The Law Dean Series

Paul McGreal

Creighton University School of Law
Paul McGreal
Creighton University School of Law

Our conversations with law school deans around the region and the nation takes us to Dean Paul McGreal of the Creighton University School of Law.  
Located in Omaha, Nebraska, the Creighton School of Law's mission stems from a dedication to educating "the whole person," a belief rooted in its Jesuit traditions. Its mission includes providing "intellectual challenge, academic rigor and an opportunity to develop a foundation of moral values for lifelong service in the law."

Dean McGreal came to the Creighton law school from the University of Dayton School of Law, where he served as dean for four years. Before that, he served as law professor, director of faculty development, and interim associate dean at Southern Illinois University School of Law. He is an experienced educator, having also taught in the executive MBA program at Texas A&M University and at South Texas College of Law, where he established the Corporate Compliance Center.

His areas of expertise include constitutional law, religion and the law, First Amendment rights, corporate compliance, and business ethics. He received is Juris Doctor from the Dedman School of Law and his Master of Laws degree from Yale Law School.
We appreciate Dean McGreal for taking his time to discuss with us the changing face of legal education and the legal profession, and what these changes mean for law students.

1. What is the biggest challenge facing new law students?

As many legal employers no longer mentor and train new attorneys, law students face pressure to graduate with law practice skills that were previously learned on the job. Students must intentionally select their courses and manage their time to make room for clinics, externships, internships, competition teams (e.g., moot court, mock trial, client counseling and negotiation), simulation courses, and other experiences that will build their practice skills and give them a connection to the profession.

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

To ensure that our faculty and staff have the resources and support to continue their great work for our students and alumni. For the last five years, there has been a constant drumbeat that law schools must do more (e.g., more experiential learning, additional academic support) with less (e.g., eliminate the third year of law school, charge lower tuition). Deans must effectively collaborate with the entire law school community to identify innovative and creative ways to meet these twin challenges, while serving their unique mission. At Creighton Law, that means working with faculty and staff to pursue our Jesuit mission of meeting every student where they are, and educating our students to be men and women for others who make a difference in the world.

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

Health law and conflict engagement will be two fields with tremendous growth. First, as one of the largest sectors of the economy and growing rapidly, the healthcare industry’s need for legal services should be robust for the foreseeable future. And with the increasing pace of regulation, health care lawyers will be needed to navigate this complex legal terrain.

Second, notice that I said “conflict engagement” and not “dispute resolution.” Lawyers have traditionally focused on how to resolve conflicts that mature into a legal dispute headed for an official process or proceeding. Even the subject of alternative dispute resolution enters the picture only when a situation has reached a point where litigation is contemplated. Conflict, however, is a part of all human interaction, and effectively engaging conflict in everyday life will make costly legal disputes less likely. Indeed, sophisticated clients and community leaders will demand professionals who can help them continuously engage conflict in all of its forms.

4. Is teaching law now different from when you were a law student?

Since I was a student, law teaching has seen an increased attention on assessment of student learning that goes beyond a single grade on a final exam. Faculty members are encouraged to think carefully about the knowledge, skills, and values they want their students to learn, and then give periodic exercises and assessments that measure student learning. Faculty members should also use these assessments and exercises to provide feedback about a student’s progress, giving them an opportunity to practice and improve before the final exam. For example, at Creighton Law, our first-semester students take mid-term exams that give them feedback on their progress.

The above teaching method is what has been called “deliberate practice,” which recognizes that simply repeating the same task over and over again will not build the skills needed for the legal profession. Instead, when students practice a skill, such a legal reasoning or oral advocacy, they must receive timely feedback from an expert that is designed to improve performance, then practice the skill again and receive feedback, and so on. As deliberate practice proceeds, faculty must progressively increase the difficulty or scope of what is practiced so that students continuously improve.

5. How do you think technology will impact criminal defense?

My exposure to criminal defense comes in the area of corporate compliance and ethics programs, which consist of a business organization’s code of conduct, policies, and procedures designed to achieve compliance with applicable legal regulations. A major reason for such programs is to prevent criminal wrongdoing by employees, and to mitigate criminal penalties when a criminal violation occurs. Technology impacts this practice area in important ways. Internal investigations of possible corporate crimes will involve searching and reviewing massive amounts of electronic data, from emails and text messages to documents saved on hard drives and networks. And to prevent wrongdoing, companies must track and monitor a wide array of financial and other data in real time to identify red flags. Lawyers and their clients must understand how these new technological demands affect their work.

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

The Supreme Court faces many challenges on what often seem to be intractable issues, from racial equality to abortion. In teaching courses on First Amendment rights and religion and the law, I see that the Court has a similar challenge in defining the boundaries of religious freedom. In a religiously pluralistic society, we confront church-state issues in many contexts, including religious prayer in the public square, government healthcare regulations that impact private religious organizations, and providing public funding to religious organizations. Forty-five years after the Court’s landmark Establishment Clause case Lemon v. Kurtzman, which allowed some public funding for teachers at private religious schools, the Court still struggles with this issue.

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

I thought about this question a lot, and while my first instinct was to answer “yes,” my truthful answer is “no.” This is because being Dean has similarities to some types of law practice. Much of my current work is with teams of professionals to solve problems for different members of our community -- students, faculty, staff, alumni, and others. Also, I am fortunate to have close connections with the practicing bar at the local, state, and national levels. This type of work was deeply fulfilling when I was in law practice, and it continues to be meaningful in my role as Dean.

8. If you could invite any three legal or governmental identities (living, dead, real, fictitious) to a meal who would they be?

When I teach constitutional law, we talk about how the Supreme Court makes decisions, and what it takes for a majority of justices to reach a consensus on a single majority opinion. And I have done research in the papers of the late Justice Harry Blackmun to get an inside view of how the justices work together, reach their decisions, and write their opinions. I would love to have have a conversation with Chief Justice John Marshall, Justice Thurgood Marshall, and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, all of whom were trailblazers on the Court and in the profession, about their perspectives on these important topics.

9. What is your favorite legal movie?

My favorite legal movie is the first one that I saw in a theater -- The Verdict. It is the story of an attorney who wrestles with personal and professional demons to vindicate a vulnerable client. To this day, this nuanced view of law practice and what it means to be an attorney has stuck with me.