Mark Martin Embracing Challenge as High Point Law’s Founding Dean

Mark Martin, who served as chief justice of the Supreme Court of North Carolina from 2014-19 and as dean of Regent University School of Law from 2019-22, is the founding dean of the Kenneth F. Kahn School of Law at High Point University. Since the announcement of his appointment in June 2022, Martin has been immersed in the process of hiring faculty and staff and recruiting students who will begin taking classes in August.

A graduate of Western Carolina University (B.S.), the University of Virginia (LL.M.), and the University of North Carolina School of Law (J.D.), Martin served on the Supreme Court from 1999-2019, during which time he chaired the Chief Justice’s Commission on the Future of the Business Court and convened the North Carolina Commission on the Administration of Law and Justice. He also served on the Superior Court (1992-94) and Court of Appeals (1994-99) and is a past chair of the ABA Judicial Division.

A longtime member of the North Carolina Bar Association who previously served on the NCBA Board of Governors, Dean Mark Martin recently participated in the following interview for North Carolina Lawyer.

Mark Martin, a white man with brown hair and glasses, wears a pale blue shirt, navy suit, and purple and blue-striped tie. He stands with the N.C. Court of Appeals judges, who are dressed in robes, and the backdrop behind them reads, "Court of Appeals" and "High Point University, The Premier Life Skills University, Kenneth F. Kahn School of Law."

High Point Law welcomed the N.C. Court of Appeals for oral arguments on March 14. From left, Dean Mark Martin and Judges Allegra Collins, Jeffrey Carpenter, April Wood, Chris Dillon (chief judge), Donna Stroud and John Marsh Tyson.

Nearly two years have passed since High Point University announced your appointment as the founding dean of what will be known as the Kenneth F. Kahn School of Law. What has been the most rewarding part of this experience thus far?

The people I have collaborated with have been the greatest reward. Whether it is prospective law students, fellow HPU Law faculty and staff, colleagues from the larger university community, supportive lawyers and judges, or friends of the law school from around the state, interacting with people has been the most rewarding aspect. Here at the law school, we are developing an amazing team; I am so proud of the thoughtful, innovative, and kind fellow team members that have dedicated themselves to establishing this law school.

Another reward has been the professional capstone of building a law school from the ground up. Not many people get to do it. Not surprisingly, there is never a dull moment, and each day brings new challenges and opportunities. Perhaps it’s the adjudicator and mediator in me, but I have enjoyed collaborating with others to find solutions to complex problems.

When High Point University announced your appointment, the press release cited your service as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of North Carolina and dean of Regent University School of Law. How have these experiences influenced your approach to building a new law school?

These experiences showed me the necessity of equipping students for the dynamic and ever-evolving legal environment they will face.

We have therefore adopted several curricular innovations to prepare our students for the world as it’s going to be. For instance, both professional experiences—jurist and law dean—underscored to me the importance of enhanced instruction in legal research and writing. And so our legal writing classes will have ten or fewer students per section— allowing for individualized instruction. We will also foster a strong nexus between the bench, bar, and legal academy; in addition to our full-time faculty, we will connect students with over 70 distinguished judges and lawyers on our extended faculty.

Further, we are building on the Life Skills focus of High Point University by developing courses and other curricular programs to help our students form their professional identity so they can be lawyer-leaders of integrity.

University President Dr. Nido Qubein is known throughout the academic community and beyond as a visionary and innovator. What impressed you the most about his approach to establishing the new law school, and how have you grown professionally from working alongside Dr. Qubein over the past two years?

Dr. Qubein’s extraordinary success regularly impresses me as well as most other higher education professionals. When setting strategic goals, he asks, “Is this in the best interest of the student?” and “How can we add greater value?” He is not interested in creating just another law school but rather one full of exceptional offerings and competitive advantages for our students. Just as there is always room in the profession for another good lawyer, there is likewise always room for another good law school.

Working alongside Dr. Qubein is also inspiring. He makes you want to be a better version of yourself every day and to see every challenge as an opportunity.

Dean Martin, a white man with brown hair and glasses, wears a grey shirt and tie and dark suit. He sits at a table with three other individuals and the American flag in the background.

Dean Mark Martin, second from left, is a past chair of the ABA Judicial Division.

A word about the faculty: Wow! You refer to the full-time and extended faculty as a “highly accomplished and highly diverse group,” which jumps out to anyone who visits that page on your website. What has it been like to assemble this distinguished group of “jurists, practitioners and educators”?

