It has been nearly 70 years since a student left St. Thomas with a law degree, but that will soon change.
On Aug. 20, 2001, almost 100 first-year law students will cross the threshold of Terrence Murphy Hall to start studying in the newly reopened University of St. Thomas School of Law. These students will be a select group.
Several hundred people applied for the law school’s inaugural academic year with the youngest applicant being 19 and the oldest, 69. Applications arrived from more than one dozen countries like Ghana, Argentina, South Africa, Italy, Korea and Somalia. In the United States alone, applications came from at least 30 states and represented more than 100 undergraduate schools.
"It is incredibly rewarding to see distinguished faculty and impressive students drawn by the school’s unique mission," said the Rev. Dennis Dease, president of St. Thomas.
In 1923, the university (then the College of St. Thomas) opened its first law school. After only 10 years and 69 graduates, the school closed due to the devastating effects of the Great Depression. It took 70 years and the determination of Dease and former president Monsignor Terrence J. Murphy to re-establish the law school.
Throughout his tenure as president of St. Thomas, Murphy searched for a way to reopen the law school. When he passed the office of president on to Dease in 1991, Murphy also passed on the hope for a rebirth of St. Thomas’ law school.
Dease took the first step toward a St. Thomas law program by pursuing an affiliation with William Mitchell College of Law, an existing law school in the Twin Cities. Issues of governance and decision-making arose between the two institutions and the chance of a joint effort dissolved, but the vision remained.
Dease and the board of trustees then created an advisory board to fully explore the possibility of opening an on-campus law school. At the board’s request, a feasibility study was performed in 1998 and 1999 to examine the pros and cons of a law school at St. Thomas. The study proved that the vision of Dease and Murphy could be realized, but only if it was unique.
"The establishment of a law school at St. Thomas is a long held dream come true," said Murphy, chancellor of the university. "It was evident that there is a place in our area for a private law school which will have three necessary elements.
"The first is a mission that fulfills a need. Our area needs a law school that is unabashedly dedicated to the highest moral principles in the practice of law, both in individual proceedings and in public life.
"The second requirement for an outstanding school is highly qualified people who believe in the mission of the law school. The leadership in the administration and faculty is truly outstanding in terms of their academic qualifications, their experiences, and their evident commitment to dedicate themselves to the values St. Thomas espouses. Our students for the first class are highly qualified.
"A third requirement is the money to build a first-class law school building and to endow salaries and scholarships to attract and support highly competent people. St. Thomas has made great strides in getting an adequate endowment.
"Already the St. Thomas law school has exceeded my hopes in the three areas listed above. All signs point to a truly outstanding law school."
The feasibility study proved that it was not enough to open another law school — to do so would be entering a tight race for applicants and exposure against other established law schools in the Twin Cities area and across the nation. To succeed, the school would have to be one-of-a-kind.
"We realized that with the changes that have occurred in the legal profession and in society, a new and distinctive approach to the education of the next generation of legal professionals was called for. And building a new legal education from the ground up would afford us the opportunity to do just that," Dease said.
Part of establishing a "new legal education" was the creation of the School of Law’s mission. Defining the school’s direction meant combining the professional nature of law education and the devout side of a Catholic-based university. "The purpose of a university is to search for truth. You can search for truth through a pure reasoning process or search through an integration of reason and faith," said Dean David Link. "We’ve also got to give our students not just the how, but the why: why are you doing this? And that’s what we’re all about: why should you be a lawyer?"
To illustrate the thorough nature of study at a faith-based law school, Link referred to the issue of genetic engineering. "Before human cloning can be legislated, a lot of questions must be asked: questions of social issues, economics, politics and jurisdiction. These qualities are examined at every law school, but at a faith-based school, the additional lenses of faith and morals can be used. Almost all legal questions are moral questions."
Religious considerations can be put "on the table" at a Catholic law school more easily than at a secular law school. At the School of Law, faculty and students for whom faith is important can be open about that fact and engage each other on the question of how faith and reason can be integrated into the day-to-day lives of practicing attorneys.
"I think of St. Thomas as … being a more inclusive place, as a place that should have broader appeal, not narrower appeal. There’s nothing that a student will find at any other law school that we won’t have here, but additionally, we will welcome people who take faith seriously," said Associate Dean Patrick J. Schiltz.
An important component is the School of Law’s dedication to society. By including "social justice" in its mission, the school is considered by some to be interested primarily in attracting students who want to be Legal Aid attorneys or public defenders. Students with that goal will fit well at St. Thomas; however, the program of study also is designed to attract the student who dreams of a job with a law firm or a corporation.
