As UNC School of Law gears up for a major fundraising campaign in 2015, Dean John Boger sat down with Attorney at Law Magazine Publisher Bob Friedman to discuss the school’s mission of being a great public law school while facing some financial realities.
AALM: How is UNC School of Law coping with cuts in funding from the state Legislature which have totaled roughly 40 percent in the last six years?
Boger: We are turning significantly to private support. Public universities and law schools traditionally have looked to the state as their principal source of funding. Tuition was extremely modest. In the past two decades, we’ve raised tuition (now $22,561 for in-state residents for 2014-15) to levels that are far more substantial although still much lower than our peers. So we’re looking to our alumni for more support than we have in previous years.
AALM: You are planning a capital campaign for next year to raise over $70 million. How will those funds be used?
Boger: A substantial portion of it will be to support scholarship assistance. Some of it will support faculty initiatives. Some of it will support student experience. We want to create programs in which students get much more exposure to real world law practice in various contexts: additional clinics, additional externships and summer programs to bring them practical skills. We will also use funds for some of our centers here, such as the UNC Center for Banking and Finance and the UNC Center for Law, Environment, Adaptation and Resources, among others.
AALM: How are you addressing the challenge for the thousand or so students who graduate every year from the seven law schools in the state?
Boger: We’ve expanded our staff of career development officials. We are working individually with our students to let them reflect more closely on their strengths and their interests. We’ve reached out to our alumni to let them know about the need to create a pipeline and to look carefully at our best students. Moreover, we send about 40 percent of our graduates to other states throughout the country.
AALM: What’s an example of the kind of advice are you giving students?
Boger: We are encouraging our students to look more widely than they have done in the past, both in the state and in markets beyond where we traditionally send students. We’ve been very strong up and down the East Coast. Now we’re looking harder at Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, Texas, Chicago and California as well.
AALM: Tell me about your transition to practice and practice ready courses.
Boger: Every year, we offer about 10-15 courses that invite students to put themselves in the role of lawyers in simulated classroom settings in everything from bankruptcy to environmental protection to helping startup companies in the bio-tech industry. We also have a second generation of curricular reform effort underway, being led by the faculty, who are changing the way they teach their courses. So for example, they put their students in the role of a bankruptcy lawyer, or bankruptcy trustee or a debtor and work through problems so they can see the financial implications of taking different positions, not just the formal principles of law. Understanding the formal doctrines and principles that bear on what a client can and can’t do is indispensable, of course, but clients are interested in solutions. Students begin to realize it’s our job to help bring together both legal principles and pragmatics and economics to have that happen.
AALM: What are some of the practice areas you are expanding to prepare for changes in the demands of the marketplace?
Boger: Intellectual property is growing in every direction. More and more people and businesses are developing trademarks or brands. Our students are learning in all forms of commerce the intellectual property dimensions. International law is much more significant. Students have to know more about internationally related law; even if they are not taking a specific course in international law, their transactional course will mention the European Community or the domains of law that might bear on it.
We are stressing banking and finance because of its importance in North Carolina. We are looking very hard at expanding our health law coverage because health law is so much more complex than it used to be. We’re doing innovative things in the media law as people now find themselves enmeshed in data worlds unimagined two decades ago.
AALM: How are you preparing students for the business of running a law firm?
Boger: We are starting a course this spring on how to run a small law firm. It will be a course about the financing and entity responsibilities such as labor relations management, business development, obligations to clients and how to keep files over time. We also have courses about how to manage pre-trial litigation in broad settings. Before we stressed simply knowing the rules of civil procedure; now we want students to understand how to conduct e-discovery and other aspects of the administrative business of law.
AALM: How would you define the UNC School of Law brand?
Boger: We see ourselves as an outstanding law school truly committed to public good. We are proud that the graduates we send forth into a community, whether to private law firms or to government service, will become active in local charities and will step forward to offer their pro bono public service to those in need. We have 50 student programs that actively support public engagement work. At graduation, we give recognition to students who performed at least 75 hours of community service. Last year, nearly 80 percent of our students had reached that level. This is a school in active service to the state and the nation beyond its borders.