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Dean's Desk: IU Maurer alumni, students exemplify hard work, integrity

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deans-desk-parrishThis is my first Dean’s Desk column for the Indiana Lawyer, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to contribute. This past week, I had the privilege of welcoming four of our graduates into our Academy of Law Alumni Fellows – one of the highlight events of the deanship since I joined the law school in January. I was sufficiently moved by the ceremony that I thought I’d write about it in my first column.

Induction into the Academy is special. The award is the highest honor the Indiana University Maurer School of Law can bestow upon its alumni. It consists of an elite group that includes U.S. senators, federal judges, successful business leaders and distinguished practitioners. This year, we honored an entrepreneur and conservationist (Lowell Baier ’64); an international lawyer and business executive (Sara Yang Bosco ’83); a veteran and criminal defense attorney (Don Dorfman ’57); and a longtime Indiana practitioner and judge (Patricia McNagny ’51). All four of them grew up in Indiana, and yet their impact has gone well beyond the state’s borders. When giving remarks during the induction, each of them had uplifting messages about how they used their education to make a difference in the world.

Our inductees’ positive messages stood in stark contrast to the relentless negativity we hear about law school in the national media. Not only is the economy tough, we are told, but things have fundamentally and permanently changed. Good jobs are now much harder to find, and the path to professional success is no longer guaranteed. You should only go to law school if you can assure yourself of immediate large financial rewards, often tied to working only in the largest Wall Street firms. Law school, it seems, is for chumps.

What bothers me is not that the national media or the law blogs – our own Perez Hilton wannabes – are so down on law school. They are paid to peddle overwrought sensationalism. It’s that so many of us seem to buy into it and discourage the next generation’s best and brightest from pursuing higher education. As we oversell how things have radically changed, we downplay our own accomplishments and hard-fought achievements. We also feed the very worst caricature of the current generation – that they are all spoiled rotten, self-absorbed narcissists who are consumed with an intense sense of entitlement. We capitulate to the myopic idea that a legal education is not worth it unless we can see immediate results.

What’s troubling is that so little of it is true. The economy has been bad for sure, and new lawyers face stiffer challenges in the job market than before the recession. The rising cost of education is also a serious issue. But professional success was never guaranteed. Not one of our Academy fellows had life handed to them on silver platters, expected immediate rewards or saw their careers as one of entitlement. Their achievements were their own, won through grit, hard work and deep integrity. Pretending differently is insulting to their legacies.

And it’s not just these four. Since I joined the law school in January, I’ve met with more than 400 alumni, many of them practicing or sitting on the bench in cities and towns throughout the state. And not one has told me that they thought it would be easy or that they wouldn’t have to pay their dues. They went to law school motivated not by avarice, but by the intellectual challenge and for wanting to make more of themselves, to better provide for their families, and often because of a heartfelt desire to contribute to society. I’ve met many alums who had to hold down multiple jobs to make ends meet, who hustled for their first cases, and who lived leanly in their early years. Those who found financial success did so based on their own merit.

As a result of this hard-work ethic, our graduates have left their mark. The Maurer School of Law, as the state’s flagship law school and one of the oldest law schools in the nation, has been the place where public officials, diplomats, leading lawyers, entrepreneurs, and the top business people have cut their teeth. Our alumni include giants like U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sherman Minton, U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton and U.S. Sen. Birch Bayh. Our graduates are trailblazers, and they certainly didn’t have it easy – consider the first elected female African-American trial judge in the country and the first to serve on the supreme court of any state (Juanita Kidd Stout); the first woman on the Wisconsin Supreme Court and its current chief justice (Shirley Abrahamson); the first Japanese-American admitted to the bar in the United States (Masuji Miyakawa); and influential Latino practitioners and federal District Court judges (José Villarreal and Gonzalo Curiel, respectively), to name just a few.

It’s worth underscoring that this legacy of alumni excellence isn’t one of a distant past, although we know we stand on their shoulders – well-known graduates like Hoagy Carmichael, Wendell Willkie, William Jenner or George Craig. Our alumni ranks are filled with the most important leaders in business, law and public service of the day. In Indiana alone, the Maurer School of Law can proudly claim more than 100 federal or state judges; more than 80 corporate executives, including CEOs, presidents, CFOs, COOs and executive directors; 81 general counsels; 88 deputy and assistant prosecutors; 21 county bar association presidents; eight public defenders; five assistant U.S. attorneys; and a justice on the Indiana Supreme Court. Indeed, more of our graduates have served in the past half century on the Indiana Supreme Court than graduates from any other law school in the nation. And this is just Indiana. Many of our graduates do not stay in the state, with a large number practicing in Chicago; New York; Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles and elsewhere. Also, don’t be misled to thinking a law degree is only for those wanting to practice law. Over the last five years, less than half of our graduates have chosen to pursue traditional law-firm employment.

This generation of law students is also not as entitled or as naïve as the simple stereotype suggests. Maybe it’s different in other states. But the law students I know aren’t lazy and entitled; they are inspiring, entrepreneurial and resourceful, and they understand the key role they will play in the globalized world of tomorrow. Students now at the Maurer School of Law – like their predecessors – will go on to do great things. Students such as Mahja Zeon, who will work at the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office, but who also does tremendous human rights work with our Center for Constitutional Democracy and the Liberian Law Reform Commission. It includes Christina Abossedgh, a third-year student on the executive board of the Business Law Society, who spent her last summer in New Delhi, India, working at one of the more prestigious law firms in that region as part of the school’s innovative Stewart Fellows program. The value of the J.D. degree is underscored by students such as David Frazee, Alaina Hobbs and Jonathon Hitz who are competing in the ABA National Moot Court Competition, after placing as finalists in the regional competition in Seattle. And students like Sedric Collins, who is the president of the school’s Black Law Student Association that won the regional chapter award for the third year running. It includes the dozens of students who participate in our clinics and volunteer for hundreds of hours of pro bono service, each day helping people in Indiana live better lives. I’d put our students up against any graduate over the past 50 years – their lawyering skills are exceptional.

The future is in good hands: Our current students have the same mettle as those we honored at our awards induction. They come to the profession not with a sense of entitlement, but as hard workers, willing to roll up their sleeves to get the job done. They know that the road to a satisfying career can be tough. But they also know that for those who are willing to dig in, work hard and build connections, the investment in a legal education can reap enormous personal and professional rewards. The transformative value of higher education remains. It’s the certainty of their future achievements, like the achievements of the four alumni we celebrated recently, that makes me feel proud and privileged to be dean of this great law school.•

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Austen L. Parrish is dean and James H. Rudy Professor of Law at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law. Opinions expressed are the author’s.
 

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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