Q & A with OU Law Dean Joseph Harroz, Jr.
By Travis Pickens
Q. You have had a long association with President David Boren at OU, as vice president of executive affairs, General Counsel and now dean of the College of Law and university vice president. How has he influenced your leadership style and vision for the College of Law?
A. President Boren is a true mentor and friend. I have had the opportunity to work with him in a variety of roles, including legislative director when he served in the United States Senate. His unique combination of remarkable talent, love for the university and state and tireless work ethic make him the ideal leader of our university.
President Boren maintains a passionate conviction that lawyers should serve both clients and society, including the public interest. This conviction has certainly influenced my own leadership style and vision for The University of Oklahoma College of Law (OU Law). I also follow President Boren in my desire to provide an exceptional, affordable education as the state’s flagship public law school.
As an alumnus of OU Law, President Boren understands the college, its history and its mission. He is always available to counsel when I bring questions to him about strategic opportunities. I am grateful for his continued leadership and vision.
Q. The OU College of Law as recently received some recognition from national publications. What are they?
A. We are honored to receive recognition in a number of recent national surveys. These include being ranked as a “Best Law School” (top 15 percent) and “Best Value” (top 15) by National Jurist. We also experienced a 14-point jump in the latest US News and World Report ranking.
Q. The OU College of Law recently created new J.D. certificates. Tell me these and the benefit to your students.
We are launching new certificate programs that enhance the J.D. degree and can be completed within the same three-year J.D. curriculum. The certificates allow students to gain focused knowledge in energy law, natural resources law, Indian law or business entrepreneurship.
The certificates are designed to give students insights into these fields, to be attractive to employers hiring in these areas and to give students an advantage as they begin their careers. We worked with numerous companies, law firms and government agencies to create these certificates, which will be offered for the first time this fall.
Q. OU Law plans to launch a Master of Legal Studies degree this fall, pending State Regent approval this spring. What is this new degree and what needs does it meet in the workplace?
A. We have heard from many who wish to gain legal knowledge in the areas for which OU Law is nationally and internationally recognized – energy and natural resources law and Indian law – to help them advance in the job they have presently or the job to which they aspire. To address this demand, we have created two Master of Legal Studies programs focused in these areas. The master’s degrees would allow students to gain relevant legal knowledge in 30 hours of coursework, compared to the 90 hours required to earn a J.D. The MLS in Indian Law would be offered online, providing students even more flexibility.
Q. OU College of Law students are contributing record hours of pro bono and volunteer legal work. What are the driving factors behind this?
A. From the first day of orientation, OU Law communicates to students that service to society is both an honor and an obligation that comes with their degree. We begin with a convocation ceremony that includes an address from President David Boren and a professionalism pledge administered by Justice Steven Taylor. Modeled after the College of Medicine’s “White Coat Ceremony,” the convocation charges the class with an understanding of the obligations of the profession. It appears to be working. In fact, this year almost 90 percent of incoming students voluntarily committed to provide 50 to 100 pro bono hours by the end of their law school careers.
Our students have become increasingly engaged. In 2010, OU Law students provided 5,000 hours of pro bono volunteer service. In 2011, that number doubled to 10,000 hours. In 2012, students provided 13,500. This year, more than 14,500 hours were provided. We are so proud of our students’ understanding of commitment to service.
The OU Law community has also responded through donations to enhance student opportunities for public service. In the last two years, annual summer fellowship funding has grown from just a few thousand dollars to more than $25,000. We are thankful for the partnership of many OU Law faculty, alumni and friends. Together, we are developing lawyers who will continue their service long after they leave our building.
Q. You introduce yourself and sign correspondence simply as “Joe” to both students and alumni. Is that indicative of the law school culture, or is that simply your personal style?
A. OU Law students and alumni have access to every member of the faculty and staff in the building, and that certainly includes me. They stop by to chat and email me, and I make a point to walk the building every day to visit with students. Students attend our alumni events, and there is a big emphasis on bringing the two groups together. The OU Law community spends a lot of time together. When you actually know someone, formality fades.
