For more than 100 years, the University of South Dakota School of Law has been educating prospective lawyers and producing attorneys for the legal profession. Dean Thomas Geu has been a part of the USD law school for more than a quarter of a century, watching the institution grow, change, and adapt to the evolving demands of the legal field. Dean Geu serves as both dean and law professor at the university, and he is a widely respected attorney, educator, and author. Knowledgeable in a broad range of business law, he has taught more than 20 courses in topics including Real Estate Law, Federal Securities Regulation, and Employment Law, with specific focus in the area of Business Organization.
As part of our Law Deans series, we reached out to Dean Geu to find out what he thinks of the challenges faced by both law students and legal educators, and how to address those challenges to meet the needs of students. He addressed how legal education must adapt and evolve to produce lawyers equipped to handle the demands of the profession upon graduation. We would like to thank Dean Geu for taking time to answer our questions about law school and the evolving legal profession.
What is the biggest challenge facing new law students?
The biggest challenge (and, conversely, the greatest opportunity) for new law students is technology. It is the biggest challenge because employers have an increasing expectation that students have a working knowledge of a variety of software products and “law apps.” This technology is in addition to the dizzying growth and diversity in computerized research. In other words, employers want lawyers to be value-added on the first day of the job. Technology provides the greatest opportunity for new law students because tech-savvy students will be exceptionally attractive to employers, perhaps especially smaller firms. Moreover, and more speculatively, technology may yet change the delivery of legal services and provide a wave of new and different kinds of law jobs.
What is the single biggest challenge that you face as Dean?
I am one of the luckiest people alive because I love my job. Nonetheless, I joke that any problems I see deal with two things: people and money. Those two essential dimensions and their combinations cover every blessing and curse as dean. My single biggest challenge, however, is balancing urgent demands as “Chief Operating Officer” with the strategic planning and fundraising demands of a “Chief Executive Office.”
Which areas of the law do you think will experience the biggest growth of the next few years?
I believe there will be steady employment for public defenders, prosecutors and state and local government lawyers. Rural lawyers will be in demand, and if a lawyer takes residence in a good geographical area, she can do well financially by serving clients somewhere between the 25th percentile and the 70th percentile by income ranking. As a more general matter, I think in-house work in the agricultural industry will grow at an increasing rate. Finally, despite the gloom of some prognosticators, I think the “JD preferred” category holds great promise, particularly in regulatory compliance which others have already identified for current and future growth. Those jobs could include everything from “in-house payroll and HR services” to outside non-law firms “specializing” in Sarbonnes-Oxley compliance.
Is teaching law now different compared to when you were a law student?
Absolutely: less adversarial, more problem method, more simulation and more experiential. A part of me pines for more masters of the Socratic Method; unfortunately, as many of us know, there is nothing worse than the Socratic Method in the hands of a hack. There will always be a few masters of that method. Being a faculty member today requires the ability to use technology to advantage; that wasn’t the case when I started.
How do you think technology will impact criminal defense?
Technology is ubiquitous. Criminal defense, however, may see fewer changes than other areas. My guess is that criminal defense will see the most change because of technology in the cascade of social and electronic media evidence. Together with medical and surveillance technologies the evidence of criminal defense will change. Further, I think there will be a great deal of change in corrections over the next two decades if technology is defined broadly to include brain science.
What do you think are the biggest legal challenges facing the Supreme Court?
The idea of an organization as an “entity” and what separate “rights” in the Bill of Rights are appropriate to give to an entity or which rights must be kept from it in order to insulate the entity from becoming an agent of the owners.
Are there any aspects of practicing law you miss due to being in education?
I practiced transactional law and the cutting edge non-public “deals” and their documentation run silent and deep. Therefore, it is difficult to keep-up with what is happening in the “transactional” and “deal” practices without being at the table. I miss being at the table and knowing best drafting practices and the “new, new issues.”
If you could invite any three legal or governmental identities (living or dead, real or fictitious) to a meal, whom would you invite?
Abraham Lincoln, the Dalai Lama, and one of the leading federalists--probably Washington or Hamilton.
What is your favorite legal movie?
Wow, great question. It’s tough to argue with “Twelve Angry Men,” “Judgment at Nuremberg” or “Philadelphia.” My favorite, however, is “Inherit the Wind.”