The hoped-for objective for a St. Thomas lawyer in either situation is the preservation of human dignity in every legal case. "An attorney who’s making half a million dollars a year for a big corporation or firm can be doing the social justice work of the church if he’s making that corporation or firm more socially responsible," Schiltz said.
One of the more daunting tasks of building a new law school was finding its faculty. It was important to find law professors who would understand and support the mission and vision of the St. Thomas School of Law. "What I have found to be most rewarding is the caliber of people this mission has drawn to St. Thomas," said Dease.
Ironically, the founding dean was a consultant to St. Thomas when the university was examining its options for a law school. After 24 years as dean of the University of Notre Dame Law School, Link had been retired for only one day in 1999 when Dease announced that Link would be the first dean of the St. Thomas School of Law.
Many people have asked Link his impression of running a "new" law school: "I’m not running a new law school. It happens to be a place where a number of very experienced people are getting together for a new project, but none of them is really new to any of these concepts. It’s a new place for some experienced people," said Link.
Schiltz first encountered St. Thomas on a campus visit after graduation from high school. He returned to campus in fall of 1999 to speak at a Red Mass for Catholic attorneys who are members of the St. Thomas More Society. He returned again in the spring of 2000 to discuss the new law school with Link.
One month later, he was offered the job of associate dean and started in mid-summer. In the short time he has been with the school, Schiltz considers prioritizing to be his biggest challenge: "It’s a real challenge to decide what are those few things that we are going to do first, recognizing that we can’t do everything at once, especially if we want to do things well."
The challenge and excitement of opening a new law school also attracted top faculty to St. Thomas. They bring a wide range of work experience, education and teaching. Each faculty member has practiced law and many have specific interests in public service, perfectly matching the school’s mission.
As the new faculty begin teaching this fall, they will go beyond the legal training needed to practice law successfully; they will challenge their students to consider how to practice law in keeping with their personal convictions, including those grounded in faith.
A part of what makes the law school unique is its program of study. At many law schools, first-year students take five or six courses each semester which may meet only two or three times per week. Often a single course will extend over both semesters.
Instead of following this model, St. Thomas will teach first-year courses on an "immersion" basis. Students will take only three doctrinal courses per semester, courses will meet four or five days per week, and every course will be completed within a single semester.
The primary reason for this distinctive format concerns the professor-student relationship. Traditionally, students may see each professor only two or three times a week. With the immersion model, students will spend more time with their instructors, allowing them to establish a comfortable rapport. Professors and students also will be able to explore legal questions and studies more deeply.
As students continue into their second and third years, they will find a rich and varied upper level curriculum. Some classes likely to appear on the class schedule for 2002 include: Business Associations, Evidence, Federal Taxation, Jurisprudence and Professional Responsibility.
Second- and third-year students also will be required to participate in a moot court competition and to complete a significant research paper under the supervision of a faculty member.
As students work toward their juris doctor degree, they can simultaneously earn a second St. Thomas degree from a series of graduate programs. Students can choose from programs in business, divinity, education, professional psychology, social work or software to supplement their J.D.
"It’s a great opportunity for our students," said Schiltz. "If a law student feels pulled in a certain direction for a legal career, getting a joint degree that intersects with her area of interest could help her to find the right job."
As students begin their study at the School of Law, they will benefit from more than a challenging curriculum. Just as the mission of the law school includes a search for truth, so too does it require an attention to the greater community. Students will put their newly acquired knowledge to work through a variety of society-focused programs.
One of the signature features of St. Thomas’ law school is its Mentor Program. During the first week of classes, students will be assigned a respected local practitioner as a mentor. Students will work closely with their mentor throughout their time at in school.
The mentor will introduce the student to a variety of lawyers to demonstrate the diverse opportunities for a legal career. In addition, the mentor will involve his or her student in a variety of legal activities such as drafting a set of bylaws for a corporation.
Through the Mentor Program, students will acquire practical skills, gain a broader understanding of the legal profession and appreciate what it means to be a member of a professional community. In what is perhaps their most important role, mentors will challenge their students to develop the professional characteristics they wish to embody when they practice law.
To support the "social justice" component of its mission, the law school requires its students to devote 50 hours to public service before graduating. "We wanted to include public service in our program for two main reasons," Schiltz said. "As Father Dease has said, UST Law is very much a part of the city, of our surrounding community and we have obligations to it. Second, we hope that our students will continue to do public service after they graduate. The most reliable indicator of whether lawyers will do pro bono work is whether they have done pro bono work in the past."
