CU’s new dean: Law school still a good buy

CU’s new dean: Law school still a good buy

Premium content from Denver Business Journal – by Heather Draper

Date: Friday, July 29, 2011

hilip Weiser is the University of Colorado Law School’s new dean. He believes the law school needs to adopt a business school model for its students.

Philip Weiser is the University of Colorado Law School’s new dean. He believes the law school needs to adopt a business school model for its students.

Philip Weiser, the University of Colorado Law School’s new dean, is out to prove that law school is still a good value, despite numerous challenges facing the legal profession.

The economic downturn has meant that attorney positions are harder to come by, and the traditional pipeline of jobs for new graduates — associate positions at big law firms — is shrinking.

For Weiser, that means that the law school must adopt more of a business school model for its students, connecting them with corporations and professionals who can help them launch their careers.

“Law schools provide great training for a variety of careers,” Weiser said. “People need to be more resourceful and realize that law school is an entrée to a number of different sectors.”

Weiser wants the regional business community and potential law students to know that the CU Law School “is open for business.”

“My view is that we are competing in a national market,” Weiser said. “For this past year, our applications were up, even when they were down elsewhere. We attracted an incoming class [for fall 2011] with a median LSAT [Law School Admission Test] score of 164 and GPA of 3.6.”

To continue to attract the best and brightest, Weiser wants to ensure that CU’s “value proposition” will serve its students well.

The school estimates it will cost Colorado residents about $50,000 in tuition, fees, rent, utilities, food and supplies to attend CU Law School in 2011-2012; more than $56,000 for non-residents. Tuition alone is $31,000 a year for state residents and $37,500 for non-residents.

For comparison, tuition at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law in 2009-2010 was $35,460 a year, according to the college’s website.

Part of creating value means continuing to provide a wider variety of career choices for graduating law students, Weiser said. In the past, CU law students have landed jobs at Denver-based DaVita, Dish Network and even smaller entrepreneurial companies like Grooveshark, a Gainesville, Fla.-based music sharing company

Weiser is a veteran of bringing together business with academia and government. From 2009 to 2011, he was the senior adviser for technology and innovation to the National Economic Council at the White House before he was named the dean of the CU Law School at the end of May.

It’s a homecoming for Weiser, who first joined the CU Law School faculty in 1999 as a professor of law and telecommunications. He founded Silicon Flatirons in 1999, a center for law, technology and entrepreneurship at CU that aims to inspire student interest in technology-related law.

Boulder is a natural location for connecting law students with technology entrepreneurs, he said. It has the highest U.S. concentration of software engineers and doctorates per capita and is second only to Silicon Valley in percentage of workers employed in the technology sector.

Weiser took over as dean on July 1, replacing David Getches, who was scheduled to return to teaching after eight years as the dean. Getches died on July 5 after a short battle with pancreatic cancer.

“David’s untimely passing was an enormous loss,” said Weiser, who was a friend of Getches. “I find myself having a lot of moments where I’m thinking, ‘What would David do in this situation?’”

Getches had overseen the construction of the $40 million Wolf Law Building in 2006, and had expanded the school’s academic programs to include three master’s of law programs, three legal clinics, eight dual degrees and an endowed Experiential Learning Program.

He had built a reputation for the CU Law School for having among the nation’s best academic offerings for natural resources and Native American law.

“Those will continue to be crown jewels for the university, along with technology and entrepreneurial law,” Weiser said.

Both he and Getches shared a commitment to students and a commitment to excellence, Weiser said, that now means helping students realize they have to “build their own franchise” before they graduate.

Helping students land jobs after they pass the bar involves “a two-pronged challenge of engaging students and engaging the outside world,” Weiser said.

Enhancing the law school’s career-placement infrastructure will be key to providing students with a “running start” to their careers, he said.

David St. John-Larkin, a patent attorney in the Denver office of Minneapolis-based Merchant & Gould PC, said Weiser is a good choice to push CU law students to be more creative with their careers before they graduate.

“He’ll teach students that they need to view their law school education with the reality that this is a tough job market,” said St. John-Larkin, who graduated from CU Law School in 2003. “From day one they need to start building a network to translate their degree into a position, whether it’s a paid position within a law firm or lower-paying position at a nonprofit.”

St. John-Larkin’s participation in Silicon Flatirons while he was at CU helped him land a job right after he passed the bar, he said. He met professionals whose guidance motivated him to pursue an unpaid internship at Cable Labs in Louisville. That experience led to a job at Douglas County-based Dish Network right out of school.

Silicon Flatirons also helped Hiwot Covell, a 2009 CU Law School graduate who now works as an intellectual property attorney in Denver-based Sheridan Ross.

“Silicon Flatirons is a great program because they expose you to great leaders in the technology industry,” Covell said. “People involved in Silicon Flatirons were willing to help discuss future plans with students.”

Both CU graduates agreed that the market is tight for attorneys these days, so career placement is more important than ever. “The current economic climate has shrunk the pool of jobs some students might have historically been able to acquire,” St. John-Larkin said.

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