The job of law dean, as Gary Myers sees it, is mostly about constituencies and collaborative relationships. “I only wish I had realized in advance how many different constituencies we serve beyond the obvious ones – students, faculty, staff and alumni,” Myers, dean of the University of Missouri School of Law, said in an interview.
Every interaction, he said, allows him to move beyond a limited connection to a long-term alliance that will benefit the law school. It’s a multitasking challenge, Myers said, in which he is sometimes “learning by doing.”
What he has done so far is to deliver on his vision for the law school: expanding skills-training and experiential learning opportunities so that Mizzou Law students are better ready to practice law on graduation; building on the school’s well-known Center for Dispute Resolution by creating a small roster of such practice-area centers; seeking synergistic collaborations within the university and local communities, and continuing to recruit and retain high-quality faculty members and students.
It is a vision informed by Myers’ 23 years as a professor and, for several years, administrator at the University of Mississippi School of Law, where he became the first associate dean of research in 2009. Both Ole Miss and Mizzou Law, he has pointed out, are state flagship law schools that have historically produced leaders and leading lawyers, especially for their respective states.
His vision has been shaped, too, by an education and career in intellectual property law that, after graduating from New York University, took him and kept him in the American South: Myers received his juris doctorate from Duke University School of Law, where he also earned an M.A. in economics in a joint degree program. He clerked for Judge Gerald Tjoflat of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in Jacksonville, Fla., then went to the Atlanta law firm of Powell, Goldstein, Frazer & Murphy (which has since merged with Bryan Cave) where he practiced complex commercial litigation.
Myers has been a visiting professor of law at the College of William & Mary Law School and Tulane University Law School. He served as a Distinguished Visiting Professor of Law at the Loyola University College of Law in New Orleans.
LAWDRAGON: What drew you into the field of legal academia?
GARY MYERS: When I was in college I took a class in the Classics Department on the law of ancient civilizations, particularly Greece and Rome. This class sparked my interest in law more generally and eventually led to my decision to apply to law school. After law school I worked for a federal appeals court judge in Florida and for a large law firm in Atlanta. During this time, I realized that a career in law teaching would appeal to me.
LD: What was it about teaching that was so alluring?
GM: I enjoyed the ability of law professors to focus both on teaching and on research. Part of what’s fun about teaching is the daily interaction with students. Every day is different. It’s also wonderful to watch them grow, become practicing lawyers and see them 10 years down the road. I often do meet up with them years after they graduated as I travel around the country.
After more than two decades as a law professor, I made the shift to administrative work and to my role as dean, which I find both challenging and enjoyable.
LD: Was there anything that surprised you when you made that move?
GM: To begin with, 10 years ago I probably wouldn’t have guessed that I would take on this role at all, given the pressure and responsibilities inherent in the position. When I actually started considering the job, I experienced a shift in my thinking. As with teaching, no two days are the same. Every day brings new developments – sometimes good and sometimes not, but always information that challenges me to make life here better for students, faculty and staff.
True, the general state of legal education is challenging for any dean. After two years in this job, I think we’re doing particularly well given that challenging environment. Our cost, for example, is still a relative bargain — less than $20,000 for those who qualify as in-state residents. That gives us an immediate advantage because students are particularly concerned about debt.
Employment is another appropriate concern. I’m delighted to say that of our 2013 graduating class, 93.8 percent were employed nine months after graduation, which is the time period used by the American Bar Association. This includes some graduates in what we call “J.D.-advantage” jobs, where the juris doctorate made them a likelier hire, and a few in non-J.D. jobs. If we define employed to include only jobs requiring passing a bar exam and J.D. advantage, then 78.6 percent of the 2013 class was employed nine months after graduation.
LD: What do you wish you knew before you became dean?
GM: The people who chaired the search committee – Dean Joan Gabel, dean of the business school, and Prof. Thom Lambert from the law faculty – were gracious and persuasive as to why I would want to come to this school at this university. They made the leap seem natural.
What I wish I had known in advance: well, until someone takes the job it’s hard to know how many different things a dean is expected to do and the number of constituencies we serve. There are the obvious ones – students, faculty, staff and alumni. There are also the less obvious ones: the other deans of schools around the campus, the deans at other law schools, the vendors of goods and services who come to campus. Everyone you meet, everyone I meet – the architect who is designing an expansion, the groundskeepers – presents me with an opportunity to build relationships with people who can help improve the law school.
The bottom line is that being dean is a multitasking job at which I sometimes learn by doing.
LD: What distinguishes your institution from other law schools?
GM: Not that this differentiates us from other law schools, but I do want to point out that we completed an upgrade of the classrooms the day before orientation began. What I’m hearing from students is how comfortable our classrooms are, how they offer a pleasing and supportive place in which to study. This is especially true now that students have individual internet connections and electrical outlets at their desks or tables.
Taking a more global perspective, the University of Missouri School of Law offers what many law schools cannot – an affordable, accessible legal education that is of high quality.
Our faculty is recognized for its scholarly work and for its teaching excellence. Faculty members are regarded as experts in their fields. The nation’s leading patent law blog, for example, is authored by Dennis Crouch, a Mizzou Law professor who has testified before Congress on patent law reform. Faculty members such as Dennis provide our students with a challenging and practical education.
Our trial practice program gives students a hands-on experience, including the option of taking a January course with outstanding judges and lawyers and an advanced trial practice course taught by two of the leading trial practice attorneys in Missouri. Mizzou Law students have the opportunity to further hone their skills in one of our outstanding clinical programs.
Our responsibility isn’t just to educate students, though. We also support them as they search for meaningful employment in the legal profession, public sector or business world. The Mizzou Law alumni network stretches far and wide, both geographically and in areas of practice. It includes alumni practicing in 50 states and in 21 countries around the world.
