Questions & Answers

Dean Chris Guthrie talks about the most pressing issues facing the law school, why a legal education is still a good investment, what he hopes to accomplish, and how alumni can help.

What are the most pressing issues facing Vanderbilt Law School right now?

Our recent graduates and current law students face the most challenging legal job market any of us can remember. At the law school National Council meeting on October 16, I was encouraged to hear our Council members urge us to ask them and other alumni for help. I'm asking! In a recent email to our alumni, Elizabeth Workman has outlined several ways they can help our students find good jobs. Those include hiring them, which I urge everyone to do!

Another priority is rebuilding our faculty. In the past several years, I've witnessed the retirement of a generation of Vanderbilt law faculty who were revered teachers and renowned scholars, and one of my most important jobs is to help recruit additional faculty who will continue that tradition of excellent teaching and scholarship and are good fits with Vanderbilt's culture.

Scholarship funding is another priority. Tracey and I made an endowment pledge to support a scholarship, and I am asking alumni to do the same. I was incredibly grateful to learn that Robb Hough's family foundation and the Moot Court Team of 1979 have come together to endow a scholarship in honor of Don Hall. Scholarships allow us to recruit top students, subsidize the costs of their legal education, limit their indebtedness, and maximize their career options.

Last but certainly not least, alumni and students often tell me that one of the reasons they chose Vanderbilt Law School and cherish the time they spent here is the culture, which makes Vanderbilt a wonderful place for students to study and for faculty and staff to work. I understand that. Tracey and I chose to teach at Vanderbilt in large part because of the culture here. It's an enormous asset that I view as a sacred trust, and it will be an important consideration as we recruit new faculty and prospective students.

Why do you think a legal education is a good investment given today's job market?

For me, the first semester of law school was a transformative experience. One of the greatest pleasures of teaching at a law school is watching a new class of students have that same experience every year. A legal education gives you a set of skills that are useful in any endeavor. Twenty-six of 44 U.S. presidents, including Barack Obama, have been lawyers. At any given time, more than half of the Senate and about a third of the House members are lawyers, along with the entire federal judicial branch. Lawyers also play a leadership role in the private sector; about 10 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are lawyers. And in addition to lawyers employed by the public and non-profit sectors—like prosecutors, public defenders, and legal aid attorneys—private-sector lawyers perform important public roles. Litigators provide peaceful resolution to serious conflict. Empirical evidence shows that most people are able to resolve their disputes without hiring lawyers or invoking the legal system. Lawyers help resolve that small fraction of disputes that people can't resolve on their own. Transactional lawyers provide prosperity. Most of us can make mutually beneficial deals on our own, but lawyers help put together business deals that are so large or complex the parties can't work out all the details themselves. Society needs the talented lawyers that Vanderbilt Law School produces.

What do you hope to accomplish during your deanship?

I'm in the enviable position of being able to build on the accomplishments of my two immediate predecessors, Kent Syverud and Ed Rubin. Under Kent's leadership, the law school building nearly doubled in size; Vanderbilt now boasts one of the best law school facilities in the nation. Kent accomplished this while strengthening Vanderbilt's collaborative culture. Ed focused on revitalizing our curriculum, and we're now able to offer our students a truly extraordinary array of course options.

My priority is to invest in our people: our faculty, our students, our alumni, and the culture that unites us. We have generated a lot of positive momentum in recent years, and we should capitalize on it! With alumni support, I am confident that our best days are ahead of us.

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