Washburn University School of Law in Topeka, Kansas, was founded in 1903, with Harvard Law graduate Ernest B. Conant serving as the law school's first dean. Since its early days, the School of Law has grown to include three academic programs (Juris Doctor, LL.M. in Global Legal Studies, and Master of Studies in Law) as well as six Centers for Excellence and nine certificate programs: Advocacy, Business and Transactional Law, Estate Planning, Family Law, International and Comparative Law, Law and Government, Natural Resources Law, Oil and Gas Law, and Tax Law.
In 2007, Thomas Romig began his tenure as Dean of the Washburn University School of Law. Prior to his role as law school dean, Romig served as deputy chief counsel for operations and Acting Chief Counsel for the Federal Aviation Administration. He served four years as the 36th Judge Advocate General of the Army and held several significant military legal appointments before retiring from the Army JAG Corps in October 2005.
In 2009, the Kansas Bar Association awarded Dean Romig its Courageous Attorney Award for opposing interrogation methods such as waterboarding that violated the Geneva Convention and Uniform Code of Military Justice.
As we speak with law school deans around the country, we are grateful to Dean Romig for taking the time to answer our questions about the changing face of legal education and the evolving legal profession. He shared his thoughts on the challenges of law school for both law students and administrators as well as the rewards of a career in law.
What is the biggest challenge facing new law students?
The biggest challenge facing new law students is adjusting to the different way law is taught and adapting to a new way of thinking and analyzing. Law school is significantly different than any other field of study that the law students have experienced. This is why the first year of law school is such intellectual and emotional challenge for them. It’s all about learning to think like a lawyer.
What is the single biggest challenge that you face as Dean?
The single biggest challenge that I face as Dean is the same as that challenging the Law School. It is really a multifaceted challenge that is tied to the nationwide decline in law school applications. Like most other law schools, we also have experienced a significant decline in applications that has resulted in a decline in the size of our recent incoming classes. This has in turn caused a significant decline in our law school revenue. We have had to find ways to “tighten our belt” but yet not adversely affect our program of instruction. So the decline in applications and enrollment has affected virtually all aspects of the law school. This is the challenge that I face every day.
Which areas of the law do you think will experience the biggest growth over the next few years?
The growth areas of law will certainly occur in areas related to the growth and application of new technologies. This includes things like electronic discovery and intellectual property. Intellectual property law will see considerable growth in all areas.
Is teaching law now different compared to when you were a law student?
Yes, very much so. Probably the biggest change has been the in the area of practical skills training and exposure to the actual practice of law.
How do you think technology will impact criminal defense?
I am sure we will see the growth of surveillance technology and this will raise questions about 4th Amendment Rights against unreasonable searches and seizures. As we develop new technologies, we can expect to see capabilities that will help to exonerate the wrongly convicted like DNA analysis has done.
What do you think are the biggest legal challenges facing the Supreme Court?
The constitutional structure of our government has come under attack from various groups. It is important for the credibility of the judiciary that it is, and is perceived to be, professional and apolitical. This public perception of a professional judiciary is essential to the public’s respect for the law. This perception starts with the Supreme Court.
Are there any aspects of practicing law you miss due to being in education?
Yes, there are a couple aspects of practicing law that I miss. I miss the special relationship that a legal advisor and client have. It is very rewarding to be able to help a client achieve an objective through good, ethical lawyering. I also miss the challenge and excitement of the courtroom.
If you could invite any three legal or governmental identities (living, dead, real, fictitious) to a meal, whom would you invite?
Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin.
What is your favorite legal movie?
Judgment at Nuremberg.