The University of Texas School of Law in Austin focuses on excellence and keeping high standards and produces the sharpest graduates, Ward Farnsworth, dean of the law school, said in Tyler on Thursday.
The magazine U.S. News & World Report ranked UT Law School last year as providing the best return on investment of any law school in the United States.
“That’s a point of pride for us, and we are happy about the recognition,” Farnsworth told East Texas alumni during a dinner at the R. Don Cowan Fine & Performing Arts Center at The University of Texas at Tyler. It was presented by UT Tyler President Dr. Rodney H. Mabry and James I. Perkins, chairman and president of Citizens 1st Bank in Tyler.
“Going to law school is an investment of time and money and your life. We want our graduates to feel like when they get out that they get a great return and (have) great opportunities when they get out,” Farnsworth told approximately 50 people.
There are “great things going at the law school,” Farnsworth said. The school is known for providing excellence, top tier opportunity without graduates having a lot of debt, he said.
“The professors are great, the students are great and high spirited,” Farnsworth said, saying they are more high spirited than students in other law schools He pointed out that two-thirds of the students are Texans and pay less than out-of-state students.
“We take tremendous pride in being the leading supplier of great opportunities to Texans and the leading supplier of Texas lawyers” to communities all over the state, including Tyler, Farnsworth said.
Something that has changed since alumni were in law school is that it now has many more clinics and clinical opportunities than it used to, he said. The school has 15 clinics students can pick from, which he said give law students an opportunity to help a real client with a real problem under the supervision of a clinical professor.
That is “an invaluable bridge between what goes on in the classroom and the activity of being a lawyer,” Farnsworth said.
Graduating students commonly say their time in the clinic was their best law school experience, he said, because they got to help somebody that needed it.
“You will have trouble finding a law school with more or better equipped clinical opportunity than UT does,” Farnsworth said.
“I take pride in producing lawyers who are the most sophisticated problem solvers and who practice law at the highest levels,” he said.
Another great thing happening is that the law school is starting a new energy center for teaching and research in energy, Farnsworth said, calling energy a traditional area of specialty for UT.
“We’ve had an energy center and what we are doing now is merging it with the energy center in the school of business,” Farnsworth said. “We want it to be an energy center that provides sophisticated scholarship and sophisticated teaching at the intersection of law and business,” he said. “We think that’s where the jobs are.”
A “jarring fact,” Farnsworth said is the decline in law school students. Alumni probably recall graduating classes of 500 students, if not more, but entering classes are in the “the low 300s right now,” he said.
There’s been a contraction since the recession in the job market and the New York Times went on a campaign of convincing people that jobs aren’t there for law graduates, Farnsworth said.
“As a result, applications are way down,” he said.
When confronted with those facts, every law school has a choice to make: either relax standards to keep filling classes at the customary level of students or shrink and hold standards where they are, Farnsworth said.
“Our choice has been to shrink … to not relax the standards,” he said.
“I want our law school to be about excellence,” Farnsworth said. “I want people to be proud to hold that diploma and keep very high standards.”
He said he wants people to be able to count on UT Law School graduates being the sharpest in the state and the ones employers want to hire. “Our mission is excellence and don’t compromise,” Farnsworth said.
Tuition is more expensive than it used to be, he said, but for Texans, tuition is $15,000 less per year than every other law school in the top 15 that it competes with.
Farnsworth encouraged alumni to support the law school with contributions and endowments at any level, noting the start of a scholarship drive that people can support. Endowments are smaller than several other schools, he pointed out.
In opening remarks, Mabry noted that UT Tyler reached a record enrollment 7,500 for almost a 10 percent increase last fall.
It is a selective admission, comprehensive university soon to be comprised of seven colleges, Mabry said. Academic credentials of freshmen last fall put UT Tyler in the top four of the 39 public universities in Texas, he said. It has had five colleges several years and is adding two more.