from the Dean /The Study of Law at the Center / To whom Much Is Given / The
Law School and the City
Burnele V. Powell
Dean and Professor of Law
of Missouri-Kansas City
As familiar an effort as it is, The
act of writing placing this essay message on the Web
reminds me how difficult it is to capture the essence of a law school. Yet, that
is what this site essay is about. This is, in effect, a standing
invitation for the unfamiliar to discover us, and for our friends to deepen
Implicitly, it is a our way of inviting you to consider whether
you agree with the simple maxim that motivates us: The study of law in the major city of one of the nation's metropolitan
areas is, and manifestly ought to be, a different experience from the study of
law in the hinterlands.
Of course, like genetics, gravity, or the historic era
in which one is born, we make no special claim of determinism or entitlement. To
the contrary, we recognize that in many respects we are simply lucky. Still, we
do not apologize for our good fortune; we merely pledge to make the most of it
at every turn. We remember, you see, our parents' unstinting reminder that,
"To whom much is given, much is expected."
When recently, then, The
American Lawyer Magazine proclaimed that UMKC is the Law School in the
region to which the nation's one hundred largest law firms most often turn when
hiring their associates, we were pleased to have that fact objectively noted but
we were not surprised. Nor would it surprise us to have had it reported that our
Bloch Law Library is the region's single most important law library--even before
the substantial computerization we introduced in its Virtual
Frankly, with more than 500 students (including J.D.,
LL.M. and "Flex" students), 4000-plus alums throughout the Metroplex,
alone, and alums spread from D.C. to California and Alaska to Florida, there
should be little wonder that we are widely disbursed, but even more widely
In 1995, our Centennial year, we described the UMKC
School of Law succinctly in our motto: "At the center of the City and in
the forefront of legal education." What we describe here, therefore, is
continuing evidence that we remain committed to a description that is equally an
aspiration. It pays homage to the Law School's great fortune of being located on
a University campus near the world-famous Plaza and the Nelson-Atkins Art
Museum, respectively, to our West and North. Then, too, at
we stand in close proximity to the Kansas City Art Institute, the UMKC
Conservatory of Music, the Bloch School of Business and Public Administration,
the newly opened Kaufman Foundation headquarters building, the nearly completed
Missouri/Powell Botanical Gardens, and the newly created walkway park along
fabled Brush Creek.
Already only fifteen short minutes by car from downtown
Kansas City, and fewer still from the prosperous towers along College Boulevard
in Kansas, we do not overstate our place when we describe ourselves as "at
the center" of the region's action. Moreover,
when completed, the north-south Bruce Watkins Freeway—barely a mile from the
campus--will dramatically link Eastern Jackson County, Missouri’s fastest
growing suburb, with Kansas City’s soon-to-be revived downtown entertainment
and business area: The Power and Light
District. We are moving, one
might say, to the very rhythms of the region's educational, cultural, artistic,
commercial, and philanthropic institutions.
Still, our strategic advantage does not obscure our,
traditional commitment to strength in the fundamental areas of legal education (viz.,
torts, property, contracts, criminal law, civil procedure, and constitutional
law). We point with pride, for example, to our increased offerings in the
business and commercial sectors and our continuation of last year's initiatives
expanding offerings in advanced criminal law and trial techniques.
Adding to these strengths, next year's faculty roster will also include
curriculum expansions in both intellectual property and international business.
Two other major developments also require mention.
Both emphasize our ability to combine the pursuit of academic excellence
and public involvement. As a result
of federal, State and local funding, the newly established Kansas
City Tax Clinic will be dedicated this fall. The Tax Clinic
will provide students the opportunity to handle taxpayer assistance cases under
the direction of volunteer lawyers and accountants.
In addition, having now completed the first year of our Summer School at
Peking School of Law in Beijing, China, we are already looking forward to the
possibility of soon having a companion summer program in Ireland.
Back on the home-front, I also wish to note that, with
the completion of the conversion of the satellite libraries in the Corporate
Law/Tax Suite and the Forensics and Health Law Suite, we have begun to speed the
pace of returning space to the law school's educational mission.
