The Law Dean Series

Austen L. Parrish

Indiana University Maurer School of Law
Austen L. Parrish
Indiana University Maurer School of Law

The Indiana University Maurer School of Law is the ninth oldest law school in the United States. Located at the main campus in Bloomington, Indiana, the Maurer School of Law boasts a rigorous law curriculum bolstered by experiential opportunities and the support of a distinguished law faculty.

Since January 1, 2014, Austen L. Parrish has served as dean and James H. Rudy Professor of Law at Maurer. Prior to becoming dean, he served as Vice Dean, Interim Dean, and CEO of Southwestern School of Law in Los Angeles, California.

Dean Parrish has garnered a reputation as a renowned author and scholar in the field of transnational law, including the use of domestic law institutions in effecting global change.

As a law professor, Dean Parrish has taught courses including Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Federal Courts, International Environmental Law, and Public International Law.

In speaking with law deans across the nation, we were eager for the perspective of Dean Parrish, the author of Hard-Nosed Advice From a Cranky Law Professor. Clearly, this is a man who has something to say to new and prospective law students.

What is the biggest challenge facing new law students?

Some of the biggest challenges are the same as they’ve always been: Adjusting to the rigors of law school and learning to think critically and examine all sides of an issue. Writing skills are also critical for student success. The basic competencies around organizing a persuasive argument and expressing it in a logical and concise way can be a challenge for students. Toward that end, we have an extensive new orientation program, and we’ve revamped our first-year legal writing program to go beyond typical brief writing and include research memoranda and writing for specific audiences, such as senior partners and individual clients.

What is the single biggest challenge that you face as Dean?

Inspiring and building momentum. Our faculty and students do great things and our school is special in a lot of ways, with distinction on many fronts, but it’s always a challenge to celebrate and talk about it. Perhaps it’s our Midwestern reserve here in Indiana. We’re ranked 23rd in international programs, 20th in IP, 16th in tax – with programmatic innovation in other areas. Whether it’s motivating the admissions staff to recruit a class, gathering support from alumni to help with career placement, creating “buzz” within the school around student achievement, or rallying the faculty around their accomplishments, I believe it’s important to keep these efforts (and communication about them) on the front burner because success builds more success.

Which areas of the law do you think will experience the biggest growth over the next few years?

Areas such as cybersecurity, information privacy, and law and technology are expanding, and I expect they will continue to do so. We have the world’s leading experts on cybersecurity on our faculty, and a very strong IP program with distinction in design patents – a rapidly emerging area, as the recent Apple v. Samsunglitigation demonstrates.

Globalization in all its forms is also permeating the law. Fortunately, our school is part of a large university that is on the forefront of globalization, having just opened a new School of Global and International Studies and established three global gateways around the world. One of our professors has been named director of IU’s Global Gateway in Europe. More than a third of the law school’s faculty are significant scholars in the global field. We offer two dozen courses on global and international law and 20 global externships every summer. Although we are a state school, two-thirds of our students get jobs out of state, and our alumni practice in 55 countries. This illustrates that prevalence of globalization in today’s profession.

Is teaching law now different compared to when you were a law student?

Yes. There’s much more focus on studying the legal profession and on helping students identify their strengths and develop a career path for which they’re best suited. Ours was one of the first schools in the country to convert the dreaded course on legal ethics into a full-fledged course integrating ethics and professional development, with understanding changes occurring in the legal profession. Professor Bill Henderson, the founder of our Center on the Global Legal Profession, which developed the course, has been named the most influential person in legal education by National Jurist for two years in a row.

There is also a much greater emphasis on skills development. There were few clinics when I was in law school 20 years ago; now we have seven clinics, dozens of externships, non-credit pro bono projects, and courses in transactional drafting. Some clinics, such as our entrepreneurship clinic, leverage the strength of the university’s other schools, e.g., the Kelley School of Business, the School of Global and International Studies, and the School for Public and Environmental Affairs.

In addition, class sizes after the first year are smaller, and the student-teacher relationship is more collegial and less adversarial. Our faculty are committed scholars, wonderful teachers, and caring mentors. Our hiring committees don’t hire new professors unless they have a demonstrated passion for engaging with our students and making a difference in the world through their research and teaching. Even in traditional first year doctrinal courses, faculty are more aware of their roles in providing a well-rounded legal education. It requires assuring that students are developing critical reasoning and analysis skills, as well as a deep understanding of law and policy, but also understanding how that law connects to practical realities.

How do you think technology will impact criminal defense?

I expect we will continue to see developments in forensic evidence and challenges because of the CSI effect (e.g., the use of DNA, computer and mobile device forensics, cell phone triangulation, vehicle data recorders, social media data mining, big data and data analytics), and the need for lawyers to understand the science behind these technological changes will likely continue to grow.

Criminal defense lawyers will also use technological advances to present their cases in creative ways. But I doubt technology will change overly much the core of what it takes to be a great trial lawyer. Criminal defense lawyers still need the ability to connect with and understand their clients, and be able to communicate effectively with, and to relate to, the jury.

What do you think are the biggest legal challenges facing the Supreme Court?

We will continue to see a variety of cases struggling with globalization and transnational issues (recent examples include Kiobel, Daimler, Goodyear); and I expect there will be difficult health law questions that will persist as a result of challenges to Obamacare challenges. The culture war battles over reproductive rights, unions, affirmative action, the death penalty, and concerns with over-criminalization will certainly continue. In the short term, I suspect Justice Scalia’s death and the standoff over his replacement will be disruptive.

Are there any aspects of practicing law you miss due to being in education?

I loved the strategy behind preparing a case. A lot of that transfers into leading a school, because of the critical thinking, strategic planning, and communication skills necessary to serve as a dean. But there’s still something unique about litigation.

If you could invite any three legal or governmental identities (living or dead, real, or fictitious) to a meal whom would you invite?

There are too many to choose from. Inviting Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and John Adams (or any of the framers) to hash out this concept of originalism once and for all might be interesting.

What is your favorite legal movie?

The Verdict.