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Meet Scott Bales, New Executive Director at IAALS

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Scott Bales took over this past fall as the new executive director of the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS). He comes to the University of Denver after serving for 15 years on the Arizona Supreme Court, the last five years as chief justice. He replaces Rebecca Love Kourlis, who co-founded the institute and served as executive director since 2006. Bales took a moment to share some thoughts about himself and his vision for the future of IAALS.

After serving 14 years on the Arizona Supreme Court, why did you decide to take over as the executive director of IAALS?

Scott Bales
Scott Bales

While serving on the court, which I thoroughly enjoyed, I became increasingly interested in systemic improvements to our courts and legal system more broadly. In Arizona, the chief justice serves only one five-year term, and mine ended in July 2019. I began thinking of different ways I could continue to help improve aspects of our legal system, including court processes, legal education and innovation in legal services. Having seen IAALS’ outstanding contributions in these and other areas, I thought serving as executive director was a unique and exciting opportunity.

How difficult is it going to be to fill the shoes left behind by Rebecca Love Kourlis?

Kourlis was extraordinarily successful as IAALS’ founding executive director. She built IAALS from a mere idea into a highly respected institute that has affected positive changes in our legal system across the nation. No one can “fill the shoes” she left behind. By working with the tremendous team of people she gathered at IAALS and our many other partners and supporters, I hope to honor her legacy by continuing and extending IAALS’ impact.

As someone who has observed for years the work that is being done at IAALS, what has most impressed you about the impact of the organization on the legal community?

IAALS has demonstrated that a nonpartisan think-and-do tank can bring together people with different perspectives and expertise to identify practical ways to improve our legal system. This approach effectively combines user-focused collaboration, an openness to experimentation, and a commitment to empirically evaluating problems and possible solutions. It’s a model that can be successfully applied in many contexts.

As executive director, what are your plans to ensure that IAALS continues to improve and advance the American legal system?

IAALS has many important projects underway that are described on our website, but I will mention two that we recently announced.  Our US Justice Needs will be a landmark study of how individuals and businesses throughout our nation address law-related issues. We are partnering with the Hague Institute for Innovation of Law, which has conducted similar studies in other nations around the world. The results of this first-time comprehensive U.S. study will both help guide future IAALS projects and provide policymakers vital information about access to justice needs. Through our Unlocking Legal Regulation project, we are working with state courts and others to reenvision and reform the regulation of the delivery of legal services, with the goals of encouraging innovation and greater consumer access. These two projects are examples of how IAALS will continue to work to improve our legal system – promoting “justice we can believe in” through a system that earns public confidence and support.

The Sturm College of Law is one of the top law schools in the country. What opportunities for collaboration do you see for IAALS and Denver Law?

We collaborate in many ways. Dean Bruce Smith and Dean Emeritus Martin Katz each serve on the Board of Advisors for IAALS; they and other members of the law faculty have participated in IAALS convenings and served as advisory group members for different IAALS projects. Similarly, members of IAALS’ staff join in various law school events, such as a recent national conference that Denver Law hosted on the use of distance learning in legal education. I have been named an affiliated faculty member at Denver Law, and I look forward to opportunities to attend faculty colloquia and otherwise participate in the life of the law school, which has been a leader in innovation in legal education and, like IAALS, enjoys great respect within the legal community within and beyond Colorado.

To read about Bales' experiences during his first three months as the executive director at IAALS, please click here to check out his blog post.