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image: Campus NewsUncommon law: new dean builds on old model

On July 1 Saul Levmore assumed the deanship of the Law School ("Chicago Journal," June/01). The William B. Graham professor of law since joining Chicago from the University of Virginia in 1998, Levmore is the 12th dean in the Law School's 98-year history. With a B.A. from Columbia University and both a Ph.D. in economics and a J.D. from Yale University, he has been a visiting professor at Yale, Harvard, Michigan, Northwestern, and in 1993, Chicago.

One of seven U of C scholars elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2000, Levmore has written on a range of legal topics, including torts, corporate law, comparative law, nonprofit organizations, and public choice.

PHOTO:  Saul Levmore takes the helm at the Law SchoolWhat is it about the University of Chicago Law School that makes you want to be its dean?
The intellectual intensity-that's the easy answer. That's what we do best, and I like it. If you talk to people at alumni reunions or read the alumni magazine interviews with people who were here, it's different than if you go to other schools and ask them what it was like, where they'll say, "Remember the time we got drunk and circled the president's house?" What's cool about Chicago is people remember the ideas they learned here-"I remember this class I had with Ed Levi; it really changed the way I thought about law"-and from the teacher's point of view this is amazing. Here ideas make the difference, and students come here because they self-select for that.

At the same time, we are a relatively lean and mean law school. We may even look humble; the paint is peeling. Other law schools are making massive investments in physical structure, they are hiring faculty left and right, they're spending a fortune attracting the best students, there are centers and conferences and free lunches for all, so to speak. We have really lagged on that. I don't think we should be like other law schools, but it is probably time for us to see the way the market has gone and what will continue to attract the best people to the best law schools.

With fewer than 600 students, the Law School is fairly small and has a reputation for intimacy. Do you think there is an optimal size for the school?
I don't think there is an optimal size, but I do think the current size works pretty well for us. One of the secrets of how law schools work is that they are very intimate at some level. But educating lots of people about corporate law and evidence and contracts are bread-and-butter priorities, the "core curriculum" of law schools. This kind of teaching is generally done in very large classes so that law schools have much "worse" faculty-student ratios than colleges. Put another way, they are much more efficient delivery vehicles.

There's no danger of us growing-that's not in the cards-but I think we could incorporate a few more faculty members and still be a closer community; that is, I imagine the faculty and students could know each other better, as they might have 30 years ago. One way to do that is by initiating more small-group, faculty-student activities. I'd like to start by seeing more faculty do quasi-courses-"law in literature" or "law in films," or something like that-and they might have regular sessions at their houses throughout the year.

You've been quoted as saying that you would like to "bring legal theory into the real world." How do you propose to do that?
We already do that, but we can do it even more. For example, national health care is a huge issue-and one that has a lot to do with law. Thinking about the legal rules, about better ways to plan health care, has a lot to do with law and public policy and how people would vote on such things. It's a great law topic. Other such topics are dispute resolution, tax and regulatory compliance, and government accountability.

A typical law school-especially a great law school like ours-has many people with expertise. We have terrific tax-policy experts, people who know a lot about social welfare, people who know about insurance vehicles-and we're capable of getting people to focus on certain topics, to start conferences, to get working groups going and proposals written. I can imagine a University of Chicago health-care proposal put forth after one or two years of study, papers, and affiliated courses, and then put out there for the nation to consider.

Of course that kind of initiative requires resources, and I see that as part of my job, attracting donors who will want to see that ideas matter-you can take a national problem, put smart people and their students to work on it, and you can actually produce good ideas for the nation to consider.

The Law School celebrates its centennial in 2002-2003. Where do you see the school going in the next 100 years?
The centennial is a great opportunity to look forward to the next 100 years and beyond. It's very easy to get consumed with the present. There are always current issues to work on and work out-diversity in hiring; the clinical programs; there's the $10,000 bill for that conference over there, where's that money going to come from?-and these can be very consuming.

But the way we got here is that there were people 50 or 100 years ago who had the vision to think about not only where the next $10,000 was coming from, but also what buildings were going to go up and what buildings weren't, what the University was going to focus on and what it wasn't. The centennial is a good time to think about this.

What will happen at the Law School and in legal education quite generally over the next hundred years depends in large part on trends in higher education. Law schools have become true postgraduate institutions, mini-universities where law is taught with doses of psychology, economics, philosophy, history, statistics, and much more. The more students specialize as undergraduates, the more this trend will continue, and law schools will train citizens for many roles.
But an alternative is that the law schools will specialize, and our students will learn a great deal about tax or about intellectual property to the exclusion of much else.

For the time being, law schools are stretched between these models, offering advanced work in specialties even as they introduce their students and journal readers to fundamental insights in the social sciences and humanities by way of interesting applications to law. We are keeping our options open, so to speak, and having fun doing so.

In which direction do you see Chicago eventually heading?
They're both very exciting. We're in a great, diverse city, so the role of specialization does not disadvantage us. And we're in a great university, so the interdisciplinary character is also an advantage for us. I think we're really in good shape whichever way legal education goes. For my lifetime it will probably be both, and then at some point there will be a marked move one way or the other.

You say this is a fun process. Are you going to make law school fun?
Well, law school is fun. It's fun for the faculty, and it should be fun for the students. But there's tension in the process, and I think some of the tension can be reduced even while stimulating people intellectually. But, yes, it should be fun. Students should think of law school as the three best years of their lives, and we should make that a reality. -C.S.


 


 AUGUST 2001

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