Soon after Texas A&M acquired the Texas Wesleyan School of Law in 2013, Chancellor John Sharp ’72 predicted it would rise in the national rankings “faster than has ever been done in this country.” It turns out Sharp was prescient. In the latest assessment by U.S. News & World Report, the law school ranked 60th overall, a 23-point jump from the previous year—the largest among the top 100 schools. The school also ranks in the top 10 for its Intellectual Property, Technology & Innovation, and Dispute Resolution programs. With its rising national profile, applications are up by more than 25%, even as applications are down an average of 3% across the nation. Currently, 661 students are enrolled.
Many elements have contributed to the law school’s growing visibility and success. Certainly, the Texas A&M name carries great weight. Ahdieh also emphasized the core values of the university as identical to those of a good lawyer: respect, excellence, loyalty, leadership, integrity and selfless service. “Graduates of the law school are smart; they know the law and have the skills of a good lawyer,” said Ahdieh. “They also have the right values and the necessary foundational knowledge for effective lawyering. And there’s no better way for us to teach them those skills than through our legal clinics.”
The law school has 10 clinics, which allow students to develop and apply their skills on behalf of actual clients who cannot afford legal representation. “We operate as a law firm, but in the context of a classroom,” Herrera said. The students interview clients, decide the best legal course, file documents and sometimes appear in court. Through it all, said Herrera, “professors are supervising attorneys, there to answer questions and catch them before they fall.”
The clinics provide students with hands-on experience in a variety of practice areas, from tenant-landlord disputes and IRS matters to divorces and wills. “Clinics are essential to the curriculum if you want to be a top law school,” said Herrera. “Students want relevance in their education. In addition to learning substantive law in a variety of areas and developing essential skills, they’re picking up an understanding of law practice management through the clinics. That’s more of a business skill and not something traditionally taught in law schools.” Law practice management includes crucial experience in areas such as confidentiality, client communication, client engagement and navigating the relationship. “You can wait to learn that on the job,” continued Herrera, “or you can learn it in a clinic and be a step ahead when you graduate.”