UALR Law School Dean Michael Schwartz on Changes in Legal Education

Michael Schwartz begins as dean of the Bowen School of Law on July 1 and replaces Paula Casey, who has been interim dean since the resignation a year ago of Dean John DiPippa.

Michael Schwartz has more than 20 years of experience in legal education. Most recently he was associate dean for faculty and academic development at Washburn University School of Law in Topeka, Kan. Before that, he was a professor of law at the Charleston School of Law in South Carolina and at Western State University College of Law in Fullerton, Calif. He has practiced contracts, insurance and construction law as an associate attorney. He received his Juris Doctor in 1987 from the University of California Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco.

Q: What advice would you give to a student considering going to law school?

A: Legal education remains a great opportunity, but today’s law student needs to be more selective and choose carefully. I would advise students to calculate the amount of debt they will accumulate and minimize it. Rather than focusing on national trends and data, students need to compare tuition and job opportunities associated with each of the law schools they are considering. They should even compare law school to alternative graduate school choices. For example, for students who aspire to careers directing nonprofits or in business, a law degree can distinguish them from other candidates. Finally, students should visit the law schools they are considering and sit in on class sessions.

How has the education of young lawyers changed in the past few decades?

Legal education has progressed shockingly little from its 1870s foundations. I do think most law schools today place a more appropriate and greater focus on legal writing and offer clinical and externship opportunities unheard of 50 years ago.

What changes in curriculum or skills training are being contemplated?

The Carnegie Foundation’s 2007 “Educating Lawyers” called on law schools to do a much better job developing students’ professional values and sense of professional identity, and I have just launched a scholarly project aimed at finding ways to accomplish these goals throughout the law school curriculum. I’d like to see Bowen seize a leadership role in this area. Law students should not graduate having never done any authentic legal work, and Bowen already has the capacity for all of its students to have at least one clinical or externship experience. The next logical step would be to require all graduates to complete one or the other.

Finally, this past year, my contract-drafting students had the opportunity to interview and try their hand at drafting a contract needed by a local nonprofit. The executive director reported to me that her experience working with my students was more empowering than any of her past interactions with real lawyers. Clients often report that lawyers are deal killers. Law schools owe a duty to society to do a better job of producing lawyers who solve, not create, problems. Bowen can develop its offerings in this area. Bowen, like nearly all law schools, needs to deliver on its promises to implement the best practices in teaching and assessment. We have already taken an important step in this direction by establishing Bowen as a co-sponsor of the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning.

What do you make of the various reports saying law graduates are having difficulty finding jobs as attorneys?

Those reports concern me. Nationally, the field does have issues. Tuition has soared, and the competition for jobs has stiffened. However, those two issues play out very differently in Arkansas. For example, whereas tuition at some law schools is as high as $50,000 per year, tuition at Bowen is less than one-third that amount. Similarly, whereas Massachusetts, for example, has roughly 64 lawyers per 10,000 residents, Arkansas has only 20.1 lawyers per 10,000 residents, ranking its ratio lower than the ratios of all 49 other states.