The University of Arkansas School of Law in Fayetteville, Arkansas, prides itself on being ranked by National Jurist magazine as one of the best values in legal education. The law school boasts affordable tuition and a low student-to-faculty ratio, which allows law students to work more closely with professors, receiving individual attention and instruction that prepares them for work in both the public and private sectors.
Since 2011, Stacy Leeds has served as dean and professor of law at the University of Arkansas School of Law. Prior to becoming Dean at the UARK law school, Dean Leeds served as Interim Associate Dean, Professor of Law and Director of the Tribal Law and Government Center at the University of Kansas. She is a recipient of the 2013 American Bar Association’s Spirit of Excellence Award, an elected member of the American Law Institute, and a former Alphonse Fletcher, Sr. Fellow with a 2008-2009 affiliation to the W.E.B. DuBois Institute at Harvard University.
As a member of the Cherokee Nation, Dean Leeds has a special interest in tribal law. She is currently serving a three-year term as Chairperson of the Cherokee Nation Gaming Commission. She has served as judge for seven Indigenous nation and is a former Justice of the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court. Dean Leeds was the inaugural recipient of the National American Indian Court Judges Association’s Annual Outstanding Service Award. She is the only American Indian law school dean.
We reached out to Dean Leeds as part of our series of interviews with law school deans across the region and the nation. Here is what she has to say about the challenges of a legal education in equipping law students for professional practice in the field of law:
What is the biggest challenge facing new law students?
In terms of first year law students, it is still, and always has been, time management. Learning how to be professionally responsible while adequately managing workloads and all of life's stresses while not neglecting self-care is a life-long process for everyone in the legal profession.
For many, the first semester of law school is the first time that the intensity is ratcheted up; for most of us, it continues for our professional careers with cyclical successes and failures.
What is the single biggest challenge that you face as Dean?
Finding the resources to continually enhance the experience of our students and adequately support our faculty and staff while keeping student debt as low as possible.
Which areas of the law do you think will experience the biggest growth over the next few years?
We are seeing substantial growth in corporate compliance and other jobs where having a JD is a clear advantage, but bar licensure is not absolutely necessary.
Some of these positions are more financially lucrative in the entry-level market than many traditional law firm positions in our region. We expect this trend to continue.
Is teaching law now different from when you were a law student?
In some ways, legal education has remained quite static. The first year curriculum and teaching methods are very similar to the experience I had as a law student. The upper level student experience has changed in terms of breadth of subject matters covered and an increase in experiential learning opportunities such as broader clinical offerings, externships, and courses that focus on skills training. The goal is to produce "practice ready" graduates, which is a tall order, but we are a lot closer than we were several decades ago.
How do you think technology will impact criminal defense?
A few emerging issues will be (1) body cameras on law enforcement and whether defense counsel will get access; (2) drone technology in the hands of law enforcement and the search and seizure questions that will arise; and (3) a host of data storage, retention and access questions relating to everything from auto-scanners, traffic cameras, and again, body cameras; and (4) "predictive policing" computer programs that may determine who is more likely to commit crimes.
What do you think are the biggest legal challenges facing the Supreme Court?
Perhaps more of a political question than a legal one, the Supreme Court is facing a credibility problem in the eyes of the general public and some sections of the legal profession. The judiciary was once uniformly considered the branch of our government that was beyond reproach. That is no longer a given.
Are there any aspects of practicing law you miss due to being in education?
Not really. I teach a clinical course as part of my teaching package, so I remain active in practice on a limited scope and as dean, I actually have more interaction with a diverse group of attorneys and judges than I did prior to entering legal education.
For me, it really is the best of both worlds because I also get to know the students that will become our state's leaders in the years to come.
If you could invite any three legal or governmental identities (living, dead, real, or fictitious) to a meal whom would you invite?
The dinner would be very supreme-court focused: Thurgood Marshall, Sonia Sotomayor, and John Marshall
What is your favorite legal movie?
It is very un-dean-like to admit this, but without a doubt, it's "Legally Blonde."