First of all, Peter Letsou, dean of the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, may have missed his calling. Not that he isn't first-rate at the job of administering the Mid-South's preeminent training institution for lawyers. Au contraire:
On the strength of his luncheon remarks Tuesday to members of the Memphis Rotary Club, Letsou would seem to have his finger on the pulse of all the important matters affecting law schools in general and the University of Memphis' law school in particular.
But, wow! What a salesman this guy would make! It was impossible to hear him talk about the school without simultaneously getting revved up on the prospects of the city and community which contain it and which it serves. And this is especially remarkable in that Letsou minced no words in describing the negative impact of the financial downturn of 2008-2009 on the fortunes of law schools and on the legal profession.
In describing the imposing edifice on Front Street which now houses the U of M's law school, Letsou didn't quite ascend to comparisons with the Taj Mahal, but he certainly reminded his listeners of the architectural and historic value of the city's former main post office. But where the dean really shined was in expounding on the glories of the school's location — not just by virtue of its being downtown, but because it is in Memphis. That piece of rhetoric turned out to be more than gratuitous, as Letsou outlined how the city's involvement with civil rights history and with the health sciences equipped it perfectly to deal with two legal growth industries.
He proceeded with kudos for the law school's network of active local alumni and how their loyalty to their alma mater created more than the expected number of openings for graduates. And here is where the dean made clear the advantages of the U of M law school in comparison to other institutions. As he pointed out, the legal profession was harder hit than most livelihoods by the Great Recession. In a nutshell, hirings diminished, tuitions rose at most law schools, enrollment declined, and potential law students were made mindful of the increasing level of debt which might be needed to finance their educations, as well as the decrease in potential return on their investment.
But, as they say, every ill wind blows somebody some good, and in this case, it was the U of M law school, a public institution whose annual tuition of $18,000 compares more than favorably to the national average of $55,000 for private law schools.
The two aforesaid growth industries have allowed for a steadier rate of employment locally than most places, as has the network of engaged alumni at local firms. In sum, the "perfect storm" which hit law schools and lawyers elsewhere seems to have accented the advantages of the U of M law school. And having a 91 percent pass rate for recent graduates taking the bar exam — top in the state — doesn't hurt, either.
Maybe we're suckers for a good luck story, but this one really hit the spot.