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IU Maurer's dean builds relationships beyond the law school

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Walking into his office, Austen Parrish apologizes the space still has a just-moved-in look.

Indeed, the dean’s office at Indiana University Maurer School of Law is spacious, comfortable and flooded with light from a big bay window. But Parrish, having arrived at the start of the spring semester, has not had time to arrange furniture, hang pictures and fill the shelves with books and personal mementos.

The tall, personable law professor from Los Angeles was selected dean of the Bloomington law school in December 2013 after a protracted search. He stepped in to lead the oldest state-supported law school in the Midwest during a time of change and uncertainty in legal education.

Parrish_X8B6176_edit-15col.jpg Dean Austen Parrish has introduced scholarship programs with two Indiana colleges and created a student advisory committee at Indiana University Maurer School of Law since joining the school this year. (Photo courtesy of Debbi Conkle)

Parrish was happy at Southwestern Law School where he taught and served as an administrator for 11 years. He liked the school and his work so much that he was never tempted to apply for the dean vacancies that open every year – until he learned IU Maurer was looking.

Crediting former Dean Lauren Robel and interim Dean Hannah Buxbaum with positioning the law school for the future and creating innovative programs, Parrish said he wanted to come to Indiana.

And the state of his office is not an indication that he intends to use the school as a quick stepping stone to another position elsewhere. Instead, as he sat at the conference table shoved too close to the bookshelves in his office, it became apparent he has not had time to decorate because he has kept a full schedule crafting and implementing his plans to keep IU Maurer a top-tier law school.

“You don’t want to be naïve about what the challenges are out there,” Parrish said. “It means you don’t spend large amounts of money, you try to be conservative, you try to cut expenses where you can. But you also try to build on your strengths, and you move forward aggressively with the idea that moving forward aggressively and maybe doing things a little differently than other people are doing is a great way to get yourself ahead while other places are stumbling.”

Building relationships

Just months into his tenure, Parrish has introduced his own innovation by entering into scholarship programs with Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and Wabash College. The partnerships are intended to identify and court talented undergraduates to pursue a career in the law and to come to IU Maurer for their legal education.

For Wabash College, the partnership contains two elements – scholarships that will provide half of the law school’s tuition and a mentoring program connecting students with practicing lawyers and law professors.

Scott Himsel, visiting associate professor of political science and chair of the prelaw committee at Wabash, is especially excited about the mentoring aspect.

Coming from a southern Indiana farming family that does not have any lawyers in its family tree, Himsel learned from experience that mentors can offer much-needed guidance and support. They can advise their students on topics ranging from what a lawyer does and what college classes are most helpful to the more mundane concerns like how to apply for a job.

Himsel is an alumnus of Wabash College and a partner at Faegre Baker Daniels LLP.

Wabash has a history of sending its graduates to law school but still, he said, the college was thrilled when Parrish proposed his idea. The new partnership will ease the expense for the scholarship recipients and enable them to attend a law school with exciting innovative clinical programs and curriculum, Himsel said.

“I tip my hat to Dean Parrish. He’s an impressive individual,” Himsel added.

parrish-facts.jpgParrish sees potential for creating similar relationships with other undergraduate institutions as well as the U.S. Military and large international corporations. To him, building these partnerships can expand the law school experience from the traditional three years by giving students a deeper connection to IU Maurer.

The associations can introduce the Bloomington law school to students early in their undergraduate years, give them an idea of what a law degree can mean to their future careers, and then keep them very involved with the school after they graduate.

“To the extent I am able to lock in these programs, then they provide me not only a way to continue to attract the nation’s best and brightest but also to provide them with focused job pathways,” Parrish said. “So somebody’s coming to the school not because they’re unsure what they want to do but rather they’re using the J.D. to advance themselves either in business or in law.”

‘The whole package’

Within IU Maurer and the larger Indiana University, Parrish has also been creating relationships and collaborations. He established a student advisory committee to get feedback on initiatives, and he regularly seeks out ideas from faculty and alumni.

Former IU Maurer Dean Bryant Garth believes Parrish’s habit of seeking guidance and consensus from the faculty makes him especially well-suited to lead the Bloomington law school. The faculty in Indiana is close knit, and they do not want a dean who is dictatorial, rather, someone with whom they can collaborate.

Garth worked with Parrish at Southwestern and said early on colleagues recognized Parrish was a talented teacher and legal scholar. Parrish worked very hard, Garth said, and exercised good judgment.

“He had the whole package,” Garth said. “It was clear he was on his way to something bigger than what he was doing.”

His career path was not always clear. Parrish did not consider becoming a professor until the arrival of his first daughter made him want to spend more time with his family.

Parrish confessed he did not have a strong reason for going to law school in the first place, attributing his decision to all the adults who said his childhood trait of talking a lot would make him a good lawyer. After he graduated from Columbia University Law School in 1997, he joined the Los Angeles-based firm of O’Melveny & Myers where he handled large, sophisticated business litigation.

There, he logged many hours and, as he put it, traveled an insane amount. So days before his daughter was born, he joined Southwestern as a legal writing instructor.

He excelled as a teacher and quickly moved into the law school’s administration, first by serving as the director of Southwestern’s summer law program in Vancouver and eventually as interim dean.

John Applegate, IU Maurer professor and chair of the search committee that recommended Parrish, saw the new dean’s enthusiasm immediately. Applegate said Parrish had barely unpacked his desk before enlisting the entire law school community to help students find jobs.

“So far, Austen has been exactly what we hoped and expected – energetic, lots of ideas, and a great communicator,” Applegate said.

In Bloomington, Parrish has kept long hours. His duties include meeting alumni, trumpeting the school’s national reputation, managing a very talented faculty and staff, hustling to maintain the school’s high ranking and making sure the students have a good educational experience.

Mostly, he said the job is enjoyable and he is looking forward to being a part of IU Maurer history.

“I’m not expecting radical changes,” Parrish said. “I’m expecting to look for efficiencies where we can. I’m looking for us to be more aggressive. Maybe we shake things up by adding new things here and there, and we add new relationships and we do things better. But the core, I think, is very strong.”•

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  1. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  2. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  3. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

  4. When I hear 'Juvenile Lawyer' I think of an attorney helping a high school aged kid through the court system for a poor decision; like smashing mailboxes. Thank you for opening up my eyes to the bigger picture of the need for juvenile attorneys. It made me sad, but also fascinated, when it was explained, in the sixth paragraph, that parents making poor decisions (such as drug abuse) can cause situations where children need legal representation and aid from a lawyer.

  5. Some in the Hoosier legal elite consider this prayer recommended by the AG seditious, not to mention the Saint who pledged loyalty to God over King and went to the axe for so doing: "Thomas More, counselor of law and statesman of integrity, merry martyr and most human of saints: Pray that, for the glory of God and in the pursuit of His justice, I may be trustworthy with confidences, keen in study, accurate in analysis, correct in conclusion, able in argument, loyal to clients, honest with all, courteous to adversaries, ever attentive to conscience. Sit with me at my desk and listen with me to my clients' tales. Read with me in my library and stand always beside me so that today I shall not, to win a point, lose my soul. Pray that my family may find in me what yours found in you: friendship and courage, cheerfulness and charity, diligence in duties, counsel in adversity, patience in pain—their good servant, and God's first. Amen."

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