Wednesday evening saw a great event: a party celebrating two Phoenix School of Law achievements.

As you may have heard, the state’s only for-profit law school has garnered full accreditation from the American Bar Association. And this fall, it also hired new law Dean Shirley L. Mays.

Shirley Mays, Dean of the Phoenix School of Law

At twilight on the fourth-floor patio of the Phoenix Downtown Sheraton, speakers battled with hard-working AC compressors to commemorate both accomplishments. Dean Mays spoke eloquently on the “justice gap,” in which the legal needs of many—including the elderly, veterans and the poor—are left unmet. That, she said, is one of the abiding challenges of law schools today.

Phoenix Law, Mays said, is committed to launching graduates who are “book smart and justice ready.” They seek to foster “a culture of innovation.”

“The world is in a time of mind-boggling transition,” Mays said. “The elections yesterday prove that.”

Don Lively speaking at the Phoenix Law reception. Nov. 3, 2010

Other speakers included Don Lively, the school’s first dean and now the senior vice president for parent company InfiLaw, based in Naples, Fla.; and Phoenix attorney Pat McGroder, who is on the school’s regional board of advisors.

As I left the event, I bumped into Don Lively in the elevator. We recalled how we spoke years ago in an interview when the school was first established. He laughed as he sympathized with me, who had to listen to his far-ranging musings on legal education—and beyond.

Pat McGroder

I also laughed, but I reassured him of one thing: The conversation was entirely enjoyable, mainly because of the passion he brought to it. I admit that talking to Lively takes you on a path that’s a blend of law-school lecture, Nova special on the cosmos, and a wiki on popular-culture references. But for someone who talks to lawyers all the time, Don’s passion was one of the first clues I had that something truly different was in the works at this new legal venture.

And now the ABA has weighed in—apparently they agree.

Congratulations to the school. And we look forward to more of that passion from their newest Dean.

More photos from the event are here.