Interview with Dean Hasl of Thomas Jefferson School of Law

Published September 2007, last updated July 2009

Top-Law-Schools.com is honored to present an exclusive interview with the Dean of Thomas Jefferson School of Law, Rudy Hasl.

Dean Hasl, Thomas Jefferson has made great strides in improving the law school since its founding in 1989 and its accreditation by the ABA in 1996. Which improvements are you most proud of?

The School started in 1969 as a for-profit California-accredited school. With ABA full approval in 2001 and a conversion to non-profit status, the School has made significant improvements as an academic institution. The real strength of the School is in its people.

The strongest asset for any school is its faculty. With careful hiring decisions and good supportive structures, the School has developed an extraordinary faculty, with commitments to creative academic research and publication, strong teaching, and a genuine engagement with students. Through participation in the San Diego legal community, the School has gained enormous respect as a serious academic enterprise.

The graduates of the School have distinguished themselves in public service, the judiciary, the practice of law, and the business community, exemplified by Bonnie Dumanis ‘76, San Diego District Attorney, and Les Alexander ‘77, owner of the Houston Rockets. As a very young ABA institution, the school has moved very rapidly in its recognition as a serious academic enterprise.

Please discuss what major goals you plan to accomplish over the next few years as Dean at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, such as moving to new, expanded law school facilities.

In very general terms, my goal is to create a vibrant academic and social community that prepares its students for success as law students, for success on the bar exam, but most importantly for success in the practice of law. We will create that community by continuing to develop the faculty, to create academic programs that draw on their talents as faculty members, to build a culture of success among the students, to maintain a very diverse community of students, faculty, and staff, and to create facilities that enable us to support the developing community.

We have substantially diversified the student body, by increasing the percentage of students of color with each of the recently admitted classes. We will be developing new facilities in downtown San Diego, which will double the amount of available space and provide adequate space for nurturing the kind of community we have sought to create. As the newest of the schools in the San Diego area, we have been able to develop very innovative programs, such as an Academic Success program (SUMMIT), drawing on modern learning and cognition theory to address individual student learning needs; the on-line LL.M. program in International Taxation and Financial Services; the academic centers in Law and Technology, Law and Social Justice, and Global Legal Studies; and the imaginative bar preparation program (Bar Secrets).

You have been Dean at several other law schools. Please discuss what you have found to be unique about Thomas Jefferson School of Law relative to your experience at the law schools in your past.

You are correct, Ken. I am starting my 27th year as a law school dean, at four different institutions. In that period, I have been able to see many law schools in my role as a member of the ABA Accreditation Committee and through my informal work with other deans. What has impressed me most is how much interaction there is between students and faculty members. Faculty members are very seriously committed to effective and innovative teaching, as well as to engagement on a personal level with students. I have not experienced this type of engagement at other institutions.

Another advantage of the school derives from its relative youth. The school is willing to think outside the box about programming and to develop innovative approaches to developing successful professionals. As a free-standing (non-University related) institution, it is nimble and agile in moving forward with programs. There is no need to go through multiple review layers to get approval for new initiatives. Finally, whereas most law schools with international programs have focused on Europe, Thomas Jefferson has focused on the emerging Asian economies, including China and the Russian Far East. Over the next twenty years, the greatest growth in future international trade, wealth, and legal issues will be in Asia, not in Europe.

What do you think students enjoy most about Thomas Jefferson School of Law?

Students continually report their surprise at finding an institution with people who genuinely care for their well being. I know that may sound surprising, but most law schools are not known for their customer sensitive attitude. Thomas Jefferson School of Law has worked hard to build a culture that seeks to assist students as they maneuver through law school and into the profession. There really is a focus on student success and involvement. Connected with this student perception, of course, is the concomitant commitment of the faculty members to engage them seriously and meaningfully inside and outside the classroom

What do you feel are the greatest academic strengths of Thomas Jefferson School of Law?

The greatest academic strength is the quality and involvement of the faculty members. There are significant academic curricular strengths in the areas of International Business, Intellectual Property, and International Taxation, resulting entirely from faculty expertise. The School has nine faculty members with substantial practice or publication expertise in the area of international business, including finance, taxation, e-commerce, WTO, comparative commercial law and payment systems, labor law, and business organizations. Furthermore, two of the three major legal publishers and two substantial professional associations have approached the law school about developing partnerships for the production of significant legal treatises and educational programs.

Is there any general advice you would offer to law school applicants?

Having some experience with most law schools throughout this country, I would encourage applicants to engage in thorough research about the schools that they are considering to ensure that the institution will provide the kind of education that fits the needs of the applicant. Each school is different, as shaped by its history, its faculty, its geographic location, its student body, and its overall culture. I have encountered too many students who have made bad decisions by looking only at prestige factors. The culture of the institution is important for an applicant to succeed. Some applicants will thrive in very competitive settings; other applicants succeed in more collaborative environments.

What do you consider the most important factors an admitted applicant should examine when choosing which law school to attend?

The process must begin with a serious self-examination by the applicant to determine what will enable the applicant to succeed. The applicant can then use the variety of materials available that provide extensive information about what each institution offers, including web sites, blogs, published materials, and student conversations. I think it is important for an applicant to visit prospective institutions to experience, first hand, the culture that exists, especially the accessibility and availability of faculty members. Since most applicants do not have a predetermined career path, the key is maximizing options, which enable the student to pursue a range of career possibilities.

Do you have any advice to offer current law school students, both those at Thomas Jefferson and those who are attending other law schools?

Enjoy the time in law school. I have heard from so many graduates that they look back fondly at their law school days as times of relative relaxation, compared with the demands of client contact and practice. Law school is a time to explore the world of law, to develop skills in areas of perceived weakness, and to test out possible career paths. It is also a time to build networking skills which are so essential for success in the practice of law

What, in your experience, should college students be doing now to prepare for their success in law school?

Pursue an academic area that results in a passionate commitment to the subject matter. It doesn’t really matter what the subject matter is. What is important is that the student be thoroughly engaged in the subject matter and do well in mastering the area. College is also a time for some exploration and intellectual stretching. A student should try to get a sufficient number of writing courses to develop a facility at written expression. A foreign language is also an advantage in our increasingly global environment.

Do you have any final advice to convey to the readers of www.top-law-schools.com?

I have committed my life to legal education. I firmly believe that legal education is one of the finest educational experiences for any career. It provides what the undergraduate education provided at a much earlier time in our history. It helps to develop clarity of thought and expression, problem solving skills, and basic analysis skills in sorting through an almost unlimited supply of information and knowledge. A legal education is a life expanding academic experience.

Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. We appreciate the opportunity to receive advice from one so knowledgeable about getting into and succeeding in law school.