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New dean upholds USD law school's reputation

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"It takes a while for the quality of the school to be reflected in its reputation," said University of San Diego School of Law Dean Kevin Cole. And he believes that reputation is on the up.

Dean Kevin Cole

Cole took over as dean in April, having been with the faculty since 1987. He is clearly proud of the school's development and the rising quality of both students -- the average LSAT score is now in the 89th percentile -- and staff. In the recent U.S. News and World Report the school's tax faculty was ranked ninth nationally with the school 49th overall in the peer assessment score.

In a telephone interview, Cole credited good entry-level hiring decisions made a decade ago for laying the foundation for the school's current position and enabling recent high profile lateral hires. In 2002 USD recruited Professor Yale Kamisar from the University of Michigan. He is known as the "Father of Miranda," and is one of the nation's foremost authorities on criminal procedure. That same year USD also recruited Professor Steven Smith, a law and religion scholar, from Notre Dame.

This combination of shrewd base hires and high profile transfers has begun to have a measurable effect. In the 2005 Leiter law school faculty rankings study, which measures per capita citations to faculty scholarship, the school was ranked 23rd in the nation up from 30th in the previous 2003 study.

The law school is part of the University of San Diego, a private, Catholic university. Cole says that Catholic tradition and legal thought do play a role in the school, but should not be overemphasized. On areas of controversy for many Catholics, such as Roe v Wade, Cole says that the school's Catholic background "doesn't in any way limit" the range of viewpoints students are exposed to.

"[There is] no effort to regulate what goes on in the classroom from that perspective," Cole says, adding they have the "same kind of academic freedom that there is at any law school."

He describes the school's culture as "friendly but serious" adding that the faculty expects a lot from its students.

"This is a great place to be a law school," Cole said, pointing to the growth of San Diego as well as the wonderful weather and thriving legal industry.

One of Cole's hopes for the future is that the school can become more involved and accessible to the wider community. The school has an active speaker series that brings in people from across the United States. One recent speaker was Steve Bogira, author of "Courtroom 302," on the criminal justice system in Chicago and America's jails. Many of these events are open to the general public and details can be found on the school's Web page.

As to why law firms should employ his students, for Cole, the proof is in the pudding. He points to previous students' success in legal practice and of increasing numbers gaining prestigious clerkships in San Diego's large firms.

"We can take only so much credit," Cole says. "[They're] pretty good when get them but we help them reach their potential." He categorizes the education the students receive as a "Nice mix of practical instruction with really rigorous doctrine legal theory."

And this is perhaps his ultimate responsibility: "Trying to ensure that the product is deserving of a good reputation."

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