Changing of the Guard

06.01.2011 | Faculty, Law

By Thomas Columbus
This article originally was published in the Summer 2011 Dayton Lawyer.

The average time a law dean serves in that position is about five years. In the last 24 years, the University of Dayton School of Law has had but two deans, Fran Conte and Lisa Kloppenberg. That continuity allowed Dayton to build one of the country"s most technologically advanced law schools; to attract talented scholars, teachers and students; to create award-winning academic programs; and to forge an identity as a leader in legal education. A quarter of a century ago, the School was often labeled "fledgling." That adjective has been replaced by "innovative."

"Innovation is emblematic of this institution," said Dennis Greene, professor of law, a Yale Law School grad who has participated in some innovation in his life. A founding member of the rock group Sha Na Na, Greene also has been a vice president at Columbia Pictures, president of Lenox/Greene Films and a founding faculty member of another law school. As an example of innovation spanning both deanships, Greene points to Dayton's Program in Law and Technology - one of the first in the country - which was founded during Conte's deanship and enhanced during Kloppenberg's.

The visible monument to the Conte years is Keller Hall, home to the School. As Kloppenberg noted recently in talking about Conte, in addition to developing a high-profile program and highly visible building, he also worked with the faculty to diversify the student body and develop the School's core strengths such as the Legal Profession Program.

Kloppenberg has worked with the faculty to build on existing strengths and created new areas of success.

Nancy Michaud, vice president, general counsel, and secretary for Huffy Corp. and member of the UDSL Advisory Council, sees a pattern here. "We've had such good deans from Dean [Richard] Braun on, each of whom has built on the success of the prior one," she said, noting that Kloppenberg is leaving "a great platform for the next dean."

That platform includes, besides the further development of the law and technology program, a two-year program that is a national model for innovation, a more diverse faculty, a clearer vision of the School's mission and identity and the highly praised Lawyer as Problem Solver curriculum.

As the institution solidified its gains, it turned increasingly outward - in recruiting of students and faculty, in increasing faculty publishing and in sharing its innovation with the legal education academy. That "has brought favorable national attention to the law school," said Charles J. Faruki, of Faruki Ireland & Cox and chair of the UDSL Advisory Council.

Former council chair Thomas P. Whelley II '77 of Dinsmore & Shohl remembers, when the School was searching for a successor to Conte, his first impression of seeing Kloppenberg's credentials: "She was so young." When he interviewed her, however, his conclusion was unequivocal: "I thought, 'It's imperative we get this person.'"

We did, and "Lisa Kloppenberg quickly became known across the country as a class act among deans," said Kent Syverud, dean of the Washington University School of Law. "A frequent teacher at new deans' schools and at conferences of law professors¸ Dean Kloppenberg made Dayton a nationally known leader in efforts to improve law school curriculum and student experience."

When Kloppenberg herself was a new dean, Tim Stonecash wondered what her deanship would hold for him. He had worked in development and alumni relations for Conte; they went through two fundraising campaigns together. "We had a great working relationship," Stonecash said. "What was the chance of that happening again?"

But it did. The first step was mundane. "She called me after she accepted the deanship; we talked of my responsibilities. I kept hearing a clunking noise. After a while, I got up my nerve to ask her what it was. She was doing the dishes. I realized she was a real person. That had a calming effect."

Today, Stonecash, now assistant dean for external relations, can say, "Lisa is bright, full of life, full of the Marianist spirit. Working with her for 10 years has made me a better person. And I think the things we all have done together have made the law school a better place."

Adam Petty '11, president of the Student Bar Association this past year, had a similar experience the summer after his first year at UD. He served as a research assistant for Kloppenberg on the second edition of a textbook, Resolving Disputes: Theory, Practice, and Law, of which she is a co-author. "I'm here just one year; she's the dean," he said. "I've just seen her to say 'hello' and she's going to have a phone conference with me on a Saturday morning. I'm nervous. I haven't seen my grades yet. The phone rings. I answer. I hear, 'This is Lisa.'

