College of Law welcomes new Dean Lonnie T. Brown, Jr.

The Fall 2022 semester begins with new direction from a leader who has spent years preparing to serve.

It’s 4 a.m. and Lonnie T. Brown, Jr. is awake and at work.

Sitting in the study of his home in Bogart, Georgia, Brown’s focus is on his laptop computer. Long before the stirrings of his wife and children, before most settle into their morning cup of coffee, before his students are preparing to make their way to morning classes on campus, Brown is preparing for his day.

Colleagues and friends underscore Brown’s commitment and devotion to his work. At the University of Georgia School of Law where he has been a professor for 20 years, he earned the students’ vote more than any other professor for his excellence in teaching. He was a 15-time recipient of the Student Bar Association’s Professionalism Award with nominations that praised his commitment to his craft.

When students describe their experience with Brown in the classroom, they use phrases such as “fully prepared,” “unwavering commitment,” and “best professor I’ve ever had.”  

Beyond his work in the classroom, Brown is also committed to scholarship. And thus, the reasoning behind the early start to his work day. At the conclusion of 10 years of researching, traveling and interviewing, Brown says he knew he had to turn his laser-like focus to writing as he committed to crafting the book “Defending the Public’s Enemy,” a biography of the life and legacy of Ramsey Clark. 

Brown’s fascination with the former U.S. Attorney General, who worked to secure the civil rights of Black Americans and later represented a host of controversial clients – including Nazi war criminals and even Saddam Hussein, is simple. Once he started learning about the complexities and idiosyncrasies of a man that no one else had figured out, the challenge was clear. 

Clark’s “life is a massive and extremely complicated subject,” Brown wrote in the prologue of his book. “Others had apparently begun the work of telling his story …” but “none had yet made it to the end.”

With his signature intensity and commitment, Brown spent the early mornings of the summer and fall of 2017 writing his book about Clark. 

Brown made it to the end.


Getting to know the man who’s been tapped to serve as the next dean of the University of Tennessee College of Law requires a glimpse of his past.

He was born in Orlando, Florida in 1964 to devout Catholic parents, just 10 years after the Brown v. Board of Education ruling that made segregation of African American children in schools a violation of the 14th Amendment.

During a speech in April at the annual Blackshear Gala, an event that celebrates the history of Black students at the College of Law, Brown shared details of an upbringing that exposed him to very little diversity.

“All of our neighbors were Black; my father taught biology at a Black high school; my mother was the librarian at a Black elementary school; and I attended a Black nursery school,” he said. “Throughout my early childhood, we lived in a part of town that was exclusively Black, not because we chose to, though we might have anyway, but because we had no realistic choice.” 

Brown attended Catholic schools through ninth grade before transferring to a public high school where he intended to play basketball. But when he gave up his pursuit of sports, opting instead to become involved in student leadership, a clear direction emerged.

As a high school junior, Brown was elected class vice president. As a senior he became student body president and participated in Boys State and Boys Nation. Later, at Emory University, he was elected student body president.

As a law student at Vanderbilt University, Brown became editor-in-chief of the Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law. He landed a position working as a judicial clerk for U.S. District Court Judge William C. O’Kelley and thought after the clerkship he might consider becoming a politician.

“The day of graduation, my intention was to pursue a life in politics. But my two favorite professors pulled me aside and said they thought I should consider becoming a law professor,” he said. “I was humbled that they thought enough of me to suggest that, but I thought it was a farfetched idea.”

That idea, along with O’Kelley’s influence, likely changed the trajectory of Brown’s life.

“We had a profound mutual respect for one another that transcended any areas of disagreement,” Brown said of O’Kelley, praising him for his support and guidance. 

“He epitomized professionalism … and incivility was never tolerated, not in the courtroom or in any other setting. 

“That is a lesson and practice of which I am ever mindful,” Brown said.

Brown’s early career as an attorney led him to Alston & Bird, LLP in Atlanta where he became an associate and then a partner as a general trial practice attorney specializing in financial services litigation. During his eighth year of practice, the dean of Vanderbilt Law School called and encouraged Brown to consider becoming a visiting professor for the fall semester. Brown did, and that experience was enough to help him envision what he wanted his future to hold.

He made his way to the University of Georgia School of Law after spending only three years teaching at the University of Illinois College of Law.

“The terrain and surroundings were just too unfamiliar,” he said, explaining his brief tenure, “and my wife and I wanted to return to the south, closer to friends and family.”

In Georgia, Brown hit his stride as he honed his research of legal ethics and began establishing himself as an expert in the field. He challenged the “safe harbor” provision of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11, arguing that litigation misconduct databases should be created to monitor unethical litigation behavior. He researched and wrote about racial discrimination in jury selection and the ethical issues presented when lawyers zealously advocate in the media on behalf of their clients. 

