The Law Dean Series

Marc Miller

University of Arizona James Rogers College of Law
Marc Miller
University of Arizona James Rogers College of Law

A common thread as we speak with law school deans around the nation is the continually evolving legal profession and how it impacts legal education. As we spoke with Marc Miller, Dean and Ralph W. Bilby Professor of Law at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law, he discussed the need for law students to learn how to think critically to adapt to changes in both the educational and professional sectors.

A graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, Dean Miller has held several prestigious positions, including law clerk to Chief Judge John Godbold of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, as Attorney-Advisor in the Office of Legal Counsel of the U.S. Department of Justice, and as Special Counsel at the Vera Institute of Justice in New York. Since becoming a legal educator, he has served as a law professor and Associate Dean for Faculty and Scholarship at Emory University.

Dean Milller holds numerous positions and appointments, many related to his interests in environmental law and policy and criminal law and policy, and at the University of Arizona College of Law, he works closely with other departments to develop educational opportunities related to these fields.

He points to the global nature of law and how the development of policies and technologies will drive growth in virtually every field of law. Read more about Dean Miller's thoughts on legal education and the legal profession as a whole, as well as unique perspectives on the United States Supreme Court and a favorite movie that has not yet shown up in our law deans interviews.  

What is the biggest challenge facing new law students?

The traditional challenge of law school – learning to ‘think like a lawyer’ -- is still the most profound challenge for all law students and the primary goal (and one of the great joys) of legal education.

New law students face a profession that is changing, and indeed changing at an increasing pace. Adapting in school and in the market to these changes is a challenge law students now will face for their entire careers.

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

Transforming the law school to respond to the changing legal profession and diversifying the business model of the law school to sustain excellence and remain true to our deep values as a public research institution creates the single biggest challenge – and a great opportunity.

The national conversation about legal education has painted with a very rough brush. Criticism can be very healthy, and one thing the widespread discourse about the value and effectiveness of legal education has produced is deeper reflection, and in the best cases, a well-informed discussion among and with prospective law students.

The current national conversation has not addressed many of the deep drivers of change in the profession, such as the impact of globalization, technology, and changing models of both demand and delivery of legal services, and substitutes for services that would traditionally have been supplied by lawyers.

Related to the challenge of transforming legal education is creating opportunities for a serious and substantial conversation with people thinking about law school and about becoming lawyers. That conversation would include an assessment of the wide variety of professional entry points and pathways that lawyers are now following, sometimes in areas outside the formal practice of law.

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

Every area of law with a global dimension -- which is almost every area of law -- will continue to grow in the next few years. Intellectual property, in general and in a number of surprising contexts such as the protection of traditional or indigenous works. And although the role of traditional litigation may have changed, the need for experienced and capable advocates has not. We’ve established a Civil Justice Initiative to look at, and build strengths in, training new generations of lawyers to assist in the thoughtful reformation and operation of the civil justice process.

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

Yes and no. The classroom dynamic is different and considerably gentler, which I think is a good thing. The Socratic method remains a brilliant tool, and is still widely used. But when it was applied with a dose of terror – the “Paper Chase” method of instruction, if you will – I doubt it was more effective.

Learning law in many ways has become more demanding, even if it is less demoralizing. We ask more questions that provoke thought and new kinds of knowledge and analysis, we require more writing and synthesis, we teach in smaller settings like clinics and seminars rather than huge courses that allow students to sit in the back and then sit for a test. That is especially true at a small law school like the UofA. It’s impossible to be anonymous here. For the right students, that is education gold.

How do you think technology will impact criminal defense?

New technology and the advancement of science have profoundly changed the nature of evidence and the processes of proof. Amidst such rapid and radical change, we are also dealing with the ways that people perceive and use new science and technology. In other ways, criminal practice (including criminal defense) remains one of the areas where a lawyer will find herself in a courtroom on a regular basis, and where there are fewer substitutes for the difficult factual judgments and profound moral judgments that the criminal law embodies.

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

I wish the Court would overcome its longstanding and continuing resistance to televising arguments, though the greater access to oral arguments since 2010 is a step in the right direction. The Court by its nature hears important cases every term, and we have been reminded of that with a series of ‘blockbusters’ in recent years.

I believe the role of the Court and the matters they address would be far better understood if citizens could watch the arguments. And better understanding of the Court’s work would, I believe, lead to an increasing respect for the institution. I worry greatly about what appears to be increasing political rhetoric about the Court as an institution (but I wouldn’t be surprised, either, if my colleagues and other scholars who are more focused on the Court’s business told me that in fact the rhetoric that concerns me is more common and more sustained than I had realized).

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

I enjoyed practice. One of the great things about the move towards more experiential education is that much of the excitement and pleasure of having clients and addressing concrete issues is much more prevalent in law school than when I was a student. I also spend much of my time with those in active practice, and can share in the pleasure they get from their work.

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

That is a really hard question because the list is so long. Perhaps first among many judges would be former California Supreme Court Justice Roger Trainer, who had a profound influence on many areas of the law. He wrote an opinion extending the exclusionary rule to California and predating Mapp v. Ohio that I would love to discuss, along with his career. Another judge whose opinions I have admired, and I would love to meet, is former Justice Ellen Peters of the Connecticut Supreme Court. I would very much like to include one of my legal heroes and former professors, Edward Levi, who served as US Attorney General at a fascinating moment in legal history, as well as serving as dean and president of the University of Chicago. There are many things I’d like to talk with him about now that were outside of anything I knew or faced or could imagine as a law student 34 years ago.

What is your favorite legal movie?

I’m a fan of “True Believer” (1989) with James Woods and a young Robert Downey Jr. In many ways it is a good -- not a great -- movie but something about the characters sticks. If you want not only a favorite but a truly great movie, “To Kill A Mockingbird” still does it for me. If my dinner party included fictional-characters, Atticus Finch (even the more complex Atticus we now know about) would be at the top of my list.