Law Graduation June 6, 2010On behalf of Duquesne University of the Holy Spirit, I congratulate you graduates. I also offer the University’s congratulations to the spouses, families, and friends who have supported you along the way and who helped to make this happy day possible. Since my wife is a retired judge and my daughter, son-in-law, and godson are all attorneys, I add to these official greetings, my heartiest personal congratulations as well. I know what you have been through and I have a sense for some of what lies before you.
The law degree you have earned has two values. One is intrinsic. You know this value. It is a product of your hard work over these last several years, the hours of reading and writing. It is the result of the dedication of our faculty to teaching and to the support of our professional librarians and clinicians. It has arisen from what you learned from one another in and out of the classroom. It is a result of your involvement in student organizations, law review, moot court, and internships. It is epitomized in the fact that you are among very few Americans who actually know the meaning of the word tort (when spelled without an “e”), the elements of a binding contract, what a subpoena is, and what the Supreme Court accomplishes with a writ of certiorari. This intrinsic value of your law degree is yours forever. It will serve you well. With it, you will serve your clients and your communities well.
The other value of your law degree is social. It depends on the reputation of our School of Law. The stronger the reputation of our School, the higher the social value of your Duquesne law degree. Over your many careers, this value will show itself in conversations about where you went to law school. It will be displayed in national and regional rankings. It will play a role in crucial moments when you apply for jobs and for advancements where you will work. It may be a factor if you seek appointment to public positions or run for office. It may be an issue if you relocate to another part of the country. Aside from how good you are in practice, it may affect how you are thought of by other attorneys with whom you interact. The social value of your law degree is what others, especially lawyers and law professors, think about your law school and, because of that, about your law degree.
You have already done most of what you can do to enhance the intrinsic value of your law degree, and you have done a very good job at it. (I am hesitant, at this happy moment, to mention the one last hurdle ahead of you this summer.) The social value of your degree is a different matter. Duquesne has numerous alumni whose legal careers have been so outstanding that they have improved the reputation of our School and thus the social value of your degree. Perhaps some of you will be among these outstanding alumni; I truly hope so, for you and for us. But the fact is that most graduates of any law school can do little to enhance the social value of their law degrees—except for the very important everyday contributions they make in service to their clients and community.
But your Alma Mater, which is this law School and this University, can do a great deal to enhance the social value of your law degree. I want to tell you what I believe that we will do—Duquesne Law School and Duquesne University—working as partners to make your law degree more socially valuable for you for the rest of your careers. And I tell you this purposely on this occasion so that you can carry this important message to your friends in the law classes behind you and to the Duquesne law alums you are about to join.
First, the School and University will work together to increase scholarship at the law school. This is an important factor in all assessments of the social value of a law degree, particularly among law professors and leading members of the bar. The Law School and the University know the commitments and the investments that it will take to increase scholarly productivity and we are prepared to make them.
Second, we will add more full-time faculty at the School of Law. Improvement in our ratio of faculty to students means more student choice, smaller classes, and greater faculty-student interaction.
Third, we will build for our legal clinics the same kind of successful reputation we have already established for our nationally ranked Legal Research and Writing Program. Our downtown location gives us a strong advantage here.
Fourth, we will increase diversity among our faculty, students and staff. This is a core part of the University’s mission and is occurring successfully across the university. The School of Law can and should be a leader here.
Fifth, we will improve all our student services. We intend to create a better overall organization of student support services, to computerize registration, to offer more placement help, and to provide improved alumni services.
Sixth, as you know there have been several changes in the School’s grading system. The University will assist the School in finalizing these changes by implementation of a new system of grading. It will be fair. It will be accurate. And it will not disadvantage our own students in job searches.
Finally, the School, with University assistance, will develop a five-year plan to chart a course for continued improvement. We ask that the structure of the plan mirror the University’s own five-year plan in its three parts: a renewed commitment to mission and identity, to academic excellence, and to improvement of the student experience.
These are ambitious goals. They will take us some time to achieve. We will need the help and good will of our faculty, staff, alumni and friends. But this is the way to a better future, a future made possible because of the new working relationship between the School of Law and the University. We pray that the Spirit Who Gives Life will enliven this partnership and make this brighter future a reality for all of us.
So congratulations to each of you graduates. Your hard work on the intrinsic value of your degree is almost over. But the hard work of your School and your University to improve the social value of your degree is just at a new beginning.