Brown also began his parallel journey chronicling Clark’s life, later describing the man as one who “advocated for the civil rights movement and courageously defended its Black leadership, even those deemed too incendiary by the mainstream.”


Brown’s pursuit of excellence in his research extended to professionalism in the classroom, said former student Dustin Marlowe, a 2006 Georgia Law graduate who is now a partner with Johnson Marlowe LLP. 

“He is absolutely the consummate professional. He was stern but never intimidating, always incredibly prepared. He was a very effective professor,” Marlowe said.

“From his demeanor and delivery alone, you just know that Professor Brown has spent hours preparing for this one 50-minute class, and you do not want to disappoint him or cause him to think that his extraordinary efforts will be wasted.”

Brown became a mentor to Marlowe and wrote a letter of recommendation to O’Kelley that helped the student land the position as a judicial clerk – the same role Brown had served in years before.

“Without a doubt Lonnie played a huge role in my success landing that position,” Marlowe said. 

Brown’s commitment to his students’ success led him to become one of the school’s most awarded professors. Graduates in the classes of 2005 through 2008 and 2011 through 2022 recognized him with the Student Bar Association’s professionalism award. He also received the C. Ronald Ellington Award for Excellence in Teaching and was named the Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professor, the university’s highest teaching honor.

They were well-deserved accomplishments, says former University of Georgia School of Law Dean Rebecca White.

“To my knowledge, no other professor has received so many teaching awards from our students,” she said. 

White witnessed students seek out Brown to advise their organizations, provide input during the bar admissions process or help them connect with potential employers. He handled each with care, compassion and professionalism, she said.

“Lonnie is someone who won’t share his opinion all the time. He is very thoughtful and is going to be very considerate in his opinions, so when he speaks, people listen,” White said. “He is someone you really want to pay attention to.”

White believes it is that quality, combined with his years of legal practice, that have made him a sought-after committee member for both university and professional legal organizations. As an administrative fellow for the University of Georgia’s provost, Brown was called on in the wake of shootings on the Virginia Tech campus to lead a committee to examine psychological services protocols. The committee’s recommendations were implemented and significantly transformed how the university went about addressing students’ mental health needs, White said.

Brown also served on the National Conference of Bar Examiners’ Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam drafting committee and is a member of the American Bar Association’s standing committee on ethics and professional responsibility. For more than a decade, he served on the formal advisory opinion board for the State Bar of Georgia.

“He is probably one of the finest people I have ever met,” White said. “He came into the academy understanding the importance of practice, so when the District of Georgia is looking for someone to help revise its rules, he’s a natural for them to turn to.”

“He gets it. He understands it,” she said. “And when he takes a position, he takes it for the right reason.”


At the end of Ben Thorpe’s first year of law school, an unexpected auction bid led him to form a relationship with Brown that has left an indelible impression.

As part of a school fundraiser auction, Thorpe and several of his classmates placed a winning bid for a steak dinner with Brown and his family at their home. 

Until that time, Thorpe had witnessed Brown’s “impeccable manner and teaching style” only in his first-year civil procedure class. He had admired Brown’s preparedness and attention to detail and appreciated the respect he commanded from the students. 

But in Brown’s home, Thorpe, now the in-house counsel to The Home Depot, saw another side of his professor, one who loves standup comedy, professional basketball and TV sitcoms.

References to the show “Parks and Recreation” even made it into the final exam, Thorpe said.

“He is a very funny guy,” Thorpe said. “He has a library of pop culture references that will come up when you don’t expect it.” 

Thorpe eventually became Brown’s research assistant when he was already immersed in researching Ramsey Clark’s life, and the subject matter was equally exciting to Thorpe.

As the men worked toward their common goal, Brown developed a relationship with his student that he acknowledged in the book that was published five years later.

Thorpe and his classmate Joe Reynolds “were more than research assistants to me,” Brown wrote. “They became partners and dear friends.” 


As Brown plans to begin his tenure with the University of Tennessee College of Law on July 1, with his signature attention to detail, he’s already preparing for this new phase of leadership.

He’s met with faculty members to discuss their needs and begin problem-solving about how to fill the gap that will be left by the six retirees. He’s taking an active role in hiring the next assistant dean for finance. And prior to accepting the job, he worked with administrators to address other financial and personnel needs within the College of Law.

High on his list of objectives is nurturing “a culture that encourages listening and learning respectfully and disagreeing civilly,” he said. “An inclusive, genuine educational community – that is what we should all strive for both inside and outside of our classrooms.”

White believes Brown will have no trouble accomplishing that goal. As an associate dean in Georgia, “he was exemplary in the role, and I trusted his judgment. He had a calm thoughtfulness to him I wish I could have emulated,” she said.

Thorpe agrees.

“There is no day when he just phones it in,” Thorpe said. “Your students will come to see that about him, and your faculty will appreciate it.” 


Note: This story originally appeared in the Spring 2022 edition of Tennessee Law magazine, produced annually by the College of Law.