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November 15, 2001

Focusing on a law school that consistently ranks among the top ten in the nation, the Envision discussion brought to light the values and distinguishing qualities that define the study of law at the University of Virginia. The image that emerged from this exchange is that of a public-spirited law school that places a premium on collegiality among faculty and students, on the ethical standards of the profession, and on the synthesis of theoretical analysis and practical training. Above all, the School of Law is committed to providing the most rewarding and enriching student experience in the nation.

A Collegial and Diverse Community
The theme of collegiality surfaced frequently in the Envision session. This core value touches many aspects of the Law School’s operations, from academic decision making to the way faculty interact with their students and with their colleagues. The Law School’s warm and supportive atmosphere contributes to the loyalty of alumni, who as students are afforded frequent interaction with faculty, both in formal and informal academic settings. Junior faculty are especially important in this regard, since they are more likely to have close contacts with students. The Law School has one of the strongest cadres of young faculty among its peers, but competition for young scholars is becoming more intense.

The Law School’s collegial environment promotes healthy interchange among a faculty that is increasingly diverse in terms of academic interests, political and ideological perspectives, and training. This spirit of collegiality and openness endures even when opinions differ. The faculty’s ability to work out disagreements (or to agree to disagree) in a collegial way, it was noted, stems from shared standards of merit.

In a time of increasing specialization in other fields, the Law School has become a community of scholars with advanced training in a broad range of academic disciplines. Indeed, it was observed that the Jeffersonian ideal of the Academical Village is embodied in the Law School, which is one of the rare places where faculty trained in law work beside Ph.D.s in economics, philosophy, psychology, history, and other fields. In the past, a law faculty was composed primarily of lawyers who had clerked for Supreme Court justices or other distinguished judges. Today, the faculty combines those who are steeped in the practice and principles of the law with scholars who can place the law in a larger theoretical and social context.

This rich academic mix also reflects the needs and interests of students, who increasingly put their legal training to work in fields other than the law. Even within the law, the growing complexity of the profession and the matters it must deal with demand familiarity with many subject areas. Likewise, the scholarly work of the Law School now must extend to an array of disciplines outside traditional legal studies.

Working in the Public Interest
With its strong commitment to public interest law, the Law School is well positioned to be a significant contributor to the Virginia 2020 initiative to strengthen public service and outreach activities at the University. The Law School has taken steps to enable students to pursue careers in public interest law, and these efforts should be expanded, according to Envision participants. As one faculty member noted, the Law School must continue to produce alumni and alumnae like Elaine Jones, director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, and Linda Fairstein, New York’s chief sex crimes prosecutor.

In addition to providing courses and seminars that focus on public interest matters, the Law School must do more to help students afford to enter this arena, which typically offers less lucrative salaries than other areas of practice. Fellowships and loan-forgiveness funds reduce the debt burden on law graduates who choose public interest careers, but these programs need to be enlarged. It was noted that the financial burden of attending the Law School affects all students, not just those interested in public interest law. Students plagued by financial worries or who must work to meet expenses are not able to immerse themselves as fully in their academic pursuits or in the life of the Law School.

The Student Experience
The Law School’s commitment to superb teaching, innovative courses, and low student-faculty ratios contribute to a student experience of unmatched quality, according to Envision participants. First-year classes are kept small, and students are often invited into faculty homes for dinners and reading seminars. Academic interchange between students and faculty takes place in an atmosphere of admiration and respect. The faculty’s research enriches work in the classroom, and the school’s most productive scholars are typically among its most highly regarded teachers.

The Law School’s 175th anniversary commemoration this fall provided the occasion to examine the future direction of legal training. The challenge facing law schools, it was pointed out, is to find more ways to integrate legal theory with the real-world responsibilities students will encounter when they enter the profession. Simply offering more "how-to" courses will not suffice. Rather, it was suggested that students have more opportunities to work in small groups with faculty to explore the connections between academic questions and real-world issues.

The Law School is addressing this need with a seminar series called Principles and Practice, which bridges the theoretical and the practical in compelling ways. In this program, judges and practicing lawyers team-teach with members of the faculty, using course materials created from real-world situations in law offices and judges’ chambers. Students find these courses highly rewarding, but for faculty, they are labor-intensive. Although time in the classroom is shared with the visiting practitioner, the burden of planning and logistics falls on the faculty member, and faculty find it difficult to sustain this pace over more than two or three semesters. The Law School will need to find ways to rotate faculty through these seminars or to offer other inducements to keep these courses going.

The Law School is open to innovation in teaching, but it recognizes when time-honored methods work best. This is the case with first-year courses designed to inculcate analytical and problem-solving skills. Traditional approaches continue to serve students well in these courses, which, as one faculty member observed, are really about learning how to read and think in critical ways. At the same time, faculty are venturing into the use of new technology in their teaching, especially when it is relevant to the subject area. A course on modern methods of proof, for example, uses advanced technology to demonstrate ways to present evidence to a jury.

