Continuing a Tradition of Excellence
After five extremely successful years of serving our students, alumni, staff, and faculty, Dean Fred Lawrence has departed to become the president of Brandeis University. The Law School is now engaged in a nationwide search for his replacement. In the meantime, I greet you as the interim dean of the Law School. I would like to use this column to share a few words about what I see and what I think during this important time of transition.
The Law School is physically in great shape. Since I arrived here as an associate professor in 1993, we have expanded and upgraded our facilities in an extraordinary way. We have acquired three townhouses that host the Jacob Burns Community Legal Clinics, and we have renovated and expanded into the E-Building, Stuart Hall, and portions of Lisner Hall. We now have a fine dormitory that houses a substantial portion of our first-year class. In addition, we have upgraded our classrooms, moot courtrooms, and libraries, and we have improved the look and feel of our public spaces.
Yet despite these great measures—which have more than doubled our total space—our nearly 2,000 students, our hundreds of full- and part-time faculty members, and our dedicated staff are still a snug fit at best in our buildings. In fact, to accommodate functions that our own structures cannot hold, we are currently leasing commercial office space. For these reasons, acquiring or constructing additional facilities will be a top priority in the second decade of the 21st century.
The good news is that we have made a great start. As detailed in these pages, we have begun to construct new classrooms, moot courtrooms, and offices for student organizations across from the Law School on G Street between 20th and 21st streets. With the help of our many generous benefactors, we will continue with projects of this type until we have the finest facilities for educating our students.
The Law School curriculum has never been more impressive. We now offer over 250 different courses each semester, making the Law School's academic program comparable in size to that of a small college. We have retained the classic courses that will always be part of legal studies in this country: evidence, trusts and estates, administrative law, and so forth. But we have added dozens of new courses, many of which reflect the important challenges that America faces since 9/11: Counterterrorism law, veterans law, and cyber-security law are examples. In fact, we recently created a new LL.M. program in national security and U.S. foreign relations law, attracting top military, government, and civilian lawyers from both the United States and abroad.
The present challenge is to continue to adapt our curriculum to prepare our graduates for the exceedingly tight employment market for new lawyers. We are making fine progress. Recognizing the importance to all attorneys of having excellent communication skills, we have increased our emphasis on legal research and writing. We also want to help our students come to their first jobs with some practical experience. We have nearly doubled the number of students doing "outside placements" (internships) at federal agencies and nonprofits during the school year. Demonstrating our commitment to these matters, in the past year, we have hired two new clinical professors and two new professors of legal research and writing, and we have appointed our first assistant dean for outside placement programs. We will continue to work in this direction, welcoming the advice of our alumni and prospective employers.
We have also never had a more superior Law School faculty. While receiving exceptional evaluations from our students for their teaching, our faculty have also been extremely productive as scholars. Last year alone our professors published over 30 books and nearly 100 articles in law journals. We see the influence daily of their writing in judicial decisions, in new legislation, and in academic discourse across the country. At the same time, however, we still have significant vacancies to fill in key curricular areas. Appointing the best possible candidates is an important challenge for the future.
Finally, and most importantly, we are blessed to have exceptional students. The class that entered in 2010 is the most highly academically qualified in terms of median GPAs and LSAT scores in the history of the school. They come from a variety of backgrounds, with many having previously served in the military, in the Peace Corps, and in public interest organizations. They bring an enthusiasm for using their legal education to make a difference in the world. Our goal for the future is to ensure that the high cost of legal education does not curtail their ambitions. At present, 47 percent of our students receive some financial aid from the Law School, and yet most must still take significant loans to complete their studies. To build on our achievements in recruiting students, raising scholarship funds therefore continues to be a top priority.
I believe that the Law School is heading in the right direction. In our various challenges for the future, I see opportunities for advancement. In reading the pages of this issue of GW Law's magazine, you will learn much more about the many great things happening at the Law School. I also invite you to come and see what we are doing. Mark your calendars now for Alumni Weekend 2011 on Oct. 14. The Dean's Office will be happy to show you around, and then to hear from you about what you see and think.
Gregory E. Maggs