Dean Limelight: Mitchel L. Winick, Monterey College of Law


Mitchel L. Winick’s double-barreled title – president and dean, Monterey College of Law – neatly encapsulates both his responsibilities and the law school’s academic/work-world nature. A California state-accredited nonprofit, Monterey Law’s four-year evening program has historically served up an affordable legal education to working professionals. Even the faculty comprises practicing lawyers and judges. Winick regularly lauds them as bringing real-life experience and perspective to their classes.

Winick became dean in 2005. (“President” was added five years later.) His prior career in academe centered on Texas, where he was a lecturer (1996-99) and then assistant dean (1999-2003) at Texas Tech University School of Law. He previously taught law at the University of Houston, University of New Mexico, Southern Methodist University and Texas Wesleyan University.

A 1976 liberal arts graduate of the University of the Pacific, Winick earned a J.D. from the University of Houston Law Center in 1978. He served as an Assistant Attorney General of Texas and as interim executive director of the Texas Center for Legal Ethics and Professionalism. In the Monterey community, Winick is currently president of the non-profit ACTION Council and Girl’s Inc. of Monterey County and is on the education advisory councils for Leadership Monterey Peninsula, the Panetta Institute of Public Policy and the Monterey County Business Council.

LAWDRAGON: Describe your path to academia. What drew you into the field?

MITCHEL L. WINICK: As a third-year law student at the University of Houston, I had the opportunity to teach an undergraduate business law course. The experience made me realize that teaching law was something that I found very fulfilling. I continued to teach business law courses while I finished law school, studied for the bar exam and for a year after being licensed. Although I truly loved teaching, I was offered an opportunity to practice as an Assistant Attorney General of Texas and left academia, fully intending to return at some point. Little did I know that it would not be for 15 years.

After leaving the Texas AG’s office, I combined my interest in law and business and developed a practice as a law firm management consultant. However, I never quite forgot my interest in teaching. For approximately 10 years, I served part-time as the education director for the Texas Center for Legal Ethics and Professionalism, developing and delivering continuing education programs for lawyers across Texas and New Mexico. Teaching lawyers eventually led me back to teaching law students. I rejoined academia part-time as an adjunct law professor teaching law-office management and law-related technology. As an itinerant adjunct professor, over a period of several years I taught law-office management at Texas Wesleyan University, Southern Methodist University, University of Houston, University of New Mexico and Texas Tech University.

It was at Texas Tech that Dean Frank Newton offered me the opportunity to rejoin academia full-time as an assistant dean and lecturer. Five years later, the combination of my business, administrative and teaching experience provided the basis of being hired as dean of Monterey College of Law in California. In 2010, I was named president and dean, which better reflects my role as CEO and chief academic officer of the stand-alone, private law school. I don’t get to teach as much as I would like, but I generally teach small seminars during summer semesters and a special Jurisprudence course for our incoming first-year students.

LD: What distinguishes your institution from other law schools?

MLW: Founded in 1972, Monterey College of Law is a regional, private law school accredited by the State Bar of California. Located along the beautiful central coast of California, we offer J.D., LL.M. and Master of Legal Studies degrees in an evening, part-time program. Our tuition is one-third to one-half the cost of traditional ABA-accredited law schools. However, our cumulative bar pass rates are consistently ranked among the top California-accredited law schools. A recent alumni survey indicated that our employment rate of 82.6 percent for 2012 graduates in the job categories of J.D./J.D. Advantage/Professional (jobs requiring bar passage, those in which a J.D. gives candidates a demonstrable advantage or in which professional skills only are needed, respectively) ranks MCL graduates among the most successful among private law schools in California.

MCL’s program emphasizes practical skills and requires all law students to participate in our clinical program. We have seven separate clinical workshops where students meet with clients under the supervision of law faculty. In addition, the law school has internship programs established with the District Attorney, Public Defender, County Counsel, Superior Court, Legal Services for Seniors and other public and private law offices. In 2010, Monterey College of Law was the first law school in the U.S. to go 100 percent iPad, providing iPads to all students, faculty, and staff. The iPad program is part of an integrated bar preparation curriculum that is included in the MCL tuition.

LD: What are your biggest challenges as dean and how are you meeting them? 

MLW: Over the past several years, MCL has moved towards a more practice-oriented curriculum focus. This is what the legal industry and our students prefer. However, the regulations surrounding legal education change more slowly. MCL has expanded our legal writing programs, increased our academic support resources and become more pro-active in intervening with students who are struggling academically. Our attrition rates are down and our bar pass rates are up. The cost of legal education is a great concern. MCL, however, has a tuition program that guarantees that students’ tuition rate will not increase during their tenure as students.

LD: Are you seeing any trends in the types of jobs your students are taking?

MLW: Absolutely. Law firms and legal departments expect our graduates to arrive on the job with practical skills, ready to go. The days of having a year or two of paid on-the-job-training are long gone. Our graduates are expected to have used their practice skills courses, part-time jobs, clinical workshops and internship opportunities to develop their basic lawyering skills during their tenure as law students. It is not that there aren’t jobs available; it is that the jobs available require lawyers to be prepared to practice law upon arrival.

LD: What do you do outside the law school when you’re not being dean?

MLW: I have the great fortune of living and working in one of the most beautiful regions of the world, the Monterey Peninsula. It is also developing as one of the premier wine growing regions of California. My wife and I can usually be found hiking or on the beach virtually any weekend day, with afternoons at one of the many wine tasting rooms throughout the area. In fact, now that I am done with this, I am off to Carmel beach with a bottle of a local cabernet.