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No Constraints

Under the guidance of Dean Hiram Chodosh, the U’s S.J. Quinney College of Law is reforming legal education.

By Barry Scholl

On a bright midsummer morning, Hiram Chodosh, dean of the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law, is addressing members of the law school staff, gathered for an administrative meeting to discuss the future of the school. At the moment, Chodosh is focusing on the types of tables and chairs he would like to see throughout the college. Although the selection of furniture may seem a minor matter to some, it is anything but prosaic to the school’s new dean, whose ultimate goal is to reform legal education.

“Furniture choices are key,” Chodosh explains. “They affect programming. Therefore, you want pieces that are flexible, mobile, and stable.”

Actually, “flexible, mobile, and stable” are apt descriptions for Chodosh’s approach to management. In less than two years under his deanship, the law school has embarked on a series of ambitious projects. “I think it’s best to start without constraints,” Chodosh says. Although he is ostensibly discussing the role fixtures might play as the law school starts initial planning for a newly renovated or constructed facility, his words apply equally to his far-reaching objectives. Or, as he puts it: “We should start with the best ideas and see if the market will bear them.”

In 2006, Chodosh was recruited to the University of Utah from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, where he served as associate dean for academic affairs and Joseph C. Hostetler-Baker & Hostetler Professor of Law. Already a renowned international law scholar who had built a reputation for his innovative approach to both educational and judicial reform, Chodosh immediately set out to build on the strengths of the Quinney College—low student-teacher ratio, high quality faculty, multilingual student body—while encouraging the college to embrace technology in the classroom, bolstering student leadership opportunities, and emphasizing experiential learning, among other objectives. With a sunny outlook (a colleague observes that Chodosh’s two favorite adjectives are “exciting” and “innovative”) and a seemingly endless reservoir of energy, he approaches the job with equal measures of curiosity and certitude.

“Hiram is like the Pied Piper,” effuses Karen McLeese BS’67, the college’s longtime director of alumni relations. “He thinks positively, and his enthusiasm is infectious. He establishes an almost immediate rapport with a cross-section of people, from alumni to community leaders to national and international dignitaries. With the support of his faculty and staff, I truly believe he will revolutionize legal education”—and, it seems, encourage people to follow his lead, as well.


With regard to curriculum, Chodosh’s ideas are both progressive and practical. “Sometimes,” he reflects, “I look at three days of headlines and ask where we as a law school fit in. If we want to overcome the limitations of contemporary legal education, we must understand the challenges tomorrow’s leaders will face.” Chodosh has inaugurated a strong push for multidisciplinary education and made global legal education a priority. He sees these two efforts as critical to the mission of engaging the Quinney College in the task of improving the human condition. On more than one occasion, he has described the condition of the world today as “increasingly small and persistently bumpy.”

As a practical measure, Chodosh has outlined a series of what the law school calls Projects and Initiatives. The former are major topical areas—in addition to the outstanding programs of the college’s Wallace Stegner Center for Land, Resources and the Environment—including family, global justice, health, innovation, and economic development, each of which supports cross-disciplinary research, teaching, training, service, and public programming. These six Projects are designed to integrate interdisciplinary research by the college’s faculty, as well as other prominent scholars, and to provide leadership and special curricular opportunities for students.

Reinforcing the topical Projects are a series of six Initiatives that focus on leadership, cross-training, technology, global involvement, student engagement, and advanced research. The Initiatives are designed to reinforce classical legal education and investments that capture current and future trends by building upon the U’s comparative advantages.

Chodosh describes the Projects and Initiatives as an accessible way of packaging his new approach to legal education. From a practical perspective, however, they also provide a vehicle by which faculty, staff, and, one senses, Chodosh himself, can track the College of Law’s achievements. Chodosh does all he can “to avoid abstractions,” he says, and prefers to cite actual numbers, from a 110 percent increase in merit scholarships and 100 percent career placement, to 340 clinical and pro bono placements this past year (remarkable for a student body of less than 400 students), to the production of 114 separate videocasts of programs on the critical issues of the day.

And as Paul Durham BA’77 JD’80, president of the College of Law Alumni Board of Trustees, points out, the figures Chodosh cites are only the beginning: “In the two years Dean Chodosh has been at the helm, I have observed him as he set ambitious new goals, many of which he has already accomplished. It is in no small part due to Dean Chodosh that the law school went up six places in the U.S. News rankings this past year and will likely continue to do so. While he focuses on the things that go into that ranking, he also spends tremendous energies on simply making the law school the best it can be. Dean Chodosh has brought many luminaries in the national legal stage to visit the school and the students, including Justice [Clarence] Thomas of the U.S. Supreme Court and former Attorney General Janet Reno, among many others.”