Assembling our distinguished faculty has been a phenomenal experience. They are no doubt a group of impressive and highly respected lawyers and judges. Our students will benefit immensely through their curricular and extra-curricular interactions with our extended faculty at High Point Law.

From a distance, it would appear that all of your experiences up to this point have figured into your approach to building this law school, not the least of which would be lawyer, jurist and dean. But what have you learned along the way as a student and parent that informs your approach to establishing this law school?

As a parent myself, I can tell you that patience and understanding are necessary to survive—and, of course, thrive. Similarly, in starting a law school, you must “trust the process” and hope for things yet to come. These two tasks require a tremendous amount of support from those around you. To that end, I can’t thank enough my incredibly supportive wife, Kym.

As for what I learned from my experience as a student, I can still remember feeling quite lost as a first-year law student because no one had answered my “why” question. Here, students will be pursuing their professional purpose from Day 1. They will take two professional identity formation courses during their first year; have three one-week practicums during law school on access to justice, advocacy skills, and leadership; and be mentored by at least two faculty members during their time at the law school. Our goal is for every student to have an inspired vision and plan for their future by the end of year one.

The founding faculty represents broader experiences than just your service to the State of North Carolina. How has your work with national organizations, and especially the ABA and its Judicial Division, enhanced your ability to make important connections for the new law school?

I have been fortunate to be a part of many extraordinary legal organizations. These groups played a pivotal role in my professional development and connected me to exceptional individuals throughout the years, many of whom sit on our faculty. In fact, I have encouraged our faculty to be involved in legal organizations like these to enhance their own development as teachers and scholars.

Mark Martin, a white man with brown hair and brown glasses, wears white shirt, blue tie and judicial robe. He sits on the bench with Paul Newby to his right and Robin Hudson and Robert Edmunds to his left. The American flag is behind him.

From his days on the Supreme Court, from left, former Justices Robin Hudson and Robert Edmunds, Chief Justice Mark Martin, and Justice Paul Newby who now serves as chief justice.

When your appointment was announced, you had just led Regent University through a successful reaccreditation process and the law school was included among U.S. News & World Report’s top 147 ranked law schools for the first time. What do you hope to bring forward from your success at Regent to help High Point Law achieve ABA accreditation?

The accreditation process—whether it’s for the first or fifteenth time—demands intense organization. It’s like answering complex discovery requests in litigation. We are staying organized from the onset and filtering every decision through the lens of accreditation.

Seeing how little room there is for error, we have hired a top accreditation consultant, Barry Currier, to provide strategic guidance. Barry was the Managing Director of Accreditation and Legal Education for the ABA for eight years—he managed law school accreditation for the ABA—and served in many other leading roles as a legal educator.

As you may know, there is only one path to law school accreditation. A school must finish its first year of instruction before applying for provisional accreditation. The ABA process then takes six to ten months, so if all goes well, we will hear back in spring 2026. Fortunately, over the last twenty years, every law school seeking provisional accreditation has obtained it, and, of course, we are working with the top law school accreditation expert in America.

The meter is running! When do classes begin and what has impressed you about the charter enrollment class?

Our inaugural class starts in August 2024! I cannot say enough about these students. They are highly credentialed and have impeccable character—they will be good lawyers and good people too. It’s premature to celebrate LSAT and GPA data, but we are very pleased here too. Many are pioneering leader types, ambitious yet serving. Many have expressed how much they appreciate being part of this inaugural group and the responsibility they sense in helping build the reputation and prominence of this school. Almost all of them have also shared how they felt drawn to HPU Law by our bespoke and innovative curriculum, professional identity focus, and institutional excellence.

One constant throughout your legal career has been a strong relationship with the North Carolina Bar Association. How do you envision this engagement unfolding at High Point Law, especially as it pertains to your students’ involvement with the NCBA and its Law Student Division?

I can’t thank the North Carolina Bar Association enough for safeguarding and assisting our profession in this state. The NCBA truly is the sturdy foundation of our state’s legal system. And the values of the NCBA—ethics, civility, and professionalism—are High Point Law’s values. I mentioned above how my engagement in legal organizations fostered my own professional development. We similarly will be encouraging our students to be active in the NCBA through the Law Student Division and to remain active throughout their career in the NCBA or similar organizations if they settle elsewhere.

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