"There is silence while I think, 'Who is Lisa?'

"'Adam, this is Dean Kloppenberg."

From then on, Petty says he wasn't nervous. "Working on the book was like working with one of my classmates. And she never asked me to do anything she wouldn't do herself."

That final trait is particularly praiseworthy to Petty, for it is a trait of the ideal military officer; from a military family, Petty will become an Army JAG lawyer.

Among Kloppenberg's fans are not just students and deans and UD colleagues. She was also a hit with Petty's mother. "I introduced her to the dean. She's a proud mother. It was a love fest about Adam," he said.

Then the dean said, "Brenda, now tell me about you."

His mother was surprised and a bit flustered - but deeply impressed. Petty is not alone among students when he says of Kloppenberg, "She stops. She talks. She really cares."

The ability to stop for others and listen could be a reason that Kloppenberg is able to facilitate what Lori Shaw, dean of students, called "change without bloodshed."

Kloppenberg displayed her technique early in her deanship. "There were some pent-up emotions within the faculty and between students and the School," recalled Kelvin Dickinson, professor emeritus. The issue was a perennial one in academia, one that never goes away nor is completely resolved but causes great stress: grades.

"Students believed the old mandatory grading method depressed their GPA and hurt their job searches," Dickinson said. "Students approached the dean; she told them to do their homework. They did."

The faculty changed to a new grading norm. "The way it was handled," Dickinson said, "people felt understood."

Dickinson also pointed to Kloppenberg's ability to help the School seize opportunities. For example, the age of the School when she arrived meant that not much hiring had been done recently and a significant number of faculty members were nearing retirement.

"Lisa appreciated," Dickinson said, "the need to select and develop good junior faculty. She respected that junior faculty need time to write and to learn how to teach. She stressed scholarship to younger - and to older - faculty in a way that was effective."

In the process the faculty gained a greater racial and gender diversity. Of the 17 faculty hires made since 2001, five are persons of color and 10 are women.

Another opportunity presented itself early in the decade as the faculty was discussing curriculum reform. Concurrently, the American Bar Association changed the definition of a full-time program. Dickinson, who was associate dean at the time, said, "That enabled us to look at a two-year program."

The resulting program has attracted the attention of other law schools as well as students of a somewhat different demographic. As a group, they tend to be older and more experienced than the student body norm. They also tend to be highly motivated and focused.

The major result of the curriculum discussions was the adoption of the Lawyer as Problem Solver with the beneficial side effect that curricular discussion also helped clarify the mission and identity of the School.

Mary Kate Huffman '90, a judge on the Montgomery County, Ohio, Common Pleas Court, who serves as president of the University of Dayton School of Law Alumni Association, said she remembers how law was taught when she was in school. "It was the same everywhere in legal education: Read the books. Know the law."

What is new, she said, is the emphasis on learning how to be a lawyer. As an adjunct faculty member, she teaches the course Interviewing, Counseling and Negotiation. "We don't talk about the law," she said. "We talk about people. A client is not a file, a case or a book, but a person."

Preceding Dayton's implementation of the Lawyer as Problem Solver curriculum in 2005 was a lot of analysis of how one learns to be a lawyer. Across the country, practicing lawyers found those entering the profession often lacked practical and interpersonal skills needed in practice. And, as Kloppenberg has written about the evolution of the new curriculum, "We were also concerned . . . about national studies showing many students are less engaged with legal studies by third year."

In the first year of law school, students learn, Kloppenberg said, "to think like lawyers, to learn the doctrine of law." A report by the Carnegie Foundation indicated law schools were very good at this.

And "we were very good," Kloppenberg said. "We left the first year largely unchanged."

The Carnegie report, however, also concluded that experiential learning in law schools was often lacking; Dayton was among the few attacking the problem. In doing so, Dayton built on existing

  • Opportunities for specialization were added in three concentrations that were among Dayton's strengths: advocacy and dispute resolution; personal and transactional law; and intellectual property, cyber law and creativity.
  • An existing emphasis on experiential learning was enhanced with the requirement of a four-unit externship. Each student is also required to take a capstone course, which also helps move them from theory to practice.
  • One-unit, weeklong intrasession courses hit a variety of topics and skills, adding breadth to the curriculum and bringing visiting scholars to campus.

