Baltimore and accepted a fellowship as a poverty lawyer taking on civil rights cases for low-income individuals. 

In 2006, as his fellowship was ending, Jones wanted to continue to do civil rights work. According to Jones, the biggest civil rights challenge at the time was reauthorizing the Voting Rights Acts. To be a part of it, Jones went to work on Capitol Hill for 10 years. 

“I always believe in going where the problems are,” Jones said. 

One of the largest projects he worked on during his time at Capitol Hill was the First Step Act with New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker. The First Step Act allows convicted non-violent drug offenders with no prior history to be sentenced to less than the mandated minimum. 

Jones said that, of all his work, his criminal justice reform work stands out the most to him. Jones later created a class on criminal justice reform policy that he has been teaching for the last eight out of 10 years at different schools of law and public policy.

“We live in a society that believes in the rule of law, that believes in really so many important principles, but we are a nation that has the largest prison population in the entire world,” Jones said. “In some ways, it’s not contiguous with relief or values, so that experience was so impactful to me because I think it’s one of the biggest policy challenges, but it also inspired me to go back into teaching. It was my way of impacting the next generation on an issue that I believe helps to push the envelope and push the needle in terms of our knowledge of the world around us, and I think that’s what law school does.” 

His experience as an adjunct professor over the last ten years has made him committed to ensuring law students are prepared for the challenges they will face as the next generation of lawyers and leaders. 

Jones said Drake’s Law School was at the top of his list. According to Jones, Drake Law is a place where students and faculty can practice their passion. He said Drake’s emphasis on practical training and clinical education jumped out to him. 

“It is the honor of a lifetime to lead the Drake Law School,” Jones said “We are a special place. A place with a deep commitment to student success; dedicated faculty, staff and alumni; and an inspirational mission to train students to be leaders made this an easy choice — a place with smart and talented students eager to make their mark on the world and a law school prepared to assist them.”

 Jones also decided to accept the position because of Drake Law’s mission statement’s emphasis on service. He was inspired by Drake Law’s commitment to having an impact on the world broader than just themselves, a mission that he has followed his whole career.  

“We are a profession that has an opportunity to really make a deep impact on people’s lives, our clients [and] our broader community, and it is a solemn obligation,” Jones said.

According to Jones, a lack of diversity is a challenge that the legal profession will have to face. As the first Black dean of any college or school at Drake, Jones said he wants to ensure that Drake Law is leading with diversity, equity and inclusion principles and a supportive collegiate culture.

I want to champion diversity,” Jones said. “We want to ensure that people from all backgrounds feel welcomed and valued, and we can build bridges into the legal profession for everyone.” 

Jones said he wants to “pay it forward” by inspiring people from all walks of life to pursue their dreams of becoming lawyers. 

“I stand on the shoulders of giants, and I say that with humility. I hope that that’s also an inspiration,” Jones said. “I hope that this [deanship] will inspire others to consider a career in law who come from diverse backgrounds.” 

As dean of the law school, Jones said that he has five buckets for his big picture vision: continuing to create an environment where student success is at the center, promoting Drake Law’s brand nationally, increasing scholarship and other resources for students, championing diversity and strengthening Drake’s connection both within Drake and the community. He also hopes to increase the amount of faculty and staff for Drake Law.  

A subgoal of Jones’ goal of student success is training students to be leaders, such as by making Drake Law a leader in the legal profession’s trends. 

Some school is going to be a leader on AI in the Midwest,” Jones said. “Why not Drake Law?” 

Overall, Jones hopes to teach law school students to give their all to their clients. Jones said the client-lawyer relationship is all about trust. According to Jones, people come to lawyers at their most dire moments, so it is important that lawyers can be “a good counselor, a good steward, someone who understands the humanity of the people that you represent and the humanity of the people on the opposite side.” 

Jones said the law school has done its job if its graduates are championing justice and doing what is right in the face of all obstacles. 

“There are so many strident issues that divide us as a society,” Jones said. “We have to train our students not just to be good, but to be advocates who can be collaborative and bring people together as opposed to tearing them apart.”

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