Areas that until recently were abandoned to storage of excess library
volumes, forgotten miscellany and boxes of junk now provide needed small
conference rooms. In place of the old satellite libraries, we have constructed
the first of several work areas that we have designated "Virtual
Offices." By removing walls and shelving and adding lighting,
electronic ports, computers, Fax machines and other office technology, we have
created two additional micro-classrooms--places where students and faculty can
interact collaboratively in ways that only the invention of the microchip (and
the assistance of the Lexis/Nexis Corp.) could have made possible.
Such imaginative uses of electronic technology also
underscore our second promise: that we will operate at
the forefront of legal education. As planning goes forward for other aspects
Electrification, the master plan to move the law school from a place of
low--indeed, no technology--to a place of high technology in aid of our
educational mission, the broad outlines are already becoming clear. The pace of
the change is evidenced by the increasing availability on our website (www.law.umkc.edu)
of much of our general information, our catalogue, course syllabuses, class
discussion groups, class notes, and more.
Two recent expansions are particularly worth noting. As
described last year, the UMKC School of Law website links professors, students,
the legal profession and the world to several important law school-based points
of electronic education (POE's). New
among these links is the one to Forensic
Evidence.com, an information center in forensic science, law and public
policy for lawyers, forensic scientists, educators, and public officials.
In addition, the Law School’s home page continues to provide links to: DIRT
(the leading on-line real estate law discussion group), Bankruptcy Notes (the leading on-line bankruptcy case reporter), the
Famous Trials home page (providing
historical analyses of several, former "trials of the century"), and
LawProf (the largest on-line discussion group for law faculty).
will also want to keep an eye on the Urban
Eye Initiative, our web page devoted to urban-related legal issues. Under
its “Urban Scene,” we log inquiries from nonprofit and governmental
organizations that might serve as topics for independent student research. In
cooperation with The Urban Land-use Brief
Bank, we have also joined with the ABA Section on State and Local Government
to collect litigation briefs from leading cases dealing with land-use
litigation, planning and public policy.
Even as we have moved to complete the renovation of our
first two Virtual Offices, however, we
have begun planning for the creation of two more, in the Jurisprudence
and Constitutional Law Suite and the Advocacy
Suite. When we talk about the
forefront of legal education, therefore, our reference is to our commitment to
an educational program that is marked by imagination and innovation. We intend, for example, to connect all of the Law School's
communication centers to the Library's
Virtual Classroom. Thus, in recent years, we have added additional computer
workstations to the Virtual Classroom,
stylishly updated its furniture, and expanded the workspace we devote there to
multitask computers. Before
year’s-end, moreover, we hope to add a "computer cafeteria" to the
Student Lounge to provide student access to the Web and E-mail.
Ultimately we know, however, that the computer alone
cannot define us. Our distinction, instead, rests upon our commitment to the
delivery of quality courses in an optimal educational environment.
Although every school will eventually move to require increased use of
computers by students, the approach that we have taken is to make communications
and information technology pervasive. We alone, among all of the schools with
which we are familiar, have organized our facilities in suites where students
have offices located adjacent to those of the faculty. We, alone, will
electronically link our students' offices because we, alone, have committed to
giving students the private physical space where the intellect, the imagination,
and character can grow.
So, let me put into perspective my suggestion that,
because much has been given to the UMKC School of Law, we are obligated to
assume a greater leadership role in the Twenty-first Century than most others
can (or would be willing to) bear.
We start with the fact that we are one of the few
public law schools located in the hub-city of a metropolitan region where no
other law schools exist. Because we
are public, metropolitan-centered and without a cross-town rival, we have, for
more than a century, worked to live up to our special role and expectations in
regards to the legal profession.
Thus, we accept that by tradition, preference and
design we owe a special responsibility to educate each generation of law
students for the increasingly pivotal role that they will play in the life of
this community and the legal profession. It is here, after all, that the people,
their institutions, their dreams and livelihoods will continue to be found. Not
surprisingly, either, it is from here--across this Metroplex—that our laws,
commerce, finances, and social, political and civic transactions will
increasingly affect the lives of people across throughout the Metroplex, The
State, and the Nation.
For us, then, it is natural to think of the Law and
this law school as intertwined with the lawyers and judges around us.
Even if we wished otherwise, we could not escape it. Fortunately,
however, we know and understand the life of this city. We know and understand
that education that is the product of the interactions of professors, lawyers
and judges is, and by necessity, must be, different from education on the
Accordingly, we accept the challenges that lie before
us and invite all who, like us, are excited by such challenges to continue on
and to look ahead to the Twenty-first Century.