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Wanted: different kind of lawyer

NCR Staff

It may be common wisdom that the last thing the United States needs is more lawyers. Yet the number of Catholic law schools is on the rise.

Two Catholic universities, Seattle University and Barry University in Miami, have bought existing law schools and set out to change the culture at those schools from secular to religious.

Two other law schools are start-ups: one, opening in Minneapolis in 2001, is affiliated with St. Thomas University in St. Paul, Minn.; the other, to be known as Ave Maria School of Law, will be a freestanding school in Ann Arbor, Mich. It will open in August of 2000.

Deans and administrators of the four schools give varying reasons for acquiring or starting the new schools, but all agree on this: What’s needed is not more lawyers, they say, but a different kind of lawyer — lawyers who are not only proficient in their profession, but imbued with ethics and values and prepared to seek the common good.

“The more commitment to that sort of thing, the better off the profession is going to be,” said Patrick McCartan, managing partner at Jones Day in Cleveland. Jones Day is one of the world’s largest law firms with 1,300 lawyers in 22 offices.

“Anytime you have schools, either existing or new, that declare a commitment to law and values or law and ethics, that’s all to the good,” McCartan said. “But law schools also have to produce very sound professional, technical lawyers. That is also a great challenge.”

McCartan, a graduate of the University of Notre Dame’s law school and soon to be chairman of the university’s board, often hires graduates of Notre Dame because, he said — first, “they’re excellent lawyers, prepared to practice law,” and second, because of their sensitivity to the ethical and moral dimensions of the law. “We’re tired of the scandals, the problems of the past, so apparent in both business and law,” he said. “I think there is a developing awareness on the part of professionals as a whole that we need people who have a solid grounding in ethics as well as competence in their particular discipline.”

Militantly religious few

The nation’s 37 religiously affiliated law schools, 24 of those Catholic, emphasize their religious missions to varying degrees: some hardly at all; some militantly. The militant category, a small one, includes Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif. Pepperdine is the school that courted Kenneth Starr for its deanship, almost prompting him to leave his federal post as independent prosecutor assigned to the Clinton case. Affiliated with Churches of Christ, Pepperdine makes no bones about its goal of incorporating Christian beliefs and values into teaching and practicing law.

Ave Maria is expected to fit into the militantly religious category as well. Funded to the tune of $50 million by Domino’s Pizza magnate Thomas Monaghan, Ave Maria will clearly have a more conservative religious orientation than any existing Catholic law school in the nation. Its board members include such noted Catholic conservatives as Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput; Jesuit Fr. Joseph Fessio, founder of Ignatius Press; and Fr. Michael Scanlan, president of Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio. Two of the most conservative members of Notre Dame University’s law school are also on the Ave Maria board: Gerald V. Bradley and Charles E. Rice. Ave Maria’s right-wing orientation has drawn its share of criticism from more liberal Catholic quarters. Jesuit Fr. Robert Drinan, for instance, writing in NCR May 7, accused Ave Maria of a “holier than thou” attitude toward other Catholic law schools.

Ave Maria’s new dean, Bernard Dobranski, brushes the criticism aside. “We’re not a seminary. We’re a law school,” he said. “We expect the legal training people will get will be the kind that permits them to walk into any law firm in the country and be able to do an outstanding job in a purely secular sense. If we can’t do that, we aren’t doing our job.” Dobranski said Ave Maria’s substantial funding will allow the school to offer tuition aid, an asset in competition for good students.

Dobranski is former dean of the law school at The Catholic University of America in Washington.

The new law school at the University of St. Thomas will model itself after Notre Dame’s highly ranked law school and has hired as its new dean Notre Dame’s former dean of 24 years, David T. Link. Notre Dame, along with Georgetown, Fordham and Boston College, is ranked by U.S. News and World Report in the top tier of the nation’s 181 American Bar Association-accredited law schools.

Strong Catholic focus

Link said Notre Dame is among schools with a strong and overt Catholic focus. A strong majority of both faculty and students are Catholic. Link said the school actively seeks students with “a values orientation” and is proud to be a place where research and discussion includes “moral analysis of the law.”

“We probably do have too many lawyers in this country, and I’m not sure we need new law schools,” Link said. “But I do think we need more law schools that operate from a kind of faith base, whether Catholic or some other. Faith-based law schools are searching for the truth involved in the law, with a knowledge of what the ultimate truth is. That provides you with a very different kind of focus. It means you do things not only with a different purpose but with a different method.”

The St. Thomas University operated a law school from 1923 to 1933 but closed it because of the Depression.

Seattle University, the only one of the four new Catholic schools to be already accredited by the American Bar Association, acquired its law school in 1994 from the University of Puget Sound, a private school in Tacoma, Wash. Seattle’s law students and faculty are expected to move in late August from Tacoma into a new building on the Seattle campus. The 1994 opening doubled the number of Catholic law schools in the Pacific Northwest. Previously, Gonzaga University’s law school in Spokane was the only Catholic institution training lawyers in the region.

James Bond, Seattle law school’s dean, said operating a law school “makes sense” for Jesuits “given their strong commitment to social justice.”

The pressing question for the school now, Bond said, is “how Catholic or Jesuit we ought to be.” The Catholic identity debate is not limited to the newly acquired law school, but, as at many Catholic colleges and universities, it is engaging the entire university, he said.

Bond said the school’s 800 students are drawn from a less affluent population than even the University of Washington, a public institution, serves. “I’m fond of saying that we’re the only truly public law school in the state of Washington,” he said. “A lot of our students are first generation kids” in terms of higher education, he said.

Commitment to minority

At Barry University, an Adrian Dominican school, 26 percent of some 320 law students are members of minority groups. That’s a niche the law school intends to cultivate, said Dominican Sr. Peggy Albert, chief administrator.

Albert said one of her jobs is to help change the culture from a secular school to a religiously affiliated one. But the religious mission will be in the mainstream of U.S. Catholic law schools, less overt than Ave Maria’s or even Notre Dame’s.

“Our concern is that we instill in our students a deep sense of ethics and a moral mandate for community service,” she said. “We really feel the commitment here is to a minority, and with all the social justice programs of the Catholic church, that is very Catholic. We want to reflect what Catholic social teaching is all about.”

In response to some cynics who say universities are looking for “cash cows” when they add law schools, the new Catholic deans say unanimously that it will be a long time before the new or newly acquired schools can be moneymakers for their universities. Further, they noted that the American Bar Association has set limits on how much money universities can appropriate from proceeds of their law schools.

“Anybody who starts a law school today thinking they’re going to make money is making a big mistake,” Link said. “Legal education is much more labor intensive than it used to be.”

Critics have challenged Ave Maria’s first hire for its faculty, former Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, as inconsistent with the school’s stated philosophy. Monaghan has said publicly that Ave Maria will be founded in the Catholic “natural law” tradition, a tradition that holds that civil law must ultimately be judged by a higher moral code.

Bork is often described as a “legal positivist,” one who holds that the law is subject to no outside judge. But Dobranski said Bork is not a legal positivist in the strict, negative sense of the term. “His approach to natural law thinking is different from mine,” Dobranski said, “but he certainly isn’t hostile to the natural law tradition. He has a strong sense of the relationship between law and morality.” Ave Maria will approach its mission “in a variety of ways,” Dobranski added. “We don’t want to all walk in lockstep.” Moreover, he said, Bork would be “a catch” for any law school.

National Catholic Reporter, August 13, 1999