Ethics and Values
The inculcation of ethical principles permeates the classroom experience in the School of Law and stands out as one of its core values. Going beyond instructing students in the rules of the profession, which is required knowledge for passing the bar, the teaching of ethics in the Law School promotes a fundamental way of thinking. Ethical studies are integrated into the curriculum in ways that command students’ attention, such as seminars taught by faculty in their homes that often use works of literature and other non-traditional materials to illustrate ethical dilemmas. Seminars have focused on ethical problems in the management of law firms, the ethics of affirmative action in a meritocracy, the ethics of criminal procedure, ethics in time of war, and ethical issues in intercollegiate athletics. In these and other courses, the Law School puts tremendous effort into making the subject of ethics come alive for students. As one faculty member put it, these discussions capture students’ imaginations and carry over into their subsequent lives.

The Law School is a prominent participant in the University’s new Institute for Practical Ethics and is collaborating with the College and with outside practitioners to offer graduate-level seminars on environmental ethics. These courses draw students from a wide variety of disciplines, which makes for free and lively discourse on the subject.

The International Dimension
As the University seeks to raise its international profile through the Virginia 2020 initiative, the Law School is extending its reach to students, faculty, and institutions abroad. The Law School currently enrolls students from more than twenty countries, including foreign academics who are seeking a greater depth of knowledge of American law. Most international business transactions, it was noted, are conducted within the framework of American or English law. Students from abroad add a valuable dimension to classroom discussions and expose their American peers to international perspectives on the law and related issues.

To ensure that international students have a rewarding experience and contribute fully to intellectual discourse in the Law School, more language training will be required. The Law School is working with the University’s ESL program to address this issue.

To provide opportunities for American students in the Law School to study abroad, the school is seeking out programs that have sufficient academic rigor to warrant awarding credit for taking part in them. The Law School is developing a relationship with Bucerius Law School in Germany that shows great promise in this regard.

The Law School’s programs in international law are built on a long and distinguished tradition. The late Hardy Dillard, a former dean of the Law School, served on the International Court of Justice, and the Virginia Journal of International Law is the oldest continuously published student-edited law review of its kind in the country. The Law School is also home to the John Bassett Moore Society of International Law, which was founded a half-century ago. These programs enable the Law School to attract first-rate students interested in this field.

Opportunities for Collaboration
To prepare future lawyers for handling disputes in medicine, business, bioengineering, and many other fields, the Law School has developed links with other schools on the Grounds and is open to creating new ones. There are faculty who hold joint appointments in law and medicine, and the Law School draws on the expertise of a number of faculty around Grounds, among them Charles McCurdy (legal history), Paul Lombardo (bioethics), and Whitfield Broome (accounting).

Although the age and experience gap between law and Darden students is somewhat of a hindrance to greater collaboration between the North Grounds neighbors, it was noted that bringing law and Darden students together is much like putting lawyers and clients in the same room. The results could be promising.

It was observed that interdisciplinary collaboration is often costly in terms of faculty time and resources. The University will need to provide the leadership and the funding to promote collaborative instruction and scholarship between the Law School and other schools.

Funding the Law School
The Law School and the Law School Foundation, which recently set a record for funds raised in a law school campaign, have developed effective annual giving and reunion giving programs that are very donor-friendly. Blurring the typical boundaries between types of giving, it was noted, affords a generous and problem-free approach to donor recognition.

The Law School Foundation’s fund-raising staff of 5.5 professionals (as compared with 23 at Harvard) is made up largely of law alumni who can approach prospective donors with a message of shared values and shared experiences. Their work has enabled the Law School to become virtually self-sufficient.

Faculty were asked what sets the two or three top law schools in the nation apart from the competition. Their answer: the top schools are "private and rich" and simply being "rich" may be sufficient to reach the pinnacle of legal education. Although the Law School now holds an endowment of some $150 million, this figure is significantly below the assets held by the very top tier of schools. Enlarging this perpetual source of revenue is one of the Law School’s strategic goals.

Virginia Law, But Better
Offering a remarkably collegial environment, a faculty of outstanding scholars and teachers, and a student experience unrivaled among law schools, the School of Law intends to build on its present strengths and momentum. It is confident in the model of legal education it has developed, regarding it as fundamentally sound even as it works to improve it. As it does so, the Law School will have the support of a loyal community of alumni. They feel an obligation to preserve a unique academic culture for the benefit of future generations of students


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Last Modified: Thursday, 16-Feb-2006 08:38:51 EST
Copyright 2003 by the Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia

 

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