And students now have the opportunity to graduate in either two or three calendar years, beginning in either summer or fall.

The Lawyer as Problem Solver continues to be a work in progress with ongoing tinkering. But it also has been a major factor in the School gaining a national reputation. "I can't think of a major national conference which Lisa hasn't spoken at or chaired," said Shaw.

According to Donald Polden, dean of the Santa Clara University School of Law, Kloppenberg has won "great respect and admiration from other law deans . . . as someone whose opinion is important." Calling attention to her role in Dayton's development and her service to legal education nationally, he said, "She is the whole deal, a real pro." And, he added, she is enjoyable to work with.

She is not the only Dayton presence on the national legal education stage. The faculty, besides producing increased scholarship in their fields, are playing a role in the ongoing revamping of legal education. Many have presented at major conferences. Harvard University Law School and New York Law School have hosted over the past year three conferences in a project called "Future Ed: New Business Models for U.S. and Global Legal Education." Contributing, in addition to Kloppenberg, have been Dayton Law Professors Eric Chaffee, James Durham, Greene and Shaw.

Dayton is also a leader in learning outcomes assessment with Professors Victoria VanZandt, Shaw, Vernellia Randall and others producing scholarship, serving as consultants to other schools and presenting at major conferences.

To Dickinson, Dayton's new curriculum and the vitality that comes from ongoing tinkering with it owe much to the same attribute of Kloppenberg's that helped lead to a change in grading policy early in her tenure. She got people - faculty, students, alumni, employers - involved. She reached out at the local and national level. She facilitated change, Dickinson said, "and that's a big contribution."

Her capability at that may have something to do with her developing early in her legal career a strong competence in alternative dispute resolution, which is not just a required course in the new curriculum but, she said, "at the heart of the Catholic, Marianist nature of this institution."

Lawyers to her have something deeply in common with doctors and clergy, members of the other two traditional professions. "They are in professions," she said, "that are healing and holistic."

So, for example, Dayton's capstone courses mirror real-world experience. "We wanted ours," she said, "to mesh with problems that arise in practice. A client doesn't come in with a label on her forehead saying, 'I'm a tort matter.'"

Lawyers, she said, "need to listen, to diagnose, to help the client come ups with options. We considered a name like 'lawyer as counselor' but thought that might sound too touchy-feely. Harvard now is teaching 'problem solving' to all first-years."

Part of her vision of the role of the lawyer can be seen in words of Abraham Lincoln, which she is fond of quoting: "Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. . . . As a peacemaker the lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough."

As Kloppenberg returns to teaching, she is involved in a collaborative process that makes use of her scholarly strengths as well as her ability to facilitate good people working together toward a common goal. She's coordinating the initial steps to a project called the "Problem Solving, Conflict Management and Justice Initiative."

"She sees the law school," said Professor Richard Saphire, "not as autonomous, but as part of the larger University, part of a community committed to Catholic, Marianist values, to the Catholic intellectual tradition." Although himself not Catholic, Saphire is impressed by those values and that tradition and by the University being "concerned about community, about the public."

The initiative on which she is working will involve staff from the School of Law, the College of Arts and Sciences (particularly the political science department, the Fitz Center and the MPA and human rights programs), and possibly other University units. It will produce academic expertise on conflict resolution skills and processes and help provide community service. It may be particularly useful, given its breadth and depth, in focusing on large, multi-party disputes.

"This initiative," said Daniel J. Curran, president of the University, "brings together academic strengths from the University and, working in Marianist traditions of community and peacemaking, serves the larger community. The extraordinary skills with which Lisa Kloppenberg enhanced both the academic strength and national presence of the School of Law are an exceptional fit for this endeavor."

For more information, contact Bob Mihalek at 937-229-4683.