Welcome back to Ahead of the Curve. I’m Karen Sloan, legal education editor at Law.com, and I’ll be your host for this weekly look at innovation and notable developments in legal education.
This week, I’m rounding up the many new law dean announcements from Wake Forest; Ohio State; Chicago-Kent; Appalachian; and Cooley. Next up is a check-in with Law School Transparency, which has rebooted its great podcast I Am the Law with funding from the Law School Admission Council. Last is a post-mortem on a law school censorship scandal at the University of South Dakota School of Law that turned out to be not so scandalous.
Please share your thoughts and feedback with me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @KarenSloanNLJ
You Get A New Dean, And You Get a New Dean…
So many new law deans have been announced in the past two weeks that I haven’t been able to keep up, so it’s time for a quick accounting of who is soon to take the reins on law campuses. I’ve written multiple stories this spring on the gender and racial diversity of this years’ incoming dean class, and the latest batch follows that trend—at least on the gender front. Three of the five new appointments are women. (All five are white.) One of those women comes straight from the Virginia Supreme Court bench, marking the second state supreme court justice to step down to run a law school this year.
Here’s the quick rundown of the latest dean announcements:
➤➤Wake Forest University School of Law has chosen Georgetown law professor Jane Aiken as its next dean. Aiken (pictured above) is a leading expert on clinical pedagogy and founded Georgetown’s Community Justice Project, where students represent clients in matters requiring non-traditional remedies. She will replace outgoing dean Suzanne Reynolds, who has led Wake Forest since 2014.
➤➤Ohio State University Michael E. Moritz College of Law has selectedLincoln Davies to take over on July 1. Davies has spent the past 12 years teaching at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law, where he is associate dean for academic affairs. He’s an expert in energy law, and will replace current dean Alan Michaels, who has led the Columbus law school since 2008. Fun fact: Davies has run 17 marathons.
➤➤Chicago-Kent College of Law’s next dean comes from the University of Washington School of Law. Anita Krug will become the law school’s first-ever female dean when she takes over on August 1. Krug, who specializes in securities and corporate governance, has been on the University of Washington faculty since 2010. She already has experience as an interim dean.
➤➤Appalachian School of Law has tapped Virginia State Supreme Court Justice Virginia McClanahan as its next dean. McClanahan has served on the state’s high court since 2011, and was a state appellate court judge for eight years before that. She is retiring from the judiciary on Sept. 1, and will assume the Appalachian deanship the following day, replacing current dean Sandra McGlothlin.
➤➤Western Michigan University Cooley Law School has selected Texas A&M law professor James McGrath as its new president and dean. McGrath is currently the associate dean for academics and bar support at the Fort Worth law school, where he has taught since 2005. McGrath replaces longtime dean Don LeDuc, who retired from the law school after 16 years in the top job.
My thoughts: A few things occurred to me as I compiled this latest list. First, I find it interesting that we have at least two new deans coming straight from the judiciary this year, which does happen from time to time but isn’t a common occurrence. In addition to McClanahan (I’m sorry, but every time I type that name I’m conjuring up a mental image of the Golden Girls), we have North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin stepping down to become dean at Regent University School of Law. Will we see more judges vacate the bench for academia?
Second, I think it’s an interesting and challenging time to lead a law school. (When isn’t it?) We’re in a strange gray area between the worst of the legal education downturn and a possible rebound. Applicants were up 7 percent nationally last year and are tracking to be up another 2 percent this year. But schools are still grappling with budget fallouts and more from the darkest days, so it really is too soon to celebrate and add a lot of new, costly programming. In a nutshell, these new deans will need to tread cautiously because it’s unclear what the future holds for legal education.
A Valuable Resource for Law Students Returns
It’s seems a fitting time to check in with Law School Transparency. The nonprofit group dedicated to improving consumer information for prospective law students is nearing its 10th Anniversary (!!!) and it has some cool new things on tap. First is I Am The Law, a weekly podcast featuring lawyers discussing their jobs—both the good and bad aspects. The podcast debuted back in 2015 and ultimately aired 41 episodes before going on a three-year hiatus. (Read my original coverage of the podcast here.)
Now it’s back, thanks to funding from the Law School Admission Council, which has launched a relatively new initiative to better promote legal education and law careers to would-be students. Here’s Law School Transparency executive director Kyle McEntee:
“The legal profession is a bit of a black box—even to those of us in it. I Am The Law is a portfolio of recorded conversations—packaged as podcasts—that provides public education about the legal ecosystem, especially the role legal professionals play in it. We put useful information into the hands of those who want and need to learn.”
McEntee also has a new article out in the Florida International Law Review titled “More Transparency Please,” which makes the case for better information regarding to true cost of attended law school—that is, how much students borrow and what paying off those loans ultimately costs. The article also calls on the ABA to increase the public data regarding gender diversity in legal education, as well as racial and ethnic diversity. It’s a good read.
The takeaway: I’m going to focus here on I Am the Law, which should be required listening for prospective and current law students. What I like is that it delves into the day-to-day realities of all sorts of legal practice areas and settings, and is useful in breaking down vague notions of what being a lawyer entails. For example, last week’s episode featured a relatively new state public defender in Montana. I think lots of do-gooders look at public defender jobs with rose-colored glasses, so it’s helpful to hear Alicia Backus discuss her caseload, which totals 70, including two homicide cases. She also discusses how politics impact her office as well as her job security. Of course, there are also good aspects of the job, but I think it’s useful to really delve down into all the issues so that aspiring attorneys can make informed decisions.
Anatomy of a (Dumb) Scandal
Here’s the deal, the University of South Dakota School of Law was embroiled in a brouhaha this winter, and now we have the results of an investigation that chronicles just how silly the whole thing was. I’m going to spare you the gory details and give you the barest of outlines: The Student Bar Association in February planned a Hawaiian themed party as something of a winter pick-me-up, and the administration agreed to fund it. Then, a student complained to the SBA and administrators that the theme was offensive to Native Hawaiians. After some back and forth, the SBA change the event to a more general beach party.
In the meantime, media outlets misconstrued a student’s Facebook post and concluded that the university had forced the change and violated free speech principles, leading to national headlines faulting the university and decrying political-correctness run amok. The state legislature even passed a campus free speech bill in the wake of the controversy.
But those same lawmakers last week heard the results of an inquiry into the matter, which concluded that university officials weren’t involved in the name change to begin with and that no censorship occurred. Talk about a tempest in a teapot…
Extra Credit Reading
Part III of Law.com’s series on the bar exam, The Big Fail, looks at how declining pass rates are impacting legal employers.
Remember those Clooneys at Columbia that I talked about last week? Here’s the report on their campus appearance to promote TrialWatch.
Law schools did not collude with Barbri to keep a bar exam prep competitor out of the market, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has ruled.
The LGBT Bar Association has launched its first annual “Law School Climate” survey, which found that most schools have policies in place to support LGBTQ students.
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I’ll be back next week with more news and updates on the future of legal education. Until then, keep in touch at email@example.com