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Sturm College of Law

Q&A with Dean Martin J. Katz, Sturm College of Law, part one

Dean Martin J. Katz, Sturm College of Law

Dean Martin J. Katz was recently named one of the "25 Most Influential People in Legal Education" by the National Jurist magazine, the nation's leading news source in legal education. "Another newcomer to the list, Martin Katz is considered a national leader in the movement to retool legal education from the inside out," the article states.

We sat down with Dean Katz to give you an inside look at his work within the Sturm College of Law.

Q: Give us a brief overview of your school.

A: The primary mission of Sturm College of Law is to train people to be lawyers in today's world. The majority of our students are JD degree candidates. We also provide a number of advanced degrees including master's and LLM degrees, and certificate programs in a variety of areas.

Most of our advanced degree candidates are either current U.S. practitioners of law looking to acquire specialized knowledge, or international lawyers interested in specializing in U.S. law. We end up with a great mix of both domestic and foreign lawyers from different stages in their careers who are able to learn a lot from each other.

We also have an evening program which is the same curriculum as the day division JD program, but designed for people who are working. In this program we have people from all walks of life who have decided that, based on their current careers, having a law degree will help them advance.

I took a year off after college before starting law school and I believe that experience helped me get more out of my degree. The folks in the evening program have a different perspective of what they want out of their degree and they're some of the hardest working people. They inspire.

Q: Tell us about how your programs produce practice-ready lawyers.

A: First year law courses focus on common law topics such as contracts, property and civil procedure. These courses are designed not just to teach about these subjects, but how to think about the law itself. It's essentially learning how to learn the law. This is done with a balance between lecture and discussion methodologies. The "dreaded" Socratic method, where the professor engages with one student at a time, pushing them to understand the material more deeply, is essentially a discussion methodology, as it is interactive, as opposed to one-way. We teach our students to develop a way of thinking where they become conscious of what they know and what they don't know.

Traditionally, this type of learning continued through all three years of law school; and that's where we differ. We want our students to think about themselves as lawyers serving a client rather than as students, which traditionally doesn't happen until after law school.

To accomplish this, we teach first years mostly in the traditional style, but then we opened up the curriculum to two types of learning. The first is our specialization initiative, which allows our students to get deeper into their chosen field. The second is our modern learning initiative, where our students learn to be lawyers by acting as lawyers under the supervision of experienced teachers and mentors. The modern learning initiative is essentially an apprenticeship model based inside the school with three areas: clinics, externships and simulation.

Our live-client clinics are literally a law firm within the school. We take real cases from real people, typically in lower income areas where there is unmet legal need.

We partner with practicing lawyers to provide externships where our students have the opportunity to work on real cases in a very structured manner. We work closely with our partners to develop a learning plan for our students to ensure they're doing valuable substantive work and receiving useful feedback.

Finally, we've built courses completely around simulation of real legal problems. In these courses the students tend to immediately forget they're playing a role and get immersed in the simulation.

We have combined these types of experiential learning opportunities into our Experiential Advantage Curriculum, which lets our students get at least a year's worth of real legal experience before they graduate.

By Katie Watt
Posted Jan. 28, 2014


Q: It's popular these days for people to question why anyone should go to law school, given employment and earnings trends in the profession. How has Sturm College of Law addressed this trend?

A: There are fundamentally three critiques of law schools today. First, that law schools historically don't prepare graduates for practice. I've addressed that issue in the previous question.

The second critique is that there aren't enough jobs. There are jobs out there in the legal markets that our school feeds, and we look at it in two ways: our alumni's' jobs and the state's employment projections. Last year, which was a notably tough employment market, 90.5 percent of our graduates got a professional job within nine months of graduating (these numbers are consistently audited for accuracy and transparency). There are four categories of jobs we look at: jobs that require a JD, those that prefer a JD, other professional jobs, and other. Our 90.5 percent fit into those first three categories; the types of jobs people come to law school for. However, of those 90.5 percent, about 23 percent are temporary or part-time jobs. We're trying to work on that; it is better this year and we think the market is heading in the right direction.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics issues a report on how many new lawyer positions they believe will be open each year for the next 10 years, compared to the number of students admitted to law schools. Critics have looked at these national numbers and worried that there may not be enough jobs for all of the nation's law graduates. But legal markets tend to be extremely local, so we focus on the projections for Colorado's legal market. The Colorado Department of Labor is predicting there should be about 566-610 new lawyer job openings per year for the next 10 years in Colorado. Together the state's two law schools, CU and DU, graduate approximately 450 students each year. Of those 450, some will leave the state and others will take non-JD-required jobs. If a third of our graduates fit into those categories, that means we need 300 legal jobs in Colorado for both schools' graduates. Both schools are also well networked in the community. If we couldn't get our graduates those available jobs we'd be in trouble. But, we do. Many of the lawyers out there are DU alumni and they tend to be extremely loyal when it comes to hiring our new graduates.

Between the placement figures we're seeing from DU and projections from the Colorado Department of Labor, there certainly seem to be enough jobs out there. They may be harder and take longer to find, and it may be more competitive, but we do a good job preparing our graduates to compete for those positions.

The third critique is that law school is too expensive. Sturm College of Law is part of DU, and this University competes on quality, not cost. We want to produce the Mercedes of law degrees, not the Yugo. (With apologies to those who love their Yugos.) We have a beautiful facility, we provide hands-on training, we have a 10-to-one student-faculty ratio; you can't provide this type of education on the cheap. However, we are very conscious that we need to control costs.

We have a great advancement team that has worked hard to increase scholarship donations. If I could do one thing before I leave it would be to raise enough money so many more students could attend Sturm on scholarship.

Additionally, we just launched a new six-year bachelor's and JD degree program, where students can compress their undergraduate requirements into three years then begin the traditional JD curriculum. They get seven years of education in six years, saving both time and money. Our faculty has also authorized a pilot program for a two-year JD curriculum which we'll try to roll out in the next year. Students in these programs will get the same education over less time, and therefore spend less money.

Q: How do you describe the value of collaborating with other schools and University departments?

A: We recommend our students take classes in other disciplines. Lawyers are often working as part of an interdisciplinary team. Depending on the type of case or transaction, we could interact with social workers, psychologists, business professionals, technology experts...the list goes on. DU has a rich array of graduate and professional programs and our students have the benefit of accessing these programs.
The specialization initiative I spoke of earlier also encourages students to take courses in other schools.

Q: What do you want people to know about the Sturm College of Law?

A: We have a very high bar passage rate. Bar passage was historically an issue for us; our low was a 55 percent pass rate. To address this, we've undertaken a series of bar pass initiatives and our current pass rate is 90 percent, which is 6 percent above the state average.

Another initiative we've taken on is a partnership with the University of Colorado to start a legal residency program. The program will allow our students to work for Denver law firms or in-house counsel for a year after they graduate. They'll be paid at a lower rate than they might receive in a traditional first-year legal job, but will receive training, much like a medical residency. This opportunity will give our students one more year of experience and set them up to be even more successful in their careers. The Colorado legal community is very supportive of its schools; we have 14 employers on board to pilot this program in the spring.

By Katie Watt
Posted Feb. 4, 2014