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Thomas Jefferson dean aims to improve law education quality

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Revolution isn't the most usual word to use in conjunction with law, but for Thomas Jefferson School of Law it is integral to the school's vision and history.

Dean Rudy Hasl

The school traces its roots back to 1969 when a group of dissatisfied students decided to form their own law school. Affiliation with Western State University College of Law gave the venture the capital it needed to begin providing nontraditional students with legal education.

The school has gone through a number of reincarnations since then, including breaking away from Western State and in a tumultuous 2001 achieving full ABA accreditation and a successful post-9/11 bond sale that turned the school into a nonprofit.

One gets the feeling that the school's namesake, who famously proclaimed, "a little rebellion now and then is a good thing," would be proud.

Sitting still is not on the agenda, and Dean Rudy Hasl -- who was appointed in 2005 -- said he has a clear task to "continue to increase the quality of students and education." Hasl has spent 25 years as a law school dean, at Saint Louis, St John's and Seattle.

Hasl is also keen to emphasis the school's history in promoting nontraditional students. In the 1970s, Vietnam veterans were given free tuition and some of its most celebrated alumni were trailblazers. For example, San Diego Superior Court Judge Lillian Lim was the first Filipino female judge in the United States and District Attorney for Imperial County Gilbert Otero was the first Hispanic D.A.

"[I have] strong ambitions to diversify fairly strongly the composition of student body," Hasl said, stressing the "school is a place where people of color are welcome and can excel."

The Old Town based school emphasizes a philosophy of "individualized instruction," of which practical implications include flexible curriculums, with two starts a year and late night classes as well as direct line access to staff.

Hasl say that the culture is "somewhat atypical in that it really prides itself on providing legal education in which the student becomes the focus of the educational [experience]."

He points to a strong support structure and the staff's extensive interaction with students as key strengths of the school, as well as its emphasis on professional skills -- students can gain academic credit through participation in the school's field placement program.

Recently the school has begun to pick up some prestigious awards, with its mock trial team taking second place in the 16th Annual National Criminal Justice Trial Advocacy Competition -- beating teams from Harvard and Georgetown.

Hasl is clearly delighted at the "remarkable success," adding that it is "indicative of the kind of skill set that our students have."

One of the developing strengths of the school is its legal writing program, which was ranked 16th by U.S. News & World Report. The program's most sparkling success so far is Jennifer Siverts, who in April was named as one of only 15 recipients nationally of the prestigious Burton Award for Legal Achievement, which is dedicated to rewarding effective legal writing and is presented at the Library of Congress.

TJSL is hoping that many more such talented students come to the school, but is also determined not to neglect the basics. Hasl gives a simple answer when asked why law firms should employ his students saying, "They have a really solid grounding in the fundamental skills for success."

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