Dear Colleagues:

Happy Holidays! Merry Christmas! Feliz Navidad! Happy Hanukkah! Happy Kwanza! Happy New Year! Happy Winter Solstice!

On behalf of the Law Center, I want to wish you and your families a wonderful holiday season in whatever faith tradition that you observe. Over the past few weeks, the Law Center has celebrated the holidays with the Dean’s Society at the lovely home of alumna Susan Bickley and her husband Bob Scott; at the annual Holiday Coffee where more than 200 alumni, faculty and staff celebrated the holiday season; and with faculty and staff starting a new annual tradition of singing holiday carols and showcasing ugly holiday hats and sweaters.

The holiday season is an opportunity for fellowship, the exchange of gifts with family, friends, and co-workers and deep reflection on the spiritual underpinnings of the season.

Having completed my first semester as dean, I have also engaged in important self- reflection. As you know, over the course of the year, I focused on how the Houston Law Center is an exemplar of the “Power of Legal Education” because it fundamentally transforms each student by teaching them how to think like lawyers. Through legal education, each student learns to write precisely, analyze rigorously, advocate persuasively and conform to the highest professional standards.

As I reflect on the Power of Legal Education, I have come to appreciate that legal education is a gift that endures and grows more valuable over time. As a child of immigrants who had little formal education, my legal education literally changed the trajectory of my life. It made me a professional, providing me with the skills to achieve my dreams. Public law school tuitions may not be as affordable as they used to be, but the Law Center is much more affordable than many of the private law schools operating in the state, and the Law Center has been recognized in many surveys as providing its students with the best value. Even though law school tuitions as a whole have risen, legal education still provides its graduates with increased economic outcomes. A study shows that for most lawyers, “the mean pretax lifetime value of a law degree is approximately $1 million.” Legal education is a long-term investment which continues to provide increased value over each graduate’s lifetime. In my meetings with Law Center alumni, I have found they recognize this transformative power and the increased economic value in holding a law degree; they are overwhelming grateful for the opportunities that the Law Center afforded them.

The Law Center’s powerhouse faculty is principally responsible for conveying this increased value to our students and alumni. The Law Center faculty is highly credentialed and well-published. In addition to having the J.D. degree, the Law Center faculty holds 10 LLM degrees, seven PhDs, five MBAs, and 13 other master’s degrees in a wide variety of disciplines. The Law Center faculty has held 16 federal circuit court clerkships (including 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 9th Circuits, and Federal Circuit and U.S. Court of Customs Appeals), eight federal district court clerkships, and clerkships with the Texas Supreme Court, Texas First Court of Appeals, and Harris County 125th (Civil) District Court.

They have published 31 books and 39 law review articles during the 2013-2014 academic year. They present at global conferences and are sought-after media experts and commentators on cutting-edge legal issues. Sixteen current Law Center faculty (as well as several adjunct or emeritus faculty) are members of the prestigious American Law Institute (“ALI)”). Only the most recognized and well regarded judges, lawyers, and legal academics are members of the ALI, which is responsible for the Restatements of Law and Model Statutes and Principles of Law.

The Law Center’s well-credentialed faculty could command much higher salaries in private legal practice. Instead, they became teachers because they wanted to train the next generation of lawyers, impart their knowledge to students, and transform the debate and discussion of globally and nationally significant issues through their legal scholarship. In addition, the clinical and academic centers’ faculty work (with our students) to make them practice ready in their advocacy and research.

The most memorable gift that I received from a former student was one of acknowledgement and appreciation. It is incredibly heartwarming when a former student says: “I never knew that a certain area of law was fun to learn until I took your class;” or “I never thought about a legal, economic or societal issue in that way until I took your class. “

At this gift-giving time of year, I hope that you take the time to let the people in your life (including your former law professors) know how they may have been instrumental in your personal and professional formation. Please take the time to acknowledge the enduring gift of legal education.

All the best during this holiday season!

Leonard M. Baynes
Dean and Professor of Law
University of Houston Law Center