Q&A: Georgetown Law Center's new dean discusses school's steps to help students in a time of law firm cutbacks

By Amanda Becker
Monday, August 23, 2010; 10

A new dean will greet students at Georgetown University Law Center when classes begin next week. After nearly a decade at the helm of Fordham Law School in Manhattan, William Michael Treanor moved south this summer to guide the school he says is reshaping legal education. Treanor sat down with Capital Business to discuss his move, public service and the global legal economy. This is an edited transcript of what he had to say:

You'd been the dean at Fordham Law since 2002 and on the faculty since 1991. What do you consider your most important achievements during your tenure there?

I think the things that were most important to me when I was dean of Fordham were really responding to changes in the legal profession. I focused a great deal on making education more global in terms of what was taught and students' experience. I focused a lot on strengthening the law school's academic focus and a lot on strengthening our clinical program. Finally, I focused on increasing accessibility to legal education because law school is becoming more and more expensive, so I tried to do what I could to strengthen scholarships and the evening program.

You said that Georgetown is "reshaping legal education" more than any other law school. Can you elaborate on why?

It's a school that's a leader in global education, which is probably the biggest change since I went to law school, and Georgetown has been a path breaker in that area. Time and time again, it has been innovative. In recent years, Georgetown has really moved to do fascinating things in the global area. The school's Center for Transnational Legal Studies in London is something that has inspired admiration throughout legal academia. It's really a law school that is taking seriously "how do you want to change legal education and prepare people for practice?"

It's been tough out there the past couple of years for young lawyers. What is your advice for someone considering law school? Do you think the market is large enough to absorb the number of graduates that matriculate each year?

This is a time that we're seeing a real cutback in hiring by big firms. For the past decade, firms have had people doing work that is routine, repetitious. Increasingly, clients will not be willing to pay associates to do that kind of work, so we'll see more outsourcing and contract employment. So associates will be doing more work that is truly lawyerly work.

This is also a time when law school grads will be focusing on what they really want to do with their careers. I think we'll see more people going into public interest and doing things that are entrepreneurial. This can be an exciting time to be a law student and to be in practice if you're looking for the opportunities that are out there.

I think that law firms can really return to the idea of law as a profession, and there are tremendous benefits to that not just for the firms but for lawyers. It's also a time when people can think through why they came to law school. It's a time of challenge, but it's a very exciting time.

Is the school approaching recruiting or education differently now in light of market changes?

I think Georgetown has really been very proactive in dealing with the marketplace. There were a number of initiatives already put into place. They range from focusing on regional and smaller city markets, to attention to clerkships -- both state and federal -- to possibilities of people entering into government work and preparing people for careers in nonprofit work.

For many people, the right fit is not necessarily a big firm in a big city. This is a moment when people are thinking more broadly. Georgetown is really focused on that, we're putting together a database of firms outside the typical markets and state clerkships. We're looking at expanding our externship program and increasing field placements. We're looking at expanding our clinical offerings.

What is on your list of things to complete in your first year as dean? Longer term?

Georgetown is a law school with incredible strength, so both in the first year and longer term, what I see as my mission is to build on those strengths. We'll be focusing on experiential learning, externships and increasing opportunities in those areas. We're going to be focusing on the academic depth and intellect strengths of the law school and continue to build on that with new hires. I consider myself incredibly privileged to be here at this moment.

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