The 34th Annual School of Law Dinner honors Ronald F. Phillips and his four-decade career at Pepperdine.
Ronald F. Phillips, senior vice chancellor and School of Law Dean Emeritus, is often referred to as the “architect and administrator of the Pepperdine University School of Law.” Phillips was the founding dean in 1970 and facilitated the law school’s move from Orange County to Malibu, California, in 1978. Phillips served as dean for 27 years before being named Dean Emeritus in 1997.
His legacy of more than 40 years of service was the theme of the 34th annual School of Law Dinner on March 5 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills. Alumni, students, faculty, and friends of the school paid tribute to Phillips throughout the event.
Alumni who spoke at the event included noted attorney and businessman Terry Giles (JD ’74); real estate developer Rick Caruso (JD ’83); the Honorable Eileen C. Moore (JD ’78), associate justice of the California Court of Appeal; Janet E. Kerr (JD ’78), executive director of the Palmer Center and professor of law; and André Birotte (JD ’91), U.S. attorney for the Central District of California.
“I was inspired to attend law school after serving as a nurse in the Vietnam War,” recalled Justice Moore. “I found the Pepperdine Law School community under the leadership of Dean Phillips to be an enclave of civility amidst a world in turmoil. While I was in law school, Dean Phillips helped me secure an internship with the district attorney’s office, and was later instrumental in my appointment to both the Superior Court and the Court of Appeals.”
Second-year student Alyssa Ayotte, who worked as executive assistant to Phillips, reflected on her experience at the law school. “As a current student, I am grateful for the foundation laid by Dean Phillips that makes it possible for me to study in a place that is steadfastly committed to both academic excellence and Christian values,” she said.
In the early days of the law school, Phillips wore many hats. He hired faculty, taught contracts, and secured full ABA-accreditation for the school in 1975. He invited distinguished scholars and U.S. Supreme Court justices to speak to students. He built a team of faculty members who would continue to bring the school to new heights.
Professor Jim McGoldrick, the longest serving member of the law faculty, reflected on working with Phillips since 1971. “When I first met Dean Phillips, he wanted to build a law school that placed students at the heart of the enterprise, one that welcomed outstanding faculty and distinguished guests, one that stood committed to academic excellence and Christian values. Pepperdine Law remains dedicated to that vision more than four decades later.”
For his exemplary career at Pepperdine, President Andrew K. Benton presented Phillips with the 2011 Robert H. Jackson Award. Previous recipients of the Jackson Award include Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts, Ambassador John Bolton, and former Chief Justice of California, Malcolm M. Lucas.
“I am deeply blessed,” said Phillips in his remarks. “Few people have been able to spend such a significant portion of their lives in such a rewarding endeavor.”
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