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Dean's Message

Dean's Message

This fall the Law School celebrates its 125th anniversary, giving us an opportunity to reflect both on our history and our future.

In 1888, under the leadership of practicing attorney and former state legislator William S. Pattee, 32 day students and 35 night students gathered in a small, poorly ventilated room in the basement of the University's main building to begin the study of law. Within 20 years, the new law school would grow to nearly 500 students.

Over the next 100 years, as the economy grew rapidly in size and complexity, the Law School grew in stature and ambition. Today, with 60 full-time faculty, nearly 200 adjuncts, and more than 800 students, the Law School is one of the top public law schools in the country. Its graduates have had a profound impact on shaping the law and serving the community, not just in Minnesota but across the country and around the world.

But legal education now faces many challenges. High tuition and a very tight job market have combined to drive down applications. Some continue to question the value of a law degree, although recent studies continue to show a strong return on investment for most students.

A few weeks ago, even the President of the United States weighed in, saying, "I believe that law schools would probably be wise to think about being two years instead of three years." Professor Morrison and I don't agree, and said so in a commentary in Minnesota Lawyer. Law is becoming more and more complex, and expectations for students are higher than ever. In addition to courses in theory and doctrine, we now offer practical skills training, teach insights and methods from other disciplines—from economics to history—and cover many subjects (such as cyberlaw) that didn't exist when the President was in school.

A two-year curriculum would consist largely of required and recommended core courses. Opportunities to participate in clinics, multidisciplinary capstone courses, joint degree programs, moot courts and law journals, or to study abroad, would largely disappear. This might work if law firms and other employers offered appropriately designed and supervised apprenticeships. But law firms have not shown much appetite for expanding training programs, and clients have shown even less interest in paying for it.

For now, we will continue to focus on providing, over three years, the best possible legal education and attracting students who will make the most of it. Again this year we are proud to welcome an extraordinary entering class. As always, it's a remarkably talented group by the usual academic standards. But it's a remarkably talented group in other ways as well. Among our 222 new JD students are professional DJs, champion figure skaters, mountain climbers, ultimate Frisbee pros, black belts (including a member of the martial arts hall of fame), ski-team captains, professional musicians, comedy troupe members, mediators, missionaries, reporters, Senate interns, debate champions, Peace Corps volunteers, national handball champions, veterans, entrepreneurs, and business owners—just to name a few. They are joined by 47 transfer students, 11 Humphrey Fellows, and 68 LL.M. students from around the world, a significant increase from last year's total of 48.

To commemorate the Law School's 125th milestone, we will have a week of activities both scholarly and social. You can find all these events listed in the News and Events section of this newsletter. I encourage you to take advantage of the many opportunities to re-connect with other alumni and faculty.

Since 1888, our mission has remained the same: to educate men and women in the law principally through instruction and high-quality programs; to contribute substantially to knowledge of the legal order through publication and other dissemination of scholarship; and to provide discipline-related public service to the University, the state, the international community and the legal profession.

With your support, the Law School will remain true to its mission even as it continues to adapt and improve to meet the needs of our fast-changing world.

David Wippman
Dean and William S. Pattee Professor of Law