Law school achieves notable milestones in global engagement, innovation, legal technology, corpus linguistics and scholarship during D. Gordon Smith's nearly seven years of service
PROVO, Utah, Oct. 13, 2022 /PRNewswire/ -- BYU Law, a global law school focused on leadership in legal theory and practice, today announced that Dean D. Gordon Smith will step down following the 2022-23 academic year to return to the faculty.
"The past six and a half years have been the most challenging and rewarding years of my professional life," said Smith in a Town Hall message to faculty and staff that was reiterated in communication to students and on his social media posts. "BYU Law School is flourishing, and my enthusiasm for the Law School has never been greater. Nevertheless, I feel the time is right for me to return to a faculty role and projects to allow for someone with different gifts to build on the momentum."
Smith plans to return to the faculty where he previously taught classes in business associations, contracts, corporate finance, law and entrepreneurship, and securities regulation. Smith notes that he has several unfinished papers and plans to write a book exploring the history of the corporation to shed light on current debates in that field. Smith also wants to devote time to BYU Law's Inspiring Leadership Initiative and to the new Global Business Law Program.
"When I became the dean here at BYU Law there were certain things I wanted to accomplish. And while there is always work to be done, I feel that I have done what I came here to accomplish and feel comfortable handing over the reins," noted Smith, adding that his successor will have a consummate team of faculty and staff to continue the ambitious trajectory that the Law School has maintained over its first 50 years. In May 2016, Smith was appointed to an initial five-year term, which was extended for a second term with the potential to serve through May 2026. The second-longest serving BYU Law dean, Smith replaced James Rasband, who served as dean from 2009 to 2016.
Smith has led significant transformation in key areas, including legal innovation, technology, law and corpus linguistics, scholarship and global engagement.
In 2017, BYU launched LawX, a legal design lab committed to tackling access-to-justice issues with solutions that address pressing legal problems such as debt collection, eviction and asylum. The school has also established the Legal Technology Initiative, which helps law students develop technological competence to meet their professional responsibilities as attorneys, and provides opportunities for students to leverage their technical skills in the service of society and the improvement of the practice of law.
Smith also has been active in promoting access to justice beyond the Law School, serving on two Utah Supreme Court task forces that led to the creation of the Office of Legal Services Innovation, colloquially known as the "Utah Sandbox." The Sandbox allows for experimentation in legal services without committing to a particular regulatory path, and encourages interdisciplinary collaboration between lawyers and other professionals, such as accountants or social workers. The ultimate goal of the Sandbox is to facilitate the delivery of some legal services through technology or with nonlawyer experts, thus driving down the cost of legal services and making those services more accessible to broader segments of the population.
At the start of the COVID pandemic in 2020, Smith teamed with a colleague at the Law School and with counterparts at the University of Utah's SJ Quinney College of Law to advocate for a difference approach to bar licensure, granting the so-called "diploma privilege," which was already the policy in Wisconsin, where Smith taught before moving to BYU. In response to this advocacy, the Utah Supreme Court issued an order adopting an "emergency" diploma privilege, which has helped spur a nationwide debate on the efficacy of the bar examination.
One of Smith's passion projects has been to help ensure qualified students have the opportunity to achieve a law degree and desired career path with limited debt. Under his guidance, BYU Law tripled the amount of scholarships for students, introduced its full-tuition Achievement Fellowships Program, and started a program to counsel students on the risks of taking on too much debt. Throughout his tenure, BYU Law ranked as the best value private law school and achieved the notable ranking as the #1 best-value law school in 2021 National Jurist. When Smith took the helm, US News ranked BYU Law 38th out of 196 schools for best law schools in the country. Most recently BYU Law reached its highest ranking to date – coming in at no. 23 for 2023.
During his time as dean, BYU Law pioneered the discipline of law and corpus linguistics as the first law school in the U.S. to offer a course on the topic, the first to host an annual corpus linguistics conference, and the first to develop a dedicated Law and Corpus Linguistics Technology Platform. A methodology to understand the meaning of words by analyzing naturally occurring language in large collections of texts called "corpora," corpus linguistics is at the precipice of more mainstream use as legal professionals understand its potential to impact modern cases. BYU Law recently added the full Congressional Record Corpus to its suite, providing a new resource to bring objectivity to interpreting the law.
A catalyst to Smith's decision to step down has been the Law School's recent significant strides with its global leadership programs, including the annual Law and Leadership Conference, which focused on "peacebuilding" this year, during which participants discussed how we might change the world for the better in the wake of a global pandemic and civil unrest. This year, BYU Law also debuted an expanded Academies Program, partnering with top law firms to provide students early in their academic journey with hands-on experience in trial, deals, startups, energy deals, immigration, international arbitration, and peacebuilding. And after delays from COVID-related travel restrictions, BYU Law established Geneva and London Law Seminars offering students semester-long externships and coursework to gain valuable international experience. Passionate about the need for law schools and the legal community to engage in solving global legal problems, Smith is committed to further expansion of BYU Law's global programs during his remaining tenure.
Prior to his initial appointment as dean, he served as an associate dean for faculty and curriculum at BYU Law. An expert in law and entrepreneurship, Smith has written extensively on the role of law in promoting entrepreneurial action, and he co-founded the Law and Entrepreneurship Association. He was also a founding faculty member of the Crocker Innovation Fellowship at BYU. Smith received his bachelor's degree in accounting from BYU and his JD from the University of Chicago Law School. Prior to joining the faculty at BYU Law in 2007, he was a professor of law at the University of Wisconsin Law School. A Delaware corporate lawyer, Smith has published foundational articles on the theory of fiduciary relationships, and he is co-authoring a law school casebook on fiduciary law. Smith also served as a member of the Utah Work Group on Regulatory Reform Task Force committee for the Office of Legal Services Innovation, which reviews and recommends Utah legal sandbox recommendations to the Utah Supreme Court with a goal to improve access to justice.
BYU has launched a search committee for the next dean of BYU Law. The committee will welcome nominations and suggestions for consideration as they endeavor to review all potential candidates in the important process of recommending candidates for the deanship.
Founded in 1971 with its inaugural class in 1973, the J. Reuben Clark Law School (BYU Law) has grown into one of the nation's leading law schools – recognized for innovative research and teaching in social change, transactional design, entrepreneurship, corpus linguistics, criminal justice and religious freedom. The Law School has more than 6,000 alumni serving in communities around the world. In its most recent rankings, National Jurist recognized BYU Law as the #1 best-value law school in its 2021 ranking. For more information, visit https://law.byu.edu.
SOURCE BYU Law