Welcome to St. Thomas.
As Dean, I lead a team dedicated to your formation as a professional. This mission is rooted in the knowledge that effective lawyers must grow to internalize a robust set of professional values that require placing service to others over self, not simply acquiring a set of technical skills. These are challenging times for legal education, but we are well positioned to navigate a rapidly changing landscape because our mission commits us to educate the whole person.
Part of our commitment to professional formation is a commitment to community and relationships. Law school has traditionally been an isolating experience. The absence of any meaningful sense of community, coupled with intense competition, has led to what has been, for many students, a miserable three years. Clients have long complained about lawyers who can find their way around a statute, but who cannot find their way to practice empathy, effective listening, or cooperative problem-solving. St. Thomas is way ahead of the curve in this regard. A commitment to take relationships seriously – and to educate students in a way that equips them to take relationships seriously – has been a hallmark of our school since we opened our doors ten years ago. That may help explain why we have so frequently been at or near the top of The Princeton Review’s rankings for student quality of life. The commitment is not an add-on to our mission; it is at the core of our mission. As a Catholic law school, we believe in the social nature and inherent dignity of the human person – a belief we share with all major religious traditions – and we have built the law school community accordingly.
By developing a strong service ethic and the relationship skills that go with it, law students aren’t just doing the right thing; they’re doing the smart thing. As Indiana University’s William Henderson – one of the nation’s leading authorities on the legal profession – remarked recently, “Sure, lawyers need to be smart,” but in a very competitive legal market, they “also need to be personable, collaborative, entrepreneurial, service oriented, and interested in contributing to the collective welfare of the law firm.” Professor Neil Hamilton’s research shows that legal employers and clients want their attorneys to have strong relationship skills, with terms such as “responsiveness and commitment to the client,” “teamwork,” “working with others,” “mentoring,” and “networking” cropping up repeatedly.
Whether it’s through our award-winning mentor externship, the Foundations of Justice course, our expanding array of experiential learning opportunities, our groundbreaking course offerings on ethical leadership, a faculty of world-class scholars who help students pursue legal reform that improves lives, or our rich sense of community and commitment to public service, St. Thomas continues to pioneer new paths of professional formation. The results thus far have been remarkable, but I’m confident that the best is yet to come.
Robert K. Vischer
Dean and Professor of Law