New Ole Miss dean wants to tell the world of school’s value
Richard Gershon took the reins as dean of the University of Mississippi School of Law last July with a vision of making the Oxford school better known nationally and internationally.
“It’s the most under-valued law school in the country,” he said. “The faculty and students do great things here, and my mission is to get the word out. The story is not being told as well as it could be. There are many wonderful things being done here.
“Our students are doing really well in advocacy competitions. We will build on the exciting programs and add some new programs to have the law school move forward to be one of the leading legal centers for education in the country.”
Gershon says those valuable assets include being home to the National Center for Justice and the Rule of Law, the National Center for Remote Sensing, Air and Space Law, the National Sea Grant Law Center and the Mississippi Law Research Institute.
The school will be moving into its new LEED-certified building next spring. “Our new building will give us ways to work with technology that we haven’t been able to do,” he said. “We will have visitors from all over the world who will want to come here.”
Gershon says the faculty is looking at changing the way law is taught so school can be better integrated with the legal profession. “We’re a professional school and want to make sure our students are hired and are really ready to begin the practice of law,” he said. “We’re changing the more traditional classroom model that doesn’t really prepare students. We want more interaction with The Bar. We want to place students with law firms and judges for a semester and still have them take courses through distance learning.”
He points out that increased use of existing technology will make that possible, along with playing a role in the master’s degree program and opening up ways to do things internationally.
“There are great opportunities for American law schools to be involved in the training of people from other countries who are interested in receiving American legal training,” the dean said.
By having the National Center for Remote Sensing, Air and Space Law and publishing the Journal of Air and Space Law, Gershon says it makes sense for the school to look at developing a graduate program in that discipline involving people from all over the world. “Space is an international topic, so of course that would help the State of Mississippi because the program would attract people online and for residency here,” he added.
Noting that the public’s perception of lawyers has changed in recent years, Gershon feels law schools in general can do something to improve that perception by making sure the students they produce understand the importance of professionalism, civility and ethics.
“The public doesn’t realize how much good lawyers do for society and how much time they donate with pro bono services for those who can’t afford services,” he said. “As a profession, they contribute time and help to preserve the freedoms we all enjoy.”
Gershon is optimistic about employment opportunities for law school graduates, pointing out that with Baby Boomer lawyers reducing the number of hours they work and retiring, the legal profession has probably had a decrease over the past few years.
“Those entering the profession are entering under a different model,” he said. “The prospects are really great for our law grads if they’re willing to be a little bit creative and think non-traditionally,” he said. “The profession has changed and the recession has had a profound effect on firms hiring lawyers, but businesses still need legal minds. Also, the need is increasing as technology becomes more prevalent. We just have to look at how students prepare themselves and where they want to be when they graduate.”
With 520 students at Ole Miss, the school is a little bit larger than it’s been in the past. That’s because the school had a larger-than-usual entering class of 199. “This entering class has high-quality and credentials, and we’re real proud of them,” Gershon said.
Originally from Atlanta, Ga., Gershon graduated from the University of Georgia and the University of Tennessee School of Law and earned a master’s degree in taxation from the University of Florida. He practiced as a tax lawyer and taught 15 years in Florida before serving in several capacities, including dean of Texas Wesleyan Law School in Fort Worth. He moved to Oxford from Charleston, S.C., where he was founding dean of the Charleston School of Law.
He says his wife, a poet and editor of Garden & Gun magazine, and children love life in Oxford.
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