As we continue to speak with law school deans around the region, I reached out to retired Judge Royal Furgeson, Jr., Dean of the UNT Dallas College of Law. Dean Furgeson was unable to speak with me directly, but he took the time to answer several questions about the challenges facing law students today, the growth and future of the legal profession, and how current events impact law today.
Dean Furgeson earned his own law degree from the University of Texas School of Law, where he was an Associate Editor of the Texas Law Review. After practicing as a lawyer for 24 years, he took the bench as a United States District Judge for the Western District of Texas. He served in several divisions before becoming Senior U.S. District Judge in the Northern District of Texas, Dallas Division. Upon retiring as a federal judge after 18 years, Royal Furgeson assumed position as the Dean of UNT Dallas College of Law in 2013.
His professional history boasts numerous memberships, leadership roles, and honors, including the Distinguished Alumnus Award by the Texas Tech Alumni Association, the West Texas Legal Legend Award by the Texas Tech University School of Law, the 2010 Distinguished Counselor Award by the State Bar of Texas Antitrust and Business Litigation Section, the Luke Soules Award by the State Bar of Texas Litigation Section, the Leon Green Award by the Texas Law Review, and the Faculty Award by the University of Texas School of Law.
When asked about the biggest challenge facing new law students, Dean Furgeson noted the difficulty many students have in getting acclimated to the time demands of study in a challenging professional program. In his message to prospective students, Dean Furgeson says, “Law school is not easy. We will require you to work hard,” but he also notes that the UNT Dallas College of Law faculty and staff provide periodic assessments to monitor the effectiveness of their teaching and to make sure students who are struggling get the help they need. “We don’t want anyone to fall behind if we can prevent it,” he says, “So we will be challenging you, but we will also be supportive.”
As for the challenges he himself faces as Dean of the law school, Furgeson points to the administrative requirements in achieving accreditation and keeping costs in line to accommodate budget constraints. However, he also focuses on the importance of securing quality faculty and staff to ensure a solid legal education for the students at the UNT Dallas College of Law.
A theme we see throughout our discussion with law school deans is the changing nature of legal education. I asked Dean Furgeson how teaching law today differs from when he was a law student, and like other law school deans, he mentioned the need for more practical exercises as part of the instruction. No longer is law school simply memorization of the law and its theories, but greater emphasis is placed on practical training and professional skills. He says one of his goals for law students is “to spend as much time as possible ‘doing’ law, and not just studying law.” He mentions the lab components of the upper level classes that allow students to apply the law in a practical manner as well as mentorship opportunities with practicing lawyers throughout the Dallas metroplex as means to achieve that goal.
As I have asked other law school deans, I asked Dean Furgeson whom he would invite to dinner if he could choose any three legal identities—living, dead, or fictional. Furgeson, a retired federal judge, chose three Supreme Court Justices: Thurgood Marshall, who served from 1967 to 1991; John Paul Stevens, who served from 1975 to 2010; and Sonia Sotomayor, who has been on the bench of the United States Supreme Court since 2009. Dean Furgeson says that the biggest challenge facing the Supreme Court is finding the right balance between liberty and security, and a dinner discussion among the three esteemed guests would certainly be enlightening as the three justices from different eras discussed how the Supreme Court has tried to do that over the past 48 years.
Like many other legal professionals, Dean Furgeson considers To Kill a Mockingbird to be his favorite legal movie. The theme of justice—how elusive true justice can be and how important it is to fight for—strikes at the heart of almost any lawyer, judge, or aspiring legal professional.
The UNT Dallas College of Law is a new law school located in Dallas, Texas, and operating within the University of North Texas system before becoming a professional school within the University of North Texas at Dallas. The UNT Dallas College of Law offers both full-time and part-time programs and currently serves approximately 135 full- and part-time law students in the Inaugural Class.