Remembering former dean Michael J. Kelly

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The Maryland Carey Law community mourns the loss of former dean Michael J. Kelly, who passed away January 20. Kelly served as dean from 1975 to 1991, leading the development of some of the law school’s seminal academic programs and ushering the school into a new era of legal education characterized by the integration of real-world components into the curriculum. 

“We are indebted to Dean Kelly for his legacy of leadership at Maryland Carey Law,” said Dean Renée McDonald Hutchins. “His work here was fundamental to our success in providing access to justice for the people of Maryland and to the quality and range of excellent programs we provide our students. He will be deeply missed.” 

During Kelly’s 17-year tenure, the law school created nationally recognized clinical, environmental, and health law programs; launched the Cardin Requirement, making clinical experience a condition of graduation; and became a national leader in integrating theory and practice. Additionally, Kelly significantly diversified and enhanced the faculty and student body. 

In the words of Professor Emeritus Peter Quint, “Mike Kelly was the founder of the modern University of Maryland School of Law.”  

Before graduating from Yale with a law degree in 1967, Kelly earned a Ph.D. from Cambridge University and a B.A. from Princeton. Following law school, he spent three years in the office of general counsel of the Rouse Corporation and two years as assistant to the mayors of Boston and then Baltimore. He joined the faculty in 1972 but took a year off to work for the attorney general in the Department of Justice. Because of his experience, said Professor Emeritus David Bogen, “he knew the law school well enough to have ideas about its operation and culture but was enough of an outsider to bring about change.” 

Kelly is remembered for appreciating and supporting activities that make a law school great—excellent scholarship and teaching, attention to students, practice experiences, collegiality, and public engagement. “Dean Kelly ushered the school into a new and exciting era,” said Professor Michael Millemann. “During his tenure, legal education was in transition. With his leadership, the school became a national leader not a reluctant follower.”  

“Dean Kelly had high expectations for himself, the school, and the faculty, and with his leadership, we became a better school with developing national and international dimensions,” recalled Professor Emeritus Robert Condlin. “He especially made the school attractive to excellent young teachers, generating many new, exciting hires.” 

In his own scholarly life, Kelly conducted a comprehensive study of legal ethics and legal education, and wrote two books, Lives of Lawyers and Lives of Lawyers Revisited. David Luban, a nationally acclaimed scholar in legal ethics and former professor at Maryland Carey Law, praised Kelly’s scholarship, calling it “pioneering.” The books used in-depth case studies to examine the differing cultures and leadership styles of law firms and the impacts these had on the legal services that clients received and the communities in which the law firms worked. 

Kelly also brought fun to the law school. He kicked off one academic year by releasing a ceremonial hot air balloon on the law school’s front porch, to student applause. He also held sessions on ethical lessons after each episode of the television program L.A. Law. They became so popular that Richard Dysart, who starred as Leland McKenzie in the series, became a fan of Kelly and came to lecture at the school—on the similarities and differences between actors and lawyers. 

Another accomplishment important to the law school’s cultural life was Kelly's establishment of Westminster Hall. In 1974, the former church adjacent to the law school building was designated a historic landmark, sitting within the cemetery where Edgar Allan Poe and many prominent Maryland figures are interred. Working with Professor Emeritus Garrett Power, who went on to manage the project, Kelly established the Westminster Historic Preservation Trust, which raised money to refurbish the hall. Today, Westminster is physically attached to the law school and serves as a beautiful gathering place for everything from investitures to reunions, retirement banquets to wedding receptions. 

When Kelly left the law school, he became vice president and chief operating officer at Georgetown University. He was also a visiting scholar at the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and a senior fellow at the Zicklin Center for Business Ethics Research at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Dedicated to public service, Kelly served as executive director of the Maryland Commission on Judicial Reform and chair of the National Senior Citizens Law Center. 

Kelly was predeceased by his wife Narindar Uberoi Kelly whom he married in 1967. He is survived by their two children and their families. 

A funeral for Michael Kelly will be held February 18, 10:30am, at St. Vincent de Paul Church, 120 North Front Street, Baltimore. A repast for funeral guests will follow at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, Westminster Hall.