Despite the law school’s new emphasis on international and interdisciplinary work, “None of us can forget that students come first,” says Dean Hiram Chodosh.

If there’s a downside to Chodosh’s packed schedule, it’s that the risk of spreading himself too thin seems ever-present, but he manages to make the most of every 24-hour day.

“Look,” he says, briefly adopting a professorial mode, as though emphasizing a doctrinal issue before a class, “none of us can forget that students come first. Everything else we do should support our mission to provide the most exciting, dynamic, and creative approach to enhancing their education and supporting their ambitions.”

Under Chodosh’s leadership, the college has sought to recruit one of the most multilingual student bodies in the country. (He notes that 63 percent of students are fluent in a second tongue and that, as a whole, they speak more than 40 languages.) Furthermore, the college continues to lower the student-faculty ratio, which is currently 9.9 to 1, placing the college eighth in the nation.

Veteran law professor Wayne McCormack is impressed by Chodosh’s global vision. “Hiram is in the vanguard of the current professional generation’s emphasis on the global enterprise,” he says. “My generation emphasized local professionalism and global security. The generation after Hiram will emphasize global community-building. But for now the emphasis has to be on figuring out how to manage a complex global environment with the following factors: First, wide disparities in economic circumstances and resources; second, continuing ethno-cultural conflicts; and third, wide disparities in legal and educational systems.

“Hiram’s professed mission is to address these issues by working on two ‘capacity gaps,’ ” McCormack continues: “First, the gap in many countries between existing legal systems and the necessary level of stability for a peaceful and productive society; and second, the gap in developed nations between the desire to aid the developing world and our ability to do so.” 

Situating the efforts of the Quinney College of Law into a broader framework, McCormack explains: “Here at the U, we are working hard to put institutions into place that can transfer the wisdom of the last 500 years from post-Enlightenment to post-globalization eras. The first step in the process, of course, is realizing that the last 500 years have produced many blunders and tragedies as well as productive steps. But,” he continues, “learning from both blunders and accomplishments is exactly what developed educational systems can offer. Our basic mission, as I understand it, is to work with humility toward legal infrastructures that can support the growth of human dignity across a widely diverse array of social and cultural structures around the world.”

Erika George, a professor at the Quinney College, echoes many of McCormack’s conclusions: “I wholly agree with [Dean Chodosh’s] emphasis on the importance of teaching engagement in real-world issues, because it is our responsibility to prepare our students for the leadership roles they will assume here in Utah, nationally, and internationally.”

The engagement with real-world issues to which George refers is manifested in current and future programming at the College of Law, including this summer’s training of 16 active prosecutors from Afghanistan as the initial project of the U.S. Department of State Public-Private Partnership for Judicial Reform in Afghanistan (see below). In addition, the College of Law has been recommended for a yearlong project to assist the Iraqi judiciary in writing and enacting judicial codes for that country.

But in spite of all his accomplishments so far, Chodosh exudes an undeniable sense that he is only just getting started. His ambition reaches beyond internationalizing curriculum, embracing technology, and encouraging students to engage in service projects. Chodosh is committed to using legal education as a mechanism for generally improving the world. “These are mixed problems, and they require mixed understanding and mixed solutions,” he says. “It’s like approaching a whitewater rapid—you need a plan, but at the same time you have to be able to adjust your course along the way.”

Furthermore, the course Chodosh has set for the College of Law is not failing to attract the attention of community leaders. In a celebration of the college’s recent training of Afghan prosecutors, Gov. Jon Huntsman, Jr., observed: “As governor of this state, I am very excited about what Dean Chodosh is doing. He is not only one of the . . . great legal scholars in America, but he truly does believe in improving the human condition.”

— Barry Scholl BA’86 MFA’91 JD’05 is an attorney and the director of external relations at the S.J. Quinney College of Law.

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Table closeup
Legal scholars from Afghanistan attended the U this summer for an intensive three-week training program as part of the S.J. Quinney College of Law’s Global Justice Project.

During the summer of 2008, the University of Utah law school welcomed its latest cohort of students—16 active prosecutors from Afghanistan.

The Global Justice Project of the U’s S.J. Quinney College of Law kicked off an intensive three-week training program with the prosecutors and two legal consultants as the first project of the U.S. Department of State Public-Private Partnership for Justice Reform in Afghanistan. These unusual students engaged in comparative demonstrations and discussions of prosecutorial techniques ranging from initial investigation through incarceration.

“The program is both fascinating and challenging,” says Wayne McCormack, professor of law at the U and one of the instructors in the project. “The U.S. faculty needed to learn about the criminal justice system of Afghanistan so that we could make sensible comparisons to the American system. Then various U.S. agencies have stepped up to deliver demonstrations and training, most notably the FBI, U.S. Attorney’s Office, State Crime Lab, County Jail staff, and several judges in both the federal and state courts. We hope to produce a report on needs of the Afghanistan legal system with suggestions of solutions to those issues that could be provided in part by the international community.”

