Dean Jacob H. Rooksby

Dean Jacob H. Rooksby: A Focus on the Whole

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Attorney at Law Magazine recently spoke with Gonzaga Law School Dean Jacob H. Rooksby. Rooksby, who also holds joint appointment as a tenured professor of law and professor of leadership studies, was associate professor and associate dean at Duquesne University School of Law, where he taught Torts I and Torts II, among other courses. While on the faculty at Duquesne, Dean Rooksby was of counsel to the intellectual property (IP) practice group at Cohen & Grigsby, P.C. in Pittsburgh and served as an expert witness in IP litigation.

AALM: What attracted you to IP law?

JHR: I took a class my second year of law school—Introduction to Intellectual Property—that excited me from the moment it began. Seemingly every case involved a company I had heard about (Google, Apple, etc.), and every dispute involved something that I could identify with or that seemed on the cutting edge. The professor who taught the course—Lillian BeVier, the University of Virginia’s first tenured female law professor, now retired—had a remarkable way of making difficult material approachable. That class, and her style, caused a spark. I suddenly found a direction that interested me unlike any others up to that point. Summer work experiences at law firms confirmed the interest, and off I went into a practice devoted to IP litigation at McGuireWoods LLP in Richmond, Virginia.

AALM: What makes Gonzaga Law unique or special?

JHR: Our focus on the whole person sets us apart from many of our competitors. Students, along with our faculty and staff, are encouraged to bring their humanity into the learning process on a daily basis. The lived experience of individuals matters greatly in our learning community. We also make good on the full promise of social justice education—whether it is focusing on the law’s impact on civil and human rights, or how corporate behavior impacts the public good. I would say our size is also just right. As an institution, we are small enough to care, and large enough to matter.

AALM: How do you think law schools can better prepare students for the practice of law?

JHR: There is a lot of discussion right now about the future of the bar exam. Part of it relates to the pandemic, and the trying circumstances it has brought on for graduates, and part of it relates to the inequalities that are inherent in standardized testing regimes. I would like to see leaders of the bar, the judiciary, and legal academia work together to fashion a new system for licensing lawyers, one that more directly involves law schools in certifying basic competency to practice. I think students and the public would be better served if law school graduates were licensed to practice law immediately upon graduation from an ABA-approved law school. But to implement that vision will mean engaging in the hard work of rethinking and revamping legal education while we simultaneously phase out what has been thought of as a storied rite of passage (or ritualistic hazing, depending on one’s perspective!).

work together to fashion a new system for licensing lawyers, one that more directly involves law schools in certifying basic competency to practice.

AALM: What is the most important lesson your parents taught you?

JHR: One of the most important lessons that sticks with me comes from my mom, who loves the expression, “When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.” I believe it’s attributed to the Dalai Lama. We all have disappointments in life, personally and professionally—we will lose from time to time, and maybe more times than not. I find it is so critical to take the negative energy and turn it into something positive. And self-awareness leads to self-improvement. Some things we can change and some we cannot. But there are always lessons to be learned, big and small, from our victories but more importantly from our defeats. Never choose to ignore them.

AALM: What are you most proud of professionally or personally?

JHR: Professionally, I am most proud of the book I wrote and published in 2016 with Johns Hopkins University Press, The Branding of the American Mind: How Universities Capture, Manage, and Monetize Intellectual Property and Why It Matters. It was a labor of love and I learned much from the process. Personally, I am most proud of my wife and our 14-year marriage, and our amazing daughter, whose curiosity keeps us constantly learning about ourselves, the world, and our place in it.

AALM: If you could impart one bit of wisdom to your law students what would that be?

JHR: We live in an increasingly interconnected society, fueled by social media and an endless news cycle. But at the end of the day, law is still a personal and small profession. Things we say, write, or do often outlive the moment, and maybe we later find out we were not as wise in retrospect as we thought we were at the time, or that others were not as foolish as we thought or said. Some things are easily forgotten or forgiven with time, but others are more lasting. Humility can be an elusive quality but is one that enjoys a long shelf life—and I say that as someone who at times struggles to attain it and retain it. I take guidance from words of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, who cautioned his colleagues attending the Council of Trent as follows: “Be modest when you are certain. Argue from authority cautiously. And consider the reasons on both sides without showing attachment to your own opinion.”

Things we say, write, or do often outlive the moment, and maybe we later find out we were not as wise in retrospect as we thought we were at the time…

AALM: If you had not studied law and not become a legendary academic, what you be?

JHR: “Legendary” is laughably generous, although I appreciate the question. I would love to be a 60 Minutes news correspondent. They get to ask wide-ranging questions of important people involved with history and complex issues of the day. I have always admired Lesley Stahl in particular. She knows how to humanize difficult subjects. And her hard-hitting questions get answered because of the congenial rapport she develops with her interviewees.

AALM: Who is the Jacob who let’s down his hair and cuts loose?

JHR: I love camping and getting off the grid! We live in a beautiful part of the country. Relaxation, to me, means exploring the region’s many lakes, streams, and pastoral settings with my wife and daughter. We like to hike, bike, and sight see whenever and wherever we can.

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