As one of the few law schools in the United States with a public service program, St. Thomas will continue to develop this component as students begin classes. "We want to keep it flexible to accommodate their curricular schedule," Schiltz said.
Many law schools have clinics that encourage students to provide legal services to economically disadvantaged clients under the supervision of experienced lawyers. These clinics provide an important opportunity for law students to acquire practical training and experience.
However, traditional clinics have one limitation: they provide only legal services. Few problems suffered by the poor — or by anyone else — are purely legal. An attorney who does not learn to recognize the non-legal dimensions of a client’s problem cannot represent that client effectively.
In St. Thomas’ unique multi-professional clinic, law students will work side-by-side with students from other St. Thomas graduate programs, such as professional psychology and social work. This cross-curricular method will teach law students to take a broad, humanistic approach to assessing and meeting the needs of clients.
Finding that "right" career will be easier because of the on-campus Career Services office. It will aggressively promote law graduates to regional and national employers and help the new lawyers to find job opportunities.
"We want to put ethical lawyers into every segment of the legal profession, from the very biggest, very richest firms to the smallest sole-practitioner shop in a small town to the government, to public interest groups," Schiltz said. "We’ll be failing in our mission if our graduates are not represented throughout the legal profession."
The Career Services office also will encourage students to pursue internships and clerkships with nearby federal and state judges, law firms, government agencies, corporations and public interest groups.
Attending law school can present a financial challenge to many students. By offering a variety of scholarships, loans and work-study opportunities, St. Thomas will work hard to ensure that students who want to study law can pay for their education.
Students who demonstrate a need for assistance can apply for traditional need-based financial aid from both St. Thomas and a variety of public and private programs. Students with an outstanding academic record or who seem likely to contribute to the law school’s mission may be awarded financial aid under two merit-based programs:
• A President’s Scholar will receive a three-year, full-tuition scholarship.
•A Dean’s Scholar will receive a three-year, partial-tuition scholarship.
In addition to these more conventional financial aid opportunities, St. Thomas has created a unique loan forgiveness program.
To uphold the social justice segment of its mission, the law school will make funding available for recent graduates who take public interest jobs and whose salaries fall below a particular level.
Another loan-forgiveness option is a fellowship program in the school’s multi-professional clinic. Recent graduates who accept a fellowship will work in the clinic and will be compensated through a combination of salary and loan forgiveness. When their fellowships end, they will be in an ideal position to compete for permanent public interest positions. These public interest fellowships will provide hours of legal assistance to those who cannot afford to hire an attorney.
Law schools in the United States are accredited by the Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar of the American Bar Association (ABA). A new law school cannot apply for accreditation until after its first academic year.
If the law school is substantially compliant with all of the ABA’s Standards for the Approval of Law Schools and presents a reliable plan to reach full compliance with the ABA’s standards within three years, it can receive "provisional" accreditation. After operating as a provisionally accredited law school for two years, a new law school may apply for "full" accreditation, which it will receive if it is in full compliance with ABA standards.
St. Thomas’ law school will apply for provisional accreditation in the fall of 2002. Information about the school’s students, faculty, resources, program and other matters will be submitted to the ABA. The ABA also will conduct an on-site evaluation of the school.
If its application is approved, the School of Law will receive provisional accreditation in the fall of 2003, prior to the graduation of its first class of students. Students who graduate from provisionally approved law schools have the same rights as those who graduate from fully approved law schools.
Until its new building is completed in 2003, the School of Law will share office and classroom space with other graduate programs in Terrence Murphy Hall. To accommodate the study needs of the law students, the parking garage under Murphy Hall has been converted into a library complete with study rooms, more than 65,000 legal texts and Internet access.
The law school’s permanent building, which will open in Minneapolis during the summer of 2003, will contain numerous offices, conference rooms, lounges, carrels and other places for students to study.
The faculty and administration of both the law school and the broader university has spent most of the past year getting ready for the first day of school. According to Dease, "this has been decades in coming. I have to tell you, Aug. 20 will be a very emotional day for me."
Schiltz is ready for opening day: "We are getting a bunch of people who are very, very committed to what we’re doing here. It will be great to be a part of this group of people."
Link feels that everything is going very well. He is pleased with the faculty and excited to meet the new students. "The applicants just have a great spirit amongst them. I’m thrilled about having them as students. … If I were still practicing law, I’d be delighted to practice with them. It’s exciting to think about the fact that people are still attracted to a good idea, and this is a very good idea."
For further information: Phone (651) 962-4895 or (800) 328-6819 (Ext. 2-4895)
Related LinksSchool of Law Web site: www.stthomas.edu/lawschool