You will find our alumni in all areas of practice: public service, government, business, academia, dispute resolution and at law firms of all sizes. They serve as the current governor and attorney general of Missouri, members of the U.S. Congress and the Missouri legislature, and as partners at some of the nation’s best law firms. Our Office of Career Development offers students personalized attention as they examine career options.
LD: What specifically are you doing to help students find “meaningful” employment?
GM: One approach we’ve adopted is to increase the number of concentrations – tax and criminal law, for example – that students can take. We are about to open a new center on intellectual property and entrepreneurship, both of which are high growth areas for employment. By allowing students to focus on these concentrations, we’re enabling them to stand out.
We have added new faculty members, but that was within our existing budget so there has been no increase in tuition this year, besides the university-wide inflation rate.
One of the features of the new center, which is supported by outside funding for the first year, is a clinic that focuses on small business startups. We hope to serve some eligible small businesses on campus as well as small businesses in the local community and region as we partner with other parts of the campus on some aspects of what students in the clinic will do.
This is both an exciting opportunity to help small-business owners, to provide students with hands-on training and to point them to non-litigation careers – that is, to careers in the law that don’t involve courtrooms and trials, and that do involve transactional work. In effect, we’re broadening students’ notions of what lawyers do.
LD: Are there other new programs or initiatives that serve that purpose?
GM: In the spring semester of 2014, the University of Missouri School of Law started a Veterans Clinic to help veterans and their families secure disability benefits.
Student work is done at the Board of Veterans’ Appeals level and before the Court of Appeals for Veterans’ Claims. Students are supervised by an experienced attorney at each step, and have the opportunity to work in a law firm atmosphere within the law school serving real client needs. Law students interested in personal injury, civil litigation or administrative law can benefit from the skills taught in this clinic.
The Veterans Clinic is an important addition to the school’s current clinical offerings. Other clinics at the law school address issues relating to domestic violence, criminal prosecution, criminal defense and mediation. The new Veterans Clinic is another opportunity for students to be better equipped to start the practice of law immediately after graduation.
The Veterans Clinic course includes a weekly lecture on the substantive law relating to veterans’ benefits followed by work with the actual veteran files. Students have a variety of hands-on experiences in the clinic:
- Interview clients, witnesses and medical personnel.
- Research and develop the law and facts of the case, draft pleadings and prepare briefs.
- Interact with other practitioners in the area of federal veterans law, thereby encouraging networking development.
- Encouragement to become members of the National Organization of Veterans Advocates (NOVA) and to attend one of the NOVA conferences, which are held twice annually.
The Veterans Clinic is designed to teach a host of practical skills, including law firm and time management, client interviewing and counseling, problem solving, legal theory development, negotiation, data collection, witness statements, medical records analysis, appellate brief writing and argument. The clinic also highlights the importance of pro bono work in a lawyer’s professional life and serves the needs of our nation’s veterans.
I want to add that the Veterans Clinic is supervised by Professor Angela Drake, who is a self-professed Army brat and the product of the G.I. Bill. Her father, Maj. Joe W. Green, was a career Army officer killed in action in Vietnam on April 1, 1970. Those who served with Maj. Green wrote about his dedication and devotion to duty. Professor Drake remembers him fondly as a real-life G.I. Joe, who allowed his only daughter to become a duly qualified “Junior Jumper” at the very jump tower he used for paratrooper training in Fort Benning before his final tour in Vietnam.
Professor Drake has extensive experience in civil litigation, including cases involving medical records. She was a partner in the Kansas City firm of Niewald, Waldeck & Brown until 2003, and continued her practice in Springfield, Mo., with Lowther Johnson, LLC, as a member of the firm through 2012. In her practice, she focused on insurance defense work and complex class action litigation. She remains of counsel to Lowther Johnson and teaches trial practice, pretrial litigation and insurance law at the University of Missouri School of Law.
LD: What are your biggest challenges as dean and how are you meeting them?
GM: Our biggest challenge is that we operate with very limited resources. My goal, then, is to raise more funds through private donations and from other sources – to really expand that base so that we can offer students scholarships and better help fund our programs.
You know the demand is there for more hands-on skillset courses, and those are expensive. Clinics, by definition, serve smaller classes – perhaps eight students at a time, as against 80 students in a room with a professor at the front.
We are also taking steps to operate the law school in as efficient a manner as possible.
LD: What does that entail?
GM: Like every law school dean in today’s environment, I’m trying to make sure we receive value for the dollar. That means finding less expensive ways to travel, working with vendors to lower operating costs without compromising quality and the delivery of products and services.
There are some changes we are considering that will take years. Distance learning, for example, is something we’re looking at for the long haul. It could be combined with expanded externship opportunities, which would make the third year of law school here richer with more practically grounded courses available in that third year. It might enable us to send our students out into communities where they have family or where they have long-term career goals and continue their education off-campus. It would also be a more cost-effective way to deliver legal education and might, thus, save students tuition dollars in the end.
LD: Are you seeing any trends in the jobs your students are taking?
GM: While the economy continues to make it challenging for students to locate employment after graduation, our employment trends have been relatively stable over the past few years. Overall, the percentage of our students employed by law firms, working as judicial clerks and working with government, public interest and business employers is comparable to what it was pre-recession. And as I said, we are pleased with our success in placement despite the difficult market for lawyers.
LD: What do you do outside the classroom when you’re not being dean?
GM: I enjoy spending time with my family, walking on the trails around Columbia with my Great Dane, Charlie, going to concerts and festivals, and traveling. I try to make time for reading, although my reading time has been dramatically reduced since taking this position.
Contact Margot Slade at (646) 722-2623 or firstname.lastname@example.org.