Paul Schiff Berman

Let me keep today’s post pretty short and a little less than sweet.

Something odd happened back east to a law school dean. And that former dean has ties to the Grand Canyon State.

Anyone up on updates regarding the ASU Law School probably learned this weeks ago, but for everyone else, it may be news that Paul Schiff Berman has exited the deanship at the George Washington University Law School.

Berman, you may recall, helmed the ASU Law School for a time (you can read our interview with him here). But he headed east to lead GWU Law, which was announced in April 2011. That, however, didn’t last long. By summer 2012, discontent was evident. By January 2013, he had left the law school, and the university named him vice provost for online education and academic innovation.

More than ever before, law deans have proven to be a transitory bunch. But even in a world in which deanships are rarely calculated in decades, Berman’s exit is noteworthy for its speediness. And according to the university newspaper, his departure was welcomed by a majority of law school professors. The story, titled “Law faculty plotted to oust dean,” opens:

“Faculty say they launched a near coup to remove the former dean of the GW Law School, who unexpectedly announced last fall he would resign after holding the position for just 18 months.”

“Paul Schiff Berman stepped down in January and moved to a new vice provost position after professors drafted a petition to reject his leadership, citing staff tensions and poor decision-making about how to restore a reeling legal education system, The Hatchet has learned.”

George Washington University Law School headerYes, the independent student newspaper is called “The Hatchet.” Draw your own conclusions.

If you want another take on the dean’s departure, be sure to read Above the Law.

A hat tip to Arizona lawyer (and ASU Law alum) Ruth Carter for sharing the news. If there is a followup or more of a response from Professor Berman, we’ll share it.


Paul Schiff Berman

This afternoon, I received a press release indicating the Paul Schiff Berman has accepted a position as Dean at the George Washington University Law School.

The release came to me from GWU. I confirmed the fact of his departure with the ASU Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, but no additional substance on the matter is forthcoming from them yet. This sounds like they too are playing catch-up.

You can read the complete release here, which mentions another loss that ASU will suffer: Berman’s wife Laura Dickinson, who “serves as ASU’s Foundation Professor of Law and as director of its Center for Law and Global Affairs.”

I will pass on word as ASU Law School gins up the Dean Search Engine once again.

(In the meantime, I have to say: I always get a kick out of seeing this great head shot of Dean Berman, which was shot for us at Arizona Attorney by photographer Jeff Noble in 2009, as Berman was arriving at the school to begin deaning. The school and Dean Berman liked it so much that they have used a cropped version for him ever since. You can see the entire Q&A here. And Jeff Noble’s work is here.)

ASU President Michael Crow

“Sustainability” gets a lot of play these days, and it’s even one of ASU’s stool legs, or pillars (or something else cylindrical). A news story on Tuesday added a new wrinkle to that mission statement.

Apparently, according to an Arizona Republic story, a move is afoot to make the ASU Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law “self-sustaining.” What does that mean?

The story is here.

Well, it would remain a part of the state university, but be independent of its budget. Not quite private, not quite public. That would necessarily mean that tuition would climb (probably quite significantly for out-of-state students).

But ASU President Michael Crow and Law Dean Paul Schiff Berman speak admiringly of the idea. Not everyone in the news story does.

ASU Law Dean Paul Schiff Berman

Law schools nationwide are going through a bit of an identity crisis lately. You can’t throw a hornbook without hitting a heady conference on “the role of the law school.” In fact, ASU has one slated for next February.

My own law school, UC-Hastings College of the Law, the oldest law school west of the Rockies, is similarly a public university that is also divested of the state’s budget process (and largesse). That may insulate it from Sacramento’s cyclical madness. But it also means that many of its graduates have a pretty large loan debt to pay off. Tuition has ramped up steeply in recent years. And I get relentless calls from the school asking me to “honor” my graduate status by providing a hefty donation (Hey, I think I am getting another call right now looking for some of that “private-side funding” we hear so much about.)

We’ll cover the evolving business model of law schools more later. But for now, I have to say that I enjoyed reading some of the comments that followed this Arizona Republic story.

There were hundreds of them. About a law school.

I generally do not advise reading article comments. Because they are anonymous, they are often venomous and more filled with rage than insight. In that regard, these comments may not be much different. But for those of us who want to hear what people feel—really feel—about lawyers, anonymous comments may be just the ticket.

One of the comments, I’m happy to say, even cited Arizona Attorney Magazine’s September story on the Economic Report done by the State Bar. Every time that happens, I blush a bit (and a lawyer somewhere gets a briefcase).

Keep reading to get an earful.