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Dan Nolan '78 sees the challenges facing Albany Law School as traditional market challenges. As president of Hugh Johnson Advisors, an investment firm managing $2 billion in assets, he sees classic market principles forcing logical solutions. While a law school poses unique problems, different, for example, from the challenges of the manufacturing and packaging company he co-owns in Puerto Rico, the solutions may be similar.
“Albany Law School has a great product, but faces external forces that require a fairly fast and thorough response,” Nolan said. “The school offers a legal education far better than its reputation, and we have to work with—and change—that reality.”
Nolan, who also chairs the Board of Trustees for the College of Saint Rose, sees the Board’s role as guardians. “We hire and evaluate the president. We help establish the vision. Then we get out of the way to let the administration execute.”
That vision is being created now through a strategic planning process that should be completed by December.
Nolan says it’s the Board’s job to “see around the corners, understand what the environment looks like and how it will effect legal education in the future. The administration is busy running the school. They don’t have the time to examine the trends and the drivers forcing the change. The Board members who are out there every day need to bring our collective vision to bear on the school’s strategic plan.”
Regarding the drop in law school applications nationwide, Nolan said that while there are numerous issues to decide with numerous layers at play, the board must decide the right size of the school. “To do that in a genuine way means we must understand, with confidence, the landscape.” Questions such as, “is this a cyclical change based on a slow economy, or a structural change in legal employment?” must be examined.
Nolan, who spent 27 years at Ayco Co., a Goldman Sachs company in Saratoga Springs, never practiced traditional law, nor did he intend to. Rather, he attended Albany Law School to bring the discipline of a legal education to a financial and entrepreneurial career.
“I come with a very different perspective than most alumni, as do several board members,” he said, noting the rich diverse backgrounds of the board. “We are in a good position to adapt with smart, positive changes.”
He noted that the school’s president, Penelope (Penny) Andrews, also spends a lot of time in the Capital Region community, including the legal community through her alumni travels. “She too brings a fresh, even global, perspective,” having spent the last 12 years in New York City, as well as living in numerous countries over the years. “We are fortunate to have her.”
“We have all lived through these cycles,” Nolan said. “We have all watched the legal job market go up and down. But no one can know what the future holds for the market, so we need to think this through very seriously, considering all the possible elements at play.”
Nolan’s Indelible Mark on Saint Rose
By most measures, Nolan has had a successful chairmanship at the College of Saint Rose, where he led $100 million of investments to improve the campus and programs over 10 years. He listed his ability to raise the academic reputation of the school and strengthening the board as two of his proudest achievements, goals he plans to pursue at Albany Law.
“The previous chair, Mary Ann Cody, did an outstanding job at making this board stronger, more diverse, and more engaged. I want to continue that work. That includes maintaining members who are geographically and professionally diverse.” Nolan is not looking for “large” names to fill the board roster. “I want people who love the school like I love the school, who want to be engaged, who want to do the work to make this school great.”
Finding the Right Size for Albany Law
“Our strategic plan needs to be honest and realistic about the school and the legal education environment,” Nolan said. “We need to articulate what we do well now, find what we can do better, and innovate to meet the demands of what the market for legal education will become.”
Committees of board members, faculty and administrators have been meeting together and separately to work on various components of the plan. Recommendations will be given to the Board and a final plan is expected to be in place by the beginning of 2014.
“Everybody has to be on board with the plan,” Nolan said. “The Trustees cannot force a vision. The process must be real and the vision must be embraced by an entire organization for us to achieve the plan.”
Nolan sees a part of his chair role as a motivator. “A board chair has to know how to motivate, but at the same time, know how to hold people accountable.” With 30 years of business experience, 10 years as the board chair of another college, numerous board memberships in other organizations from banks to non-profits, he feels confident he can lead the school into the next era.
“I enjoy challenges. The easiest thing to do is to assume someone else will step up and do a job. But I have a passion for this school. I loved my experience here. The professional success I have had is because of Albany Law School,” Nolan said. “I want to bring the school back to its glory days. We need the courage and the wisdom to do that.”