St. Louis University’s law school has faced a number of challenges over the last three years, but new dean Michael Wolff is hopeful that he can help turn things around. Wolff will be the fourth dean the school has hired since 2010, and he hopes that he can provide the stability and guidance that the school has lacked since longtime administrator Jeffrey Lewis stepped down in 2010 after eleven years.
The Saint Louis Post-Dispatch interviewed Wolff, who said that his priorities are to move past the recent turmoil and focus on the future of the school. That future includes bringing stability to an unstable environment and focus on the move to a recently refurbished 11 story building in downtown Saint Louis.
The new building is part of a $30 million expansion for the school, and the physical structure is currently being outfitted with a new library, parking, and security features. Wolff’s hope is that the new building, which is located across the street from the city’s civil courts, will allow students to observe trials during their downtime between and after classes as a way to apply their book learning to real life situations.
He also hopes that the new facility’s proximity to the city’s legal community will entice working attorneys to play a more active role in the education of the school’s students, and Wolff plans to offer one-credit courses through which students can assist attorneys with case work. “They need to understand how [their studies] relate to the real world,” said Wolff.
Many observers within the legal community say that SLU Law School’s dean problem is related to conflict with SLU’s president, Rev. Lawrence Biondi. In August, Dean Annette Clark resigned after saying of Biondi, “From the beginning of my deanship, you have evinced hostility, issuing orders and edicts that allowed me virtually no opportunity to exercise the very discretion, judgment and experience for which you and the faculty enthusiastically hired me.”
Drastic changes like a new building and new work programs are going to be needed, as SLU’s law school has taken a tumble in the US News and World Report’s rankings of law schools. The school dropped this year in the rankings, which was likely in part due to the quick departures of the school’s last three deans. Wolff hopes that, by providing stability and reaching out to alumni, he can maintain the school’s high pedigree and prevent any further decline in rankings, student enrollment rates, and the school’s reputation in the legal community.