New dean outlines plan to improve Valparaiso Law School’s national reputation

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Barely a month into her tenure as dean of Valparaiso University Law School, Andrea Lyon is already talking about her nontraditional plan to improve the institution’s national ranking.

The new dean trumpeted the school and outlined her goals to central Indiana alumni at a special reception in Indianapolis Aug. 7. Since becoming dean, Lyon has been traveling around the state to introduce herself and talk to alumni.

In Indianapolis, she greeted graduates personally at the Columbia Club and then made some general remarks to the crowd. She opened by telling the group she was thrilled to be part of Valparaiso Law School.

“It’s a very, very exciting time,” Lyon said, noting the incoming class, which numbers about 188 students, has an LSAT score that is two points higher than last year’s incoming students.

lyon Valparaiso University Law School Dean Andrea Lyon, left, speaks with Valpo Law grad Indiana Court of Appeals Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik during a reception in Indianapolis for alumni. (IL Photo/ Kelly Lucas)

She then turned her attention to the subject about which alumni frequently ask – ranking.

She conceded that “ranking” is a dirty word and many object to the whole notion of rating law school but, she said, ranking is a fact of life and does affect graduates’ ability to get jobs.

Her assessment is valid.

Nine months after graduation, less than 50 percent of the lawyers who studied at Valparaiso Law School had full-time jobs that required bar passage, according to the American Bar Association statistics for 2011, 2012 and 2013. In addition, the school has been regularly listed in U.S. News & World Report’s “rank not published” category, a designation given to schools that have a ranking below magazine’s cutoff point of roughly 150.

Lyon wants to improve Valparaiso’s ranking by highlighting the school’s strengths. The traditional route to boost a law school’s national stature is to focus on faculty research but, she said, Valparaiso does not have 25 to 30 years and millions of dollars to climb out of the “rank not published” section.

Instead, Lyon wants to emphasize the school’s focus on training people to be lawyers. She wants to get a national reputation for its clinical  programs and legal writing courses that give students hands-on experience.  
“I think that we get those programs ranked and they will pull us up with it and people will come to us who want to be lawyers,” she said.  Someone who wants to be a theoretician probably not will go to Valparaiso, but that’s OK, she said, as there’s room in the world for lots of different schools, and “our school trains lawyers.”

Husband and wife alumni, J. Sebastian Smelko, attorney at Bingham Greenebaum Doll LLP and Heather James, attorney at Ice Miller LLP, both praised the legal research and writing program.  

“That’s why I went to Valparaiso was because of the legal research and writing program,” James said. “I don’t know that that needs any improvement, but to the extent that she can focus on making that program even better that would be wonderful.”

Lyon is the 12th dean and first woman to lead the law school. She earned her law degree at Antioch School of Law and prior to joining Valparaiso, she was the associate dean of clinical programs and director of the Center for Justice in Capital Cases at the DePaul University College of Law in Chicago.


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