One of Texas’s public law schools has reeled during the past year under the stress of a censure from the nation’s law school accreditor, exacerbated by personality clashes between leaders of the law school and central university.
A series of bad publicity has unveiled problems within Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law. The first problem became public in July 2017, when the American Bar Association Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar, which accredits law schools, issued censures against the school for violation of an anti-discrimination accreditation standard, as well as multiple academic standards. Another round of negative press hit in October 2017, when TSU President Austin Lane abruptly canceled a law student organization’s event, which drew rowdy, disruptive protesters. The fiasco—participants said the university violated their free speech—was quickly followed by the resignation of interim law school dean James Douglas.
Documents obtained through a Texas Public Information Act Request reveal details pertaining to personality clashes and power struggles between Lane and Douglas. Interviews with Douglas and former dean Dannye Holley provide more insight about what happened behind the scenes, before and after the ABA’s censures.
PDF: Open Records Reveal Personality Clashes, Power Struggle at Thurgood Marshall _ Texas Lawyer
Although it might go against a lawyer’s natural propensities toward risk aversion, some practitioners have started accepting payments in digital currencies amid the bitcoin boom.
“I’ve known for a long time that my opportunity to expand in certain areas has been affected by not taking it,” said Carol Van Cleef, a Washington, D.C. lawyer who for 10 years has represented cryptocurrency clients with regulatory compliance.
As far back as 2013, a handful of big law firms that represented the earliest cryptocurrency entrepreneurs started accepting bitcoin payments. Today, big and small firms alike, as well as solo practitioners, have followed their lead and have accepted cryptocurrency’s risks in order to meet clients’ needs and get paid.
Part of the horror of what happened to Suzanne Wooten is the realization that if the justice system failed so miserably for her, it could happen to anyone.
Wooten lived a nightmare: Winning an election by a landslide to unseat an incumbent judge, only to be allegedly targeted by political rivals, wrongfully convicted of nine felonies, cast down from her district court bench and stripped of her license to practice law.
Finally after six years living the bad dream, Wooten this year found complete redemption in May when a court acquitted her of all charges, declared her actually innocent, and she got back her law license in June.
Some things, Wooten will never get back. She used to believe if she paid her taxes, followed the speed limit, refused to drink and drive, or followed election campaign laws, she would be safe and wouldn’t get in legal trouble.
“The biggest horror is taking away from me and my family the sense of security we have,” Wooten said. “When something like this happens to you, my sense of being safe even just walking down the street—it’s gone, it’s destroyed.”
Wrongful conviction stories always loom large in the public consciousness because of the deep-seated need to believe that the justice system will get it right—convict the guilty, exonerate the innocent. When things go terribly wrong, people struggle to find some reason, so that they won’t have to believe that a wrongful conviction could happen to them, too.
How did the system fail Suzanne Wooten?
PDF: How the Justice System Severely Failed One of its Own _ Texas Lawyer
The most intense stress of Ali Mosser’s life came during her first round of law school final exams.
Before exam day, Mosser, a second-year student at Baylor University School of Law, had a cloud over her head, and she feared that she would never complete everything on her long to-do list. Her anxiety kicked in just before tests, giving her clammy hands and “those nervous feelings” in her stomach, Mosser said.
“Those were my first grades I would have, so I felt I was about to enter in the season where my performance over four or five days would define me,” said Mosser. “Something I learned the hard way is never go out to lunch after a final and compare answers. I did that after my first final, and almost had a panic attack.”
As Texas law schools enter another final exam season in December, they know that students are stressed, and they’re trying to help. On the lighter side, they distract students with fun events—puppies on campus—or relax them with neck massages. On a serious note, schools present students with information about appropriate and inappropriate ways to cope with stress, and they provide free counseling services.
PDF: As Law Students Enter Finals, Schools Find Ways to Help With the Stress _ Texas Lawyer
Law school final exams next month might seem like the worst thing in the world to some law students.
Not Eric Gilliland.
He has a different way of thinking about law school after being in the U.S. Army Special Operations for six years, deploying to Jordan and Turkey. Veterans who have deployed and seen combat have learned to cope with “mountains of stress,” he said.
“Our perspective allows us to look beyond what most law students have experienced,” said Gilliland, a student at College of William and Mary Marshall-Wythe School of Law in Williamsburg, Virginia. “Many of us are more disciplined and capable of handling far more responsibility.”
But those skills don’t always translate on a law school application. Admissions officers may pass over applicants with military backgrounds, failing to appreciate how they can become competitive law students and strong lawyers.
That’s where Service to School comes in. The nonprofit helps veterans parlay their military service to gain entry into the nation’s top law schools and other higher-education institutions.
PDF: Veterans Heading to Law Schools, With Nonprofit_s Help _ Law
Hurricane Harvey didn’t significantly impact most law students and law professors of Houston’s three law schools—South Texas, the University of Houston Law Center, and Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law. But students and professors who lost everything have struggled to get back on track, and they could face long-term impacts as they slowly and painstakingly work to recover.
PDF: Handling Hurricane Harvey _ Texas Lawyer
Since February, when violent protests canceled a speech by provocative writer Milo Yiannopoulos at the University of California, Berkeley, colleges and universities nationwide have faced criticism for caving to opposition by canceling events.
Law schools have not escaped the clashes. The nationwide free-speech-on-campus debate took root at three law schools this fall as protesters opposed speakers or events, prompting widely different responses from schools.
Those reactions from law school administrators provide examples of best and worst practices in the free-speech realm, and they come at a time when First Amendment advocates say it’s more important than ever for law schools to be role models in upholding free speech.
PDF: At Law Schools, Rowdy Protests Provide Teachable Moments _ Law