Cathy Cox has returned to the roots of her legal career.
As the new dean of Mercer University’s Walter F. George School of Law, she wants to help take the institution she loves to the next level.
She succeeds Daisy Hurst Floyd, who served in the role from 2004-2010 and 2014 to June of this year. Cox graduated from Mercer law school in 1986, which makes her the first alum to become dean since William Bootle in the 1930s.
“(Macon) has really grown a lot since I was in school here, but my husband, Mark, and I are really glad to be a part of this community and look forward to getting involved in a lot of things,” Cox said. “I really want to make sure that Mercer stands out as the premier law school in this state.
“Mercer has a long history of providing great lawyers ... and I want to enhance that in every way I can.”
Before her new role, Cox was president of Young Harris College for 10 years. She practiced law for a decade in Atlanta and Bainbridge and is an active member of the State Bar of Georgia.
Cox looks forward to sharing her legislative experiences with her students and helping them understand the law-making process. She was the District 160 state House representative from 1993-96, an assistant secretary of state from 1996-99, and then secretary of state for two terms.
She plans to reconnect and re-establish support with alumni across the Southeast and expand on some of the practices and programs that the former dean started.
“(Floyd) has provided really great leadership for the law school and put in a lot of wonderful programs to help our students,” Cox said. “I’m fortunate to be able to build on a lot of programs that are already in place without having to come in and make wholesale changes.”
Cox also wants to be out on the recruiting trail, helping students see how Mercer can help them succeed. Enrollment dropped at law schools across the country, including Mercer, during the recession, and all colleges are in “a rebuilding mode,” she said.
Mercer had 176 new students in 2006 and 145 in 2016. Enrollment fluctuated in between those years, with the smallest class in 2015 with 125 students and the largest in 2013 with 187, according to the law school. Students have come from as many as 17 states. The number of male and female students has been fairly even over the past 20 years.
“We don’t want to be the largest school out there,” Cox said. “That’s not the Mercer model. That doesn’t enable us to provide the type of personal attention that has always been a hallmark of Mercer’s law school.”
The law business is changing, and Cox wants to make sure students are prepared to tackle new opportunities and become the best lawyers possible.
Law firms are downsizing to save costs, and do-it-yourself legal services have come into play, but there will always been a need for high-quality lawyers in this country, she said. New law jobs are emerging, especially in technology-related fields.
Lawyers, judges and businesses in Macon like having Mercer law school students on board as interns and staff members. Partnerships will continue with local agencies to provide students with real-world experience and help community members in need. And an incubator program to pair graduates with experienced lawyers is in the works.