September 17, 2020

Dean Payne talking to studentsThe faculty at Catholic Law is comprised of educators dedicated to teaching, scholarship, and service. They are experts in their fields and bring the full breadth of their experiences as practitioners into their classrooms.

Dean Stephen C. Payne credits his early career in the Army JAG Corps for his strong foundation as a lawyer. “I started off as a JAG Corps prosecutor. I really appreciate having that foundation. In the Army working general crimes, you are much more like a local prosecutor in that role. That gave me great skills and taught me how to be a lawyer, so when I went into private practice and worked on complex, sophisticated corporate crimes and corporate criminal investigations, I was good. That experience was a good foundation.”

During his time in the JAG Corps at Fort Benning, Dean Payne spent his first year as a legal assistance attorney, helping military personnel and their dependents through a variety of legal problems. He was later appointed as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, responsible for investigating and prosecuting civilian felony crimes on the federal installation. It was when he came out of the JAG Corps and entered civilian, large firm practice that he fully “realized that [he] was a litigator and that the investigative world is where [he] fit best.” Turning his focus to healthcare law, Dean Payne was able to continue to widen his breadth of experience as a lawyer. “One of the reasons I liked this area of practice was that it was very complex, so interesting, and relied on many different skills required of a lawyer and many different substantive areas [...] And so, I got to do criminal law, civil law, and complex regulatory law as well which is why I stayed in it for so long.”

After 22 years of practice, Dean Payne thought that the opportunity to teach had almost passed him by, but he learned the importance of raising others up. “I learned over the years that the most satisfying thing for me about my practice was developing up-and-coming people, to really launch their careers. And that’s a big reason why I was interested in becoming the Dean of the Law School. Now rather than just doing that with the couple dozen people that I worked with, I can do that with hundreds of students a year.”

Admittedly, there is a steep learning curve when starting out in law school. Dean Payne noted, “It’s not as easy as reading for understanding and then going and applying it. You have to practice the analysis over and over again, and practice the application of it [...] but I think if you combine diligence on the technical side with trying to develop a lawyer’s judgement, you’ll do well.” As a final bit of advice to first-year students, Dean Payne added, “I would just advise first-year students just to really immerse themselves. Soak it all in. Debate with their peers. Take advantage of their opportunities to ask professors questions—our faculty really cares about the students. And take advantage of our alumni network as well. They’re involved in a lot of the activities we do and they are just incredible.”