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Stephen Payne new law dean at The Catholic University of America

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Stephen Payne is focused on living his faith through work. That’s why, in part, he’s leaving behind a career as a partner at the Gibson, Dunn and Crutchen LLP law firm in Washington to become dean of the Columbus School of Law at The Catholic University of America in Washington July 1.

“I’m interested in (this job) because of my Catholic faith and the Catholic identity and mission of the school,” he said. “It seemed like a good way to take the next challenge in my career and try to live my faith through my work.”

Payne thought getting the job was a longshot.

“The appointment meant a great deal,” he said. “I viewed the whole thing as providential because in my view, I was the unlikeliest of candidates at the start.”

Payne, a parishioner of St. James Church in Falls Church, said a law school with a Catholic tradition has some unique resources to offer. “The legal profession has a lot of struggles, a high rate of dissatisfaction, depression, addiction, and I think a law school in the Catholic tradition has some special things to offer folks who want to find their calling,” he said. “In educating the whole lawyer, I think there are some happy points of convergence between the Catholic tradition and what secular science is really proving helps make people happy and flourish. So, human flourishing or lawyer flourishing is what I think will be the emphasis.”

Payne said the law school is an open and welcoming community to all faiths. “What positive psychology might call character strengths we might call in the Catholic tradition, values,” he said. “There’s a neat point of convergence that can offer something distinct and helpful to those who are from a Catholic or Christian background and are interested in developing that as part of their education.”

Payne has shaped young talent in law firms.

“I got to the point where I accomplished a lot of what I set out to do,” he said. “One of the most satisfying aspects has been developing young talent that then steps into leadership and develops their own practices. Both firms I’ve been at that has happened.”

Prior to his appointment, Payne served as chair of the FDA and Health Care group at Gibson Dunn. His career has spanned from the U.S. Army JAG Corps to law firms. He was a partner at Sidley Austin LLP in Washington for 11 years.

He taught FDA regulation and health law and policy as an adjunct professor with the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University in Arlington (2017-19).

Payne is from the area of Finger Lakes, N.Y., where he met his high school sweetheart and wife, Jennifer. They have two children, a son at The Heights School in Potomac, Md., and a daughter at Catholic U.

Payne earned his bachelor’s degree from the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., where he graduated first in his class. He was a John M. Olin Fellow in Law and Economics and a Thomas Swann Barristers Union Prize finalist at Yale Law School in New Haven, Conn.

Payne sees a connection between law firms and schools.

“I think working with people who are incredibly smart and talented, and trying to get the best out of a community like that,” he said, “is something you have to do in both a firm and a law school.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019

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