John G. Browning 2014-10-27 19:52:01
Fresh faces at law school campuses across Texas are eager to learn, gain experience, and lead. And they’re not just students. This fall, as thousands of students returned to law schools throughout Texas, an unprecedented changing of the guard took place. At four of the state’s nine American Bar Association-accredited institutions, new faces appeared in the dean’s suite. At the same time, Dean Royal Furgeson of the fledgling UNT Dallas College of Law welcomed the school’s first incoming class. These new deans assume the mantle of leadership not only at critical junctures in their schools’ histories but also at what may be a tipping point in American legal education. Who are these leaders, and what plans do they have to meet the challenges of sweeping changes in the legal job market and the call for reforms in legal education? On July 1, 2014, Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law welcomed Jennifer M. Collins, its first new dean in nearly two decades and its first female dean. The newly minted Judge James Noel Dean and Professor of Law comes to SMU from North Carolina’s Wake Forest University School of Law, where she spent more than 10 years—first on the law faculty and then as vice provost. Collins is a rarity in legal academia. Although her resume boasts many of the typical hallmarks for life in the ivory tower (bachelor’s degree from Yale, J.D. from Harvard, and a federal judicial clerkship with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit), she also has spent considerable time in the trenches of regular practice. After short stints with a Washington, D.C., law firm and the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel, Collins worked for eight years as an assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. There, she served in the homicide section and prosecuted more than 30 jury trials. One of the most memorable was a series of murders that rocked Gallaudet University, the prominent D.C. college for the deaf. According to Collins, this firsthand experience has helped her in many ways, such as being able to hone a skill needed by law professors and university officials almost as much as by prosecutors: storytelling. “As a teacher of future lawyers, it helps to be able to share stories and bring the real world into my classroom,” she said. “Being able to share information in a compelling way is critical to my role as an administrator making presentations to faculty, students, parents, trustees, and donors.” Collins’s background also has been a springboard for her scholarly work, which includes authoring a book, numerous law review articles on families and the criminal justice system, and an upcoming research project about crime on college campuses. As for the legal job market faced by her graduates? Collins acknowledges that these concerns are a priority. “It’s vital to maintain and expand upon our ties to the alumni base, the legal community, and the business community,” she said. She is excited about SMU’s expanded opportunities for experiential learning through the school’s soon-to-open family law and domestic violence clinics, as well as trademark and patent clinics. When asked about the all-important rankings and competition from two new public law schools in the DFW Metroplex, Collins waxes philosophical: “All we can do is continue to offer students the best education they can get and the best job placement prospects.” Just 30 or so miles west of SMU, Texas A&M University School of Law welcomed its inaugural Anthony G. Buzbee Dean, Andrew P. Morriss, on July 1. Morriss boasts an impressive academic pedigree, including an undergraduate degree from Princeton, a master’s in public affairs and a law degree from the University of Texas at Austin, and a doctorate in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Aggies need not fret too much over Morriss’s lack of maroon credentials—his wife, Carol Akers, is a 1987 graduate. Morriss previously was chair at the University of Alabama School of Law and, prior to that, held positions at the University of Illinois and Case Western Reserve law schools. He is a nationally recognized scholar of regulatory issues involving environmental, energy, and offshore financial centers and is author or co-author of more than 60 articles, chapters, and books. He is affiliated with a variety of public policy think tanks, including the Regulatory Studies Center at George Washington University and the Institute for Energy Research at Washington, D.C. Morriss comes on board at an exciting time in the school’s history, less than a year after Texas A&M acquired the law school from Texas Wesleyan University. He points out that with the name change alone, applications increased by 40 percent at a time when other law schools were experiencing double-digit declines. As for the goals he has for the currently unranked law school, Morriss is cautiously optimistic. “The most important thing about rankings is that you never do anything for rankings’ sake. You do things to make the student experience better and those things lead to improvements in rankings,” Morriss said. One way to do this, according to Morriss, is making use of “our being part of the A&M family to build on the strengths A&M has—the incredible science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.” While acknowledging that the law school hopes to offer courses in other parts of the state, Morriss quashed rumors about relocating. “I don’t think there are any plans to move the law school anywhere,” he said. “My understanding is that the commitment is to stay in Fort Worth.” On Aug. 15, the University of Houston Law Center welcomed Leonard M. Baynes, the institution’s ninth dean. Baynes received his undergraduate degree from New York University before earning an M.B.A. and a J.D. at Columbia University. Baynes, a former federal court judicial clerk, has a national reputation as a scholar in the areas of communications law and diversity issues, having authored more than 25 law review articles as well as a forthcoming casebook on telecommunications law. Prior to taking the reins at UH, Baynes was the director of the Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights and Economic Development at St. John’s University School of Law in New York. A member of both the New York and Massachusetts bars, his practice experience includes stints as in-house counsel for NYNEX Corp. and as a scholar-in-residence at the Federal Communications Commission. Baynes has received a number of accolades for being a longtime champion of diversity. In 2010, the New York Bar Association honored him with its Diversity Trailblazer Award, and in 2011, the ABA presented him with its Alexander Award. Baynes also was inducted into the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council Hall of Fame. Baynes’s two biggest goals are to enhance the law center’s reputation, while training law students to “transform the world by representing individual clients to secure justice, as well as provide the legal architecture of global and national social, political, and economic advocacy.” This year, he instituted a voluntary “Community Service Day” for incoming students as a way of instilling the value of public service in these future lawyers. More than 180 students and faculty and staff members participated in the event, putting in time at the Houston Food Bank and a local community center. Baynes plans to launch a pipeline program to create more opportunities for those from minority and economically challenged backgrounds to attend the law school. Another long-term goal is a new home for the law school. As Baynes put it, “A world-class institution in a world-class city requires a world-class building.” On June 1, St. Mary’s University School of Law bid farewell to Dean Charles Cantú, who returned to teaching after serving in the top position for seven years, and welcomed Stephen M. Sheppard, the eighth dean in the school’s 87-year history. Sheppard previously served as the associate dean for research and development at the University of Arkansas School of Law, where he also was the William H. Enfield Distinguished Professor of Law. Sheppard earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Southern Mississippi before receiving his J.D., a Master of Laws, and ultimately a Doctor of the Science of Law degree from Columbia. He also received a post-doctorate certificate in international law from Columbia and a Master of Letters from the University of Oxford. A fellow of the Royal Historical Society, Sheppard’s scholarly writings cover the areas of legal history (particularly the development of English law in the 17th century), legal philosophy, comparative and international law, and the law of war. After serving as a law clerk to two federal judges, Sheppard practiced law with Phelps Dunbar in its Louisiana, Mississippi, and London offices and continued consulting on a part-time basis for governmental agencies and other groups. “I wanted to keep my oars in the water of practice,” he said. “You see the world differently if you have to be in front of a judge and other counsel, and you bring that focus back to the classroom.” Of his new position, Sheppard noted: “St. Mary’s has one of the nation’s great traditions in developing skills, character, and leadership in the law. I am proud of its achievements and look forward to stewarding its mission for the future.” JOHN G. BROWNING is the administrative partner of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith in Dallas, where he handles civil litigation in state and federal courts in areas ranging from employment and intellectual property to commercial cases and defense of products liability, professional liability, media law, and general negligence matters. He also serves as an adjunct professor at Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law, where he teaches the course “Social Media and the Law.”
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