Dean Rich Leonard Pens “From Welcome to Windhoek: A Judge’s Journey” Under New LM Press Publishing Arm

Leonard, a white man with pale blond hair and a mustache, wears a white shirt, red tie, and grey blazer.Rich Leonard’s remarkable journey is truly a tale of two continents.

Much of the North American adventure is widely known, from serving as the nation’s youngest U.S. District Court Clerk to serving as a U.S. Bankruptcy Judge to serving as dean of Campbell Law School.

Amidst these duties, any one of which would form the basis of a considerable legal career, Leonard has also contributed his energy and expertise to the betterment of multiple African nations. In his role as a special consultant to the U.S. Department of State and through his additional efforts on behalf of the law school, he has been to Africa more than 60 times.

Along the way, stateside and abroad, he has collected stories, real-life stories, that form the basis of his recently released memoir, “From Welcome to Windhoek: A Judge’s Journey.” The book is published by LM Press, which was established by Lawyers Mutual Consulting & Services “to help lawyers and legal professionals share their experiences and personal stories through published books.”

“LM Press was developed because we believe everyone has a story to tell,” said Camille Stell, president of Lawyers Mutual Consulting & Services. “It was personally fulfilling for me for Dean Leonard’s story to be one of our early publications. While Dean Leonard’s memoir includes global travel and fantastical stories such as dancing around campfires with snakes, the lessons he shares apply to all of us – dealing with career disappointments and life challenges. I believe it’s encouraging for us to read about how others overcome trials, and therein lies the value in memoir writing.”

All of us, Stell added, have experienced our own unique journeys.

“I love helping people tell their story, and lawyers are natural storytellers,” Stell said. “Lawyers Mutual saw a way to share our expertise in communications and content creation by creating LM Press. Through LM Press, we can assist lawyers in writing a book or memoir which will provide a permanent legacy for their family, friends, and colleagues. The result is a lasting inspiration and memory to be passed down through the generations.”

As for Rich Leonard’s story, let’s hear from the author:

What was the genesis for this project?

I’ve been 60-plus times to Africa over 30 years working with court systems across the continent at the behest of the State Department. I would tell stories, and friends would say you need to write these down before you forget them. So the day finally came where I decided to put pen to paper and began to write them down. It started out just writing about Africa, and then it got much more introspective because I would think, “How did I know to do that?”

It’s probably about 50:50 in each continent. There were good stories in Africa, but there were good stories here too. I’ve crossed paths with a lot of pretty influential people that a lot of folks know in serious ways, and I thought that folks might enjoy it. I didn’t try to write some thousand-page tome about my legal philosophy, but I really tried to string together a bunch of good stories.

How did you find the time?

Well, it’s interesting. COVID has had funny impacts in different ways. For me, probably a good 30 to 40 percent of this job is external. There’s virtually no meeting with which lawyers are affiliated in this area that I’m not invited to, and I go to most of them. So, three, four, five nights a week I’m out at something.

And then all of a sudden, March 2020 came and five o’clock would roll around and I didn’t have any place to go. Nobody wanted to see me, so it really is a bit of a COVID artifact. I just had more personal discretionary time in my schedule during COVID to do something like this, and that’s pretty much when I did it.

And you probably ended up with a lot more free time than you realized when the pandemic started?

I did! I’m telling you, I’m so glad to be back to the regularity of running an institution. During COVID none of us knew exactly what the rules were and what the next day was going to bring. You didn’t know whether you called it right or didn’t call it right, and every call you made you had a group of people who disagreed with your call. It was stressful.

There’s been an enormous turnover in law deans, and I think it’s the COVID phenomenon that people just wore out from. We were trying to get it right and set up systems and create online institutions by the seat of our pants, and people were critical of everything we tried to do. I think a number just gave up.

How were you able to get through it?

I think in order to divorce myself from the stress of all that, I sat down in the evening and wrote something. And I have always been able to muti-task. I mean, I’ve had big jobs all my life. I’d be involved in a trial of a multimillion-dollar case on which fortunes turn, but I still figured out how to have a personal life and go home and be with my family or go to the gym or have a drink with friends. So I think I’ve always been able to work on different channels.

Where did your interest in Africa originate?

Completely coincidentally, it was spring of 1994. I remember it vividly. I was sitting in my chambers. I had the little courthouse in Wilson that I’d inherited from Mickey Moore, and it was a recess of a trial, and the phone rang. I always like to answer my own phone, and so I picked it up and it was a fellow from the State Department. And he said, “Would you consider going to Zambia as a consultant?” And I said, “Sure. Where is Zambia?” And he explained to me that Zambia had just adopted a new constitution, roughly modeled after ours, and they were setting up their first independent structure of the court system. They had gone to our ambassador and said they were in over their heads and asked if he could send over a couple of American judges as advisors to work with them, and my name had been suggested.