The U.S. has recently assumed the lead role in helping the Afghan government reconstruct its justice system essentially from the ground up after 30 years of civil war and the demolition of the existing Afghan system.

The Afghan prosecutor training consisted of classroom work and interaction with U.S. judges, law enforcement personnel, and law school faculty, all with the goal of enhancing program participants’ ability to build a legal system responsive to their own culture and economic needs. At the same time, the U.S. participants learned enough about Afghan culture and the country’s legal system to be more effective in helping its rebuilding effort.

In addition to drawing on the numerous resources of the Utah law enforcement and legal communities, the program was further enhanced by the presence of various U.S. lawyers and judges who shared their expertise. Organizers hoped to build a cadre of informed and involved U.S. lawyers upon whom they can call as they prepare to launch other phases of the project.

The goal of the Global Justice Project and participating experts is to help close the “capacity gap” in Afghanistan’s criminal justice sector while simultaneously educating U.S. professionals as part of a broader national effort to build stability and effectiveness in justice systems in particularly critical locations such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

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Exclusive to the Web

A Conversation With Hiram Chodosh
The dean of the S.J. Quinney College of Law talks about legal education and a new building for the law school.

Continuum: How is your experience here at the U different than what you had anticipated?
Chodosh: Paradoxically, I’m shocked actually at how little has surprised me. Perhaps this shows how authentic, how true to its self-representations (both affirmative and self-critical) the U was and continues to be. 

Continuum: What do you consider your greatest accomplishment since arriving at the College of Law?
Chodosh: We have many collective achievements of which to be proud: fantastic staff and faculty hires, bringing our student-faculty ratio to eighth in the country; program collaborations with the world’s leading experts (producing 114 videocasts last year); the creation and expansion of new clinics, pro bono placements, and research think tanks that generate more public service per student than any other school in the world; 110 percent increase in merit scholarships; funding and commitments in endowment and special grants of over $10 million the past two years; and even our modest facilities improvements—student technology, the café, and two renovated bathrooms this summer!

Continuum: What is the biggest challenge you have to overcome?
Chodosh: Developing the resources we need to match our physical environment to our exciting programs.

Continuum: You have emphasized cross-disciplinary training and international law. Why are these important to lawyers who may focus on one discipline and never practice outside the U.S.?
Chodosh: Even in a world of specialization, single discipline practices are actually multi-disciplinary in three respects: First, distinct areas of the law overlap, intersect—indeed, at times, conflict—with others, and lawyers need at the very least to manage their ignorance of other fields of play. Second, all law is practiced in a technical, social, economic, cultural, and political context, and lawyers need to understand the nature of the problems on which they work. Third, lawyers confront and learn to utilize many professional skills for which there is no formal attention in traditional legal education, e.g., finance and accounting, quantitative method, negotiation, crisis management. Furthermore, in an era of globalization, legal problems are transnational in dimension with increasing frequency, and even if lawyers cross into this dimension rarely, as civic leaders, global sophistication is critical to our local and national interests.

Continuum: What is the greatest limitation of contemporary legal education? What is the greatest virtue?
Chodosh: We do not teach nearly enough through experience, and we have to catch up quickly to the health sciences in this respect. The Socratic Method remains the greatest virtue of contemporary legal education, and we need to make sure that as we embrace new trends, we [also] reinforce our core with even greater rigor.

Continuum: You are regularly asked about a new building. How do you create a space that captures the opportunities of contemporary legal education?
Chodosh: It is fruitful to think in both aesthetic and functional ways about what social interactions a physical space should facilitate. Where and how should students study and learn? Where and how should faculty do their research and teach? What is the physical relationship of the library to the school? How does architecture also capture the values of justice, education, and the community we wish to sustain? These are the difficult questions to think through in the context of very specific, signature features of a new law school.

Continuum: Describe one or two of the key features and how they’re essential to expressing the mission of the law school (community service; addressing the issues of the day; smaller, more personal learning environments).
Chodosh: The architecture captures the value of singular and collective attention to serious issues of our day and to intimate learning environments and community building. For example, the study carrel provides at once a fully enveloping study environment for a law student [while also offering] the flexibility of social interaction in the same location. The faculty lab captures the functions of research and training in the same space. The flexibility of the classrooms captures the multifunctional, collaborative, and problem-solving pedagogies. The integrated entrance hall and distributed library [whereby volumes are dispersed throughout the building, rather than housed in a central repository] bring the function and symbols of higher learning to the core of the law school experience and purpose.

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