BATON ROUGE — As John Pierre became more interested in legal higher education, he started to see the importance and impact graduates of the Southern University Law Center have in the state, as they take jobs in public affairs, business and nonprofits.
“The law center is an important institution for a number of reasons," Pierre told the Louisiana Record. "It produces what we call the people’s lawyers. They assume a lot of leadership positions over their career. Therefore, they are really, really important to the fabric of the state of Louisiana.”
Named the law center’s seventh chancellor in March, Pierre takes on the job of adapting the university’s law education to ensure students gain the kind of classroom and real-world legal experience they’ll need to enrich their communities and the state.
Pierre, who served as the law school’s interim chancellor before being selected from a pool of four finalists, said he’s been preparing himself for nearly 15 years to be a leader in higher education. Since he joined the school’s faculty in 1990, he’s seen the institution grow and evolve.
In 25 years, enrollment has doubled to 600 students who have an option of taking classes full time during the day, part-time during the day or part-time at night. Additionally, the law center added a number of clinics that allow students to practice law by representing clients in legal matters while being supervised by faculty. The clinics include bankruptcy, divorce and domestic violence, workers compensation, and mediation, among others.
The addition of legal clinics prepares Southern University law students for a new American Bar Association requirement that will kick in this fall, which necessitates six hours of experiential learning. The new standard falls in line with a sentiment already held by Pierre.
“It’s not just about what you learn in the book, but how do you go out and practice — how do you represent people,” Pierre said.
The school also developed a study abroad program that lets students spend a summer in London learning what legal practice looks like on an international scale.
But there’s still room to grow and evolve, Pierre said. Surveys of graduates revealed that students want more trial litigation experience, so the law center will soon offer an advanced degree that focuses on those skills.
In response to concerns of people in North Louisiana, the school is studying the feasibility of setting up a satellite branch of the law school in Shreveport to offer evening and weekend courses.
“We’re studying hard to see if that can be done, especially when there are so many challenges for the state of Louisiana,” Pierre said.
His determination will be needed as he and other administrators confront the reality of declining interest in legal education. The number of applicants has fallen each year over the last seven years, Pierre said.
“There are more law schools competing for fewer students,” he said. “We have to be distinctive and we have to work hard to convince them we are the place they should go to.”