I said I wasn’t sure, so he said why not think about it and talk again tomorrow. So I went home that night and did some work and looked into it, and when he called the next day, I said, “Buddy, you’ve got the wrong guy. You know I am a tall, blond, white Southerner with a considerable accent, and Zambia is a 100% Black African nation. There’s got to be somebody who’s going to be more effective than me over there.”

But he persisted. He said Zambia had been very clear that they were looking for a judge with an administrative background. They weren’t interested in lectures on rule of law or separation of powers. They wanted somebody who understood the nuts and bolts of running a court, and that everybody they called had said they needed to talk to this guy in North Carolina because we don’t know anybody else who fits that description.

What happened next?

He said we could have a conference call with the Zambians, and I said sure. But remember, this was 1994, and international phone connections were not great. And although I have grown to be very attuned to African-English, it’s not the way we speak. It’s much more sort of British with an African accent, so I didn’t think the call went very well. But at the end, he said they loved you and you’re in, and eight weeks later I was in Lusaka.

I thought it’d be a one-off for me. I thought I’d go one time and give it my shot, but it turned out the things that interested me were what they really needed. They needed somebody who would dig deep down into the granular details of running their courts and talk with them about tracking systems and monitoring systems and assignment systems and calendaring systems. They just never had really looked at their court docket that way.

And so I would keep going back to them, I don’t know, 10 or 15 times in the next three or four years. I used all my discretionary time. Those happened to be the years I was single and my first set of kids were in college, so my time was my own, and every time I could get away I’d go back to Africa. We would just design project after project of what we were going to work on, and had a fair amount of successes.

Leonard, wearing a grey suit and red tie, stands in the center of a photo with many African court administrators standing near around him.

Rich Leonard joins in a group photo during a workshop for African court administrators.

That’s a lot of trips?

I think at least by their measure it was. And then we did one final thing, because it had been really clear to me that part of their difficulty with their civil cases is that they were still hamstrung by the old early 19th century British code. They were using what the Brits had brought them and I felt like, until they streamlined their civil procedure, every case was just going to get lost in this procedural morass of common law and British pleading. So I spent a year working with the reporter for their National Rules Commission, and we rewrote all their civil rules and their Parliament passed them, and that was just sort of a logical endpoint.

What happened next?

I felt like I’d done what I said would I do, and then all of a sudden, the Chief Justice of Zambia talks to the Chief Justice of Tanzania and brags about all he’s been doing, and the invitation starts coming to go to Tanzania and work on projects there, which I did for another five or six years. Again, I probably went 10 or 15 times.

One of the things that I wrote about in the book, and that I loved, were some of these remarkable African judges who got to be such close friends. The Chief Justice of Tanzania was a wonderful man named Francis Nyalali who was the longest-tenured chief justice in Africa and the British Commonwealth. He was so proud of some of the stuff we’ve done that in 2002, he convened a conference of all the sub-Saharan African chief justices and I was the keynoter to talk about these things.

And after that, it was “Katy, bar the door!” I could go whenever I wanted to.


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What about the “here side” of the book, the part that originates in Welcome, North Carolina?

It became something really important to me, and I was very candid in this book about some great things that had happened to me and some hard times that I’ve been through. I did that purposefully because I think you get to a point in a career, and we all can make our resumes look perfect, but I think a lot of my students look at me and they say, “Boy, you never missed a dime. You never missed a dot.”

“You went to Carolina on a Morehead. You graduated top of your class and you went to Yale Law School and did well, and you came home and clerked for the most prestigious judge in the state. And then you practiced law with Senator Sanford and you went back to run the federal courts and you became a judge when you’re 31. And now you’re the dean of the law school. Oh man, it must have just been so easy for you. Nothing ever didn’t go right for you!”

So I am trying to tell the back story. I had miscues and was not sure where I needed to be, and had that imposter syndrome feeling like I had gotten jobs that were way bigger than I had the capacity to do way too early in my life. I think the message I am just trying to hold out for them is you just persevere. You just give it your all, you go as hard as you can. You treat people fairly and you hope it will work out. And I think that’s been successful.

Leonard, wearing a plaid button down shirt, is pictured with a plate of orange cupcakes arranged into a pattern of "10."

Rich Leonard is commemorating his 10th year as dean of Campbell Law School.

How did you connect with LM Press and Camille Stell?

One of my former students, Alex Davis, has her own media firm, and I asked Alex if she had any ideas about how to get published, and she said she had just edited a book for Camille. She said that Lawyers Mutual Consulting was publishing and that they were looking for projects that other lawyers had. I had already written it and was ready to send it to a publisher and just looking around.

I had published a book, gosh, it must be 12 years ago now, that was totally different. It was aimed at middle schoolers and was a fictional account of the last year of the Revolutionary War in Piedmont, North Carolina. And it got a lot of good reviews, but the little publishing company that did that had gone defunct when the principal owner of the company died. I didn’t have a history with anybody, so it’s turned out to be great.

J. Rich Leonard serves as dean of Campbell Law School. “From Welcome to Windhoek: A Judge’s Journey” is available through Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble.

Russell Rawlings is director of external affairs and communications for the North Carolina Bar Association.