Following his retirement from the Tennessee Supreme Court in July 2014, William Koch, Jr. was looking for a way to continue shaping the Tennessee legal community. Making the decision to move to academia, the former justice had many opportunities before him, but with his decision to head up Nashville School of Law, Koch moves away from the “traditional” law school, embracing the school on the eve of its 104th anniversary. The school celebrated the investiture of Dean William Koch Sept. 26.
To mark the significance of this event, we sat down with Dean Koch to discuss his decision to retire his robes and his plans for a career in academia.
AALM: Dean Koch, as many believe you were on the path to become the next chief justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court, please tell us what compelled you to step down from this prestigious bench?
Koch: Serving as an appellate judge in Tennessee for 30 years was a great privilege, and I am grateful to Gov. Alexander and later Gov. Bredesen for giving me the opportunity to serve on the Court of Appeals and the Tennessee Supreme Court. I enjoyed the work and most likely would still be on the Tennessee Supreme Court had the board of trustees of the Nashville School of Law not offered me the deanship. I was drawn to the job because of my desire to help the committed and tenacious men and women who attend our school to accomplish their life-long dream of becoming a lawyer.
AALM: With so many options available to you, what drew you to the Nashville School of Law?
Koch: Nashville has three excellent law schools. I am fortunate to have graduated from one of them and to have taught at all three. From the very beginning of my legal career, I have admired the historical mission of the Nashville School of Law and the impact its graduates have had and are continuing to have not only in Nashville, but also in Tennessee and the nation. Today, Nashville School of Law graduates are practicing in 93 of Tennessee’s 95 counties. I was particularly drawn to this school because, after teaching here for 17 years, I see and admire how so many of our graduates are providing quality legal services to Tennesseans who might otherwise not have meaningful access to legal assistance.
AALM: What immediate plans do you have in your new role as dean?
Koch: First, many practicing lawyers and judges frequently express their belief that our graduates are among the most “practice-ready” when they are admitted to the bar. I intend to do all I can to make sure that that remains true.
There are a number of other initiatives that are already underway or on the horizon. Just as the law changes, legal education must change in order to give new lawyers the skills they need. Our curriculum is sound, and we are currently in the process of making sure that we are teaching students in the most effective way to pass the bar and to practice law.
We have already started improving the student experience at the school, and we are in the process of overhauling and upgrading our technology infrastructure both in the classroom and the business end of the school.
We are also expanding the opportunities for our students to learn lawyering skills while also helping bridge the gap in the access to justice by creating opportunities for public service and by developing internships with courts, district attorneys, public defenders, legal services organizations and other employers.
Finally, the Nashville School of Law is a community resource, and I intend to identify and develop additional ways that we can support the lawyers and judges in the work they do. I also intend to pursue opportunities to use the school as a place where other individuals and groups in Nashville can come to learn more about the legal system and their legal rights and responsibilities.
AALM: What do you most hope to accomplish in this role? How will you know if you’ve succeeded?
Koch: When all is said and done, my personal goal is to produce new lawyers who will practice law with professionalism, civility and a commitment to excellence. The goal that I share with the 51 judges and lawyers on our faculty is not only to teach our students the law, but also to instill in them the understanding that lawyers should solve problems and resolve disputes, not create them. Lawyers have an obligation to be active and contributing members of their communities.
The faculty and I will know that we have accomplished what we set out to do when we see our graduates living their lives and practicing their profession in ways that honor those aspirations.