Q. With the number of applicants declining nationwide, why do you think a legal education is still a good choice?
A. I fundamentally believe in the importance and value of a legal education. At many schools, legal education has simply become too expensive and, in some cases, driven students away. Students are focused on cost like never before. That’s at the core of what’s occurring nationally, and it’s exactly why we need great public law schools.
At OU Law, we are making every effort to keep legal education affordable and available to those most talented, regardless of financial need. In addition, we are ensuring our students have access to great job opportunities when they graduate. Our student employment numbers have climbed well above the national average. We continue to enhance the career office, recently adding another full-time professional career counselor.
We are also fortunate to have supportive alumni and friends of the college who are dedicated to helping OU Law students. In just the past three years, their generosity has provided gifts that have more than doubled our scholarship endowment. We have also created two new annual giving programs that directly benefit our students. For the first time this year, our private scholarships will provide our students with more than $1 million to help offset the cost of a legal education – almost a 50 percent increase in amount provided in the past three years.
We offer a great education, low tuition and strong job placement. To me, that is a degree with value.
Q. What further goals do you have for the OU College of Law?
A. There is no doubt the landscape of legal education (and education, more broadly) is changing, and we are focused on being at the forefront of innovation. We are developing new and dynamic classes and programs to ensure our students receive a world-class legal education. We will continue to be forward thinking to anticipate the needs of the evolving job markets. We will work with our alumni and friends to expand scholarships and opportunities for our students. Ultimately, we will remain focused on the need to graduate students who understand the special opportunities and obligations of service that are at the core of our noble profession.
Q. What special efforts has the OU College of Law taken to enhance ethics and professionalism in the practice of law?
A. We emphasize the importance of the ethical and professional obligations of the legal profession throughout our students’ law school careers. At the beginning of the year, all first-year students take a professionalism pledge, promising to conduct their profession with honesty and integrity and to work for the betterment of the profession and society. We want our students to grasp the professional obligations they have as law students of academic integrity and service, and those of the legal profession with which they will soon be entrusted.
Our core academic curriculum includes ethical considerations in every area of the law, in addition to a required professional responsibility course. In addition, OU Law maintains programming throughout the year featuring guest speakers sharing the significance of being an ethical and professional attorney. Finally, we hold an annual Professionalism Night for 1Ls sponsored by McAfee & Taft. This year we hosted 155 first-year students at Devon Tower and covered the topics of professionalism in the workplace, business etiquette and professional dress. I am confident our students leave OU Law with the highest degree of ability and integrity in the practice of law.
Joseph Harroz, Jr. became the 12th dean of the University of Oklahoma College of Law and seventh director of the OU Law Center on July 1, 2010. He is university vice president and teaches employment law.
He is an OU Phi Beta Kappa graduate with a B.A. in economics and a minor in zoology. He received his J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center and was an associate editor of the Journal of Law and Policy in International Business. While in Washington, D.C., Mr. Harroz served as legislative director and legal counsel to then-U.S. Senator David L. Boren.
Upon his return to Oklahoma, he joined Crowe and Dunlevy, practicing in the area of commercial litigation. In 1994, he began his service at OU, serving as vice president for executive affairs. In 1996, he was named general counsel of the University of Oklahoma, serving as chief legal counsel to the president, the OU Board of Regents, and the five campuses they oversee.
From 2008 to 2010 he was president of the second largest sleep diagnostic and therapy company in the nation. Mr. Harroz was a founding director of the Oklahoma Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, is a member of the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence board and executive committee, and chairman and trustee of Waddell & Reed's Ivy Mutual Funds.
Dean Harroz has taught as an adjunct professor since 1997, frequently guest lecturing, and serving as a college advisory board member.
Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal -- May. 18, 2013 -- Volume 84, No. 14.