MU Law School Dean Gary Myers plans for school's future

Wednesday, December 19, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CST
Gary Myers, new dean of MU's School of Law, says he wants to increase scholarship opportunities for students as well as raise the profile of the school across the U.S.

COLUMBIA — If he were to liken his career to a marriage, Gary Myers, new dean of MU's School of Law, would say that attending law school was his honeymoon.

Myers fell in love with law as an undergraduate in the early 1980s at New York University. He went on to earn a law degree and a master's degree in economics in 1986 from Duke University.

Gary Myers at a glance

Age: 50

Hometown: born in Bellflower, Calif.

Education: bachelor's degree in economics, New York University, 1984; master's degree, economics, Duke University, 1986; law degree, Duke, 1986.

Professional: spent 23 years teaching and serving as associate dean at the University of Mississippi's School of Law.

Personal: married to Bridget Kevin Myers; they have twin 3-year-old daughters Elinor and Abigail Myers.

In August, Myers came to MU, succeeding R. Lawrence Dessem as dean of the Law School. For 23 years before that, Myers, 50, was at the University of Mississippi's School of Law, teaching and later serving as associate dean of research.

Myers' model

Myers calls his leadership style collaborative.

"I want to have conversations with people, get people’s input in decision-making, so that we can make as informed a decision as possible," he said.

Myers has formed the style through observing other administrators and through his experiences in law school and the professional world. "I’m borrowing from about a half-dozen great deans that I’ve seen over the years," he said.

That list includes the late Louis Westerfield, the first African-American dean at the University of Mississippi, Taylor Reveley of the College of William and Mary and Larry Ponoroff of Tulane University.

Increasing resources, recognition

Myers said his top short-term goal is to increase the resources available for the Law School.

He hopes to increase fundraising efforts to support new programs and new courses in intellectual property and business and entrepreneurship law; criminal law could also be an option. 

The faculty is one of the key strengths of the school, he said.

"I want people in the rest of the country to learn about, to see them and interact with them," Myers said. "I know it would lead to greater recognition for the Law School."

Decreasing student debt

Myers acknowledges that debt is probably the number one thing on the minds of many entering and applying to law schools.

"Our response, first of all, is that we offer an incredible value as a law school — our in-state tuition is a tremendous bargain," Myers said. "My way of seeing it is that everyone who comes to Mizzou Law gets a scholarship because our in-state tuition is very competitive and enables students to graduate with relatively low student debt."

In-state tuition and fees for 2012-13 for MU's School of Law is $18,619, according to its website. That's one of the least expensive among law schools in the Southeastern Conference and in the Big 12.

Myers' view is that the competitive cost of attending MU's Law School allows students to expand the kind of work opportunities they might accept. Less debt would mean the ability to take jobs with lower-end salaries in public service, government, nonprofit organizations or smaller law firms.

"If they want a higher paying job with longer hours and more demanding work schedules, they can take those jobs," Myers said. "But they have the flexibility to consider the options that may give them the ability to have more of that balance."

Myers suggested that students considering this option talk to those who have recently taken up similar positions so that they can gain insight on their daily work responsibilities.

Another of his most immediate goals is to increase the number of scholarships and tuition waivers for out-of-state students.

In 2011-12, 73 students began the school year with conditional, or performance-dependent, scholarships — up from 67 students for the two previous years.

Raising the Law School's reputation

In the long term, Myers wants to increase the Law School’s national reputation and expand the recognition of certain specialty areas.

"We have a nationally recognized Center for Dispute Resolution, which brings us considerable recognition," he said. "But I’d like to see us expand and have several other areas of strength for which we will be known."

The specific areas aren’t yet set in stone, but Myers sees strength and potential for expansion in intellectual property, real estate, criminal law and civil litigation.

In terms of his own expertise, Myers said he has been involved in intellectual property law for 25 years, dating back to his law school days when he worked for a professor who focused on it.

"Today, intellectual property is one of the leading fields in the law, one of the real growth areas, and I believe it will continue to be," he said.

Addressing diversity

In the class of about 135 students that entered MU School of Law this fall, 21 percent identified as minorities and 44 percent as women, Myers said.

He is happy about these numbers but said increasing student diversity is a priority of the Law School and for himself as dean.

"I think it shows the efforts that have been made and that we are working every year to draw a diverse student body," Myers said. "I think that’s fundamentally important."

Myers believes the Law School needs to graduate a diverse group of students to meet the legal needs of a society made up of people from various environments.

"I know our Law School, as do others, works very hard to attract, retain and have successful students who complete the program, pass the bar and become a part of the legal community," he said.

Myers' future in the classroom

Myers plans to devote the first year or two of his deanship to learning his job and getting to know those around him. After that, he plans to get back into the classroom.

He hopes to teach in the areas of intellectual property, entertainment and anti-trust laws. However, he said he will teach whatever is needed most by the Law School, depending on what would fit within his areas of interest and ability.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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