“We have to be prepared for the next 75 years to make sure that we are equipped to teach the next generation of leaders.”
As ninth dean of the University of Houston Law Center, Leonard M. Baynes said he was drawn to the institution because of the can-do attitude of the Law Center, the University of Houston and the city of Houston.
“One of the things that stuck out to me was its fabulous faculty,” Baynes said. “They’re very smart, very talented teachers, great scholars but also very collegial. It has a very terrific staff who work very hard and make the place run. The students are very diverse, hard-working and many are first-generation law school students or first-generation Americans. All of that seemed like a dream come true. All of these are great advantages for the Law Center, and I am proud that I made the choice to be the Law Center’s dean.”
Throughout his deanship, Baynes said the school has made a number of positive developments, while remaining consistent in its core principles. He cited the increased involvement by Law Center graduates, a faculty group in transition and a more inclusive student body. In addition, there has been more of an emphasis on student academic success, marketing/communication promoting the Law Center’s success, enhanced status of the non-tenure track faculty and a greater focus on public interest opportunities for students, prestigious federal and state clerkships for students and pipeline programs for first generation, low income and underrepresented students shepherding them into the legal profession.
Dean Baynes is the first African American dean in the Law Center’s history. His pre-law pipeline has significantly increased the diversity of students at the law school.
“Our current students have the same values, interests and want to be the best that they can be,” he said. “Although the students may be more diverse today and have higher credentials, like prior generations of Law Center students, they are high achievers who want to go places. Even if the complexion of our students may have somewhat changed, they are the same as their predecessors in their temperament, ambition, and their desire to succeed.
“The Law Center has changed in that the alumni have become even more engaged. I have traveled to see alumni wherever they may be – whether it’s Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Austin, Dallas, San Antonio, Rio Grande Valley, New York City, Washington D.C. or Denver. The alumni have stepped up their engagement and their giving, and they are principally responsible for helping us raise the funds necessary to build this new law building.
“The faculty has gone through a transition of a number of retirements, and unfortunately a few who, have passed away. We have hired several new faculty members who like their predecessors are smart, well credentialed and are very compassionate individuals who care deeply about our students. They make a difference in our students’ lives by giving them the fortitude to go forward and helping them realize that even though they may be from a first-generation family, it doesn’t mean that they can’t dream big.”
The new Law Center building symbolizes a new era for students, faculty, and alumni.
As the Law Center’s new John M. O’Quinn Law Building is getting closer to opening its doors, Baynes reflected on the demanding process, and a decades-long dream that preceded his deanship. It involved interacting with a number of stakeholders, including Texas lawmakers, UH senior administration, alumni, faculty, staff and students.
“The new John M. O’Quinn Law Building will be completed sometime in the summer of 2022,” Baynes said. “Its completion will coincide with the commemoration of the Law Center’s 75th anniversary. The opening of the new building is a great milestone highlighting where we’ve been and where we’re going. The new building will be modern, functional and a testament to the grandeur of the city of Houston and the prominence of the University of Houston Law Center.
“Many didn’t believe it would happen. It was important to inspire people to believe that it would happen and to suspend negative thinking. Despite some false starts and challenges during this process we raised more money than the law school has ever raised. There were a lot of obstacles in our way and things totally outside of our control. The success was a group effort. It wouldn’t have happened but for the leadership of President Renu Khator who made the new building a priority of the University, the development expertise of Vice President Eloise Brice, and the leadership of UHLC alumnus Bill Jackson who led the Law Center’s alumni in these efforts. During this process, we all shared the same goals and objectives, and that’s how we got here.”
With the onset of the Law Center’s 75th anniversary festivities, Baynes acknowledged the significance of taking inventory of past milestones while keeping an eye toward what the legal profession may look like in the decades to come.
“The Law Center is 75 years young,” Baynes said. “We’re a relatively new school when you think of some of the other law schools in Texas and across the country who were established much earlier. That means that these other law schools have a stronger head start, but it just means that we must work harder and be more creative in our approach to our success. During this 75th commemoration, it’s important for us to appreciate all our past accomplishments and progress.
“But it’s also important for us to look to the future. We’ll have a new building that’s representative of all the great things going on at the Law Center. It will project us as a modern law school with state-of-the-art technology. In the next 75 years, we plan to continue our progress. We aim to continue to be fiscally strong, raise our overall rankings in U.S. News & World Report, recruit terrific faculty and ride the demographic wave as we prepare for the students of the future in Texas. We have to be prepared for the next 75 years to make sure that we are equipped to teach that next generation of leaders.”