The Law Dean Series

Rachel M. Janutis

Capital University Law School
Rachel M. Janutis
Capital University Law School

Capital University Law School is located in Columbus, Ohio, just blocks from the Ohio Statehouse and Capitol Square. It's proximity to the heart of the state's legal and governmental activity provide law students with experiential learning and networking opportunities to help them realize their full potential as scholars and as lawyers. Capital Law prides itself on helping students develop practical skills: students participate in more than 150 externships, on-site legal clinics, and other programs and opportunities in the legal community.

Interim Dean and Professor of Law Rachel M. Janutis writes in her message to prospective students of the supportive faculty and student-centered philosophy that shape Capital Law School. Since coming to Capital University Law School from the University of Illinois College of Law in 2002, Dean Janutis has held several positions at the law school, including Associate Professor of Law, Professor of Law, Director of Faculty Development, Interim Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. She has served on numerous university and law school committees, and taught courses including Remedies, Civil Procedure, Complex Litigation, and Conflict of Laws.

We asked Dean Janutis about the challenges faced by law school students and administration, and discussed an evolving legal landscape for law students and professional lawyers.

What is the biggest challenge facing new law students?

The biggest challenges I see new law students encounter are twofold. The challenges involve adjusting to the rigor of law school and finding a place as a member of a learned profession.

With respect to the rigor of law school, new students often struggle to move beyond gaining an understanding of legal principles to developing strong analytical skills that allow them to apply legal principles in context. For many, the volume of reading required is significantly more than has been expected of them previously. Even if the volume of reading is not a significant increase, the amount of time and sustained attention necessary to master the reading at the level expected is a change.

Law students have to be accountable for their own professional development both inside and outside of the classroom. I think many students struggle to identify how to take advantage of activities outside of the classroom to build the professional skills and relationships they need to succeed. For example, students coming to law school today seem to have a good sense that they need to make connections with practicing attorneys and other members of the professional and business community. They see these relationships as essential to finding success after graduation and understand that they must start to form these relationships before they leave law school. For many students, however, beginning to make connections with practicing attorneys and other members of the professional and business community can be a terrifying experience too. They are uncertain about how to begin to establish these relationships and struggle to find the professional identity they wish to assume in these relationships.

What is the single biggest challenge that you face as Dean of Capital University Law School?

Capital University Law School has historically sought to provide the opportunity for a legal education and access to the legal profession to dedicated students from underrepresented populations. The challenge for me as Dean and for the entire Capital community is to continue to ensure that we provide meaningful access. That is, we must continue to provide legal education that is affordable and that equips students with the intellectual, ethical and practical foundations they need to succeed in light of an evolving market for legal services.

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

I think we will likely see the biggest growth in areas of law that regulate those aspects of business and society that have been the most significantly impacted by technology. That would seem to include areas such as privacy law and intellectual property. I think we will also see growth in compliance law in fields such as healthcare, financial services, education, and corporate governance and responsibility. Finally, as the population ages, I would anticipate growth in areas such as healthcare and elder law.

Given the persistence justice gap we experience, I hope we will also see a growth in the number of enterprising young lawyers leveraging technology to deliver affordable legal services to those in need.

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

In some ways teaching is different, but at its core, teaching is still very much the same. I think teaching has always been and continues to be about trying to help students develop sound analytical skills which allow them to identify legal issues and make reasoned predictions and arguments based on statutes, regulations and prior case law. It is also about trying to help students see how these analytical skills translate into a framework for logical problem solving and reasonable risk management that can apply beyond strictly legal settings. The most effective way to build these skills is to role model good analytical reasoning, provide ample opportunity for students to practice and to provide ample assessment as well as to help students self-assess as they work to develop these skills. Even more fundamentally, good teaching is about making a connection with students that demonstrates your commitment to them and engages and inspires them. I think that was true when I was a law student, and I think that continues to be true today. I think today we have the opportunity to leverage technology to provide more and different opportunities for role modeling, practice and assessment outside of the traditional classroom and to allow us to make more efficient use of time inside the classroom.

How do you think technology will impact criminal defense?

I don't have much expertise in criminal law or criminal defense, so it is hard for me to say. I suspect that in some ways technology is impacting criminal defense in the same way it is impacting other types of litigation. For example, technology has made possible the potential for generation and preservation of vast amounts of data. Like civil litigators, I suspect criminal lawyers are challenged to find a way to distill the relevant from the irrelevant and harness and analyze the power of that relevant data.

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

In the short term, I think the biggest challenge will be continuing to effectively and fairly function with 8 members.

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

Yes. I really enjoyed the collaborative nature of the practice. I enjoyed the energy I felt from being part of a strong, well-functioning team. Teaching and writing can sometimes be fairly solitary and isolating. One of the things I have enjoyed most about my transition from the classroom to the dean's office has been the chance to return to working in a more collaborative environment again.

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

Thurgood Marshall, John Marshall, Eleanor Roosevelt

What is your favorite legal movie?

So many...I am a legal movie junkie. "To Kill a Mockingbird," is definitely my favorite. "12 Angry Men," "Reversal of Fortune," and "The Accused" are also at the top of my list. I have an undergraduate degree in journalism, so I love that "Absence of Malice" brings together two of my greatest interests. It doesn't hurt that Paul Newman is the star. I like to indulge in a few guilty pleasures too. "Legally Blonde" is probably at the top of my guilty pleasures list.