Ipso Facto Q&A: Duquesne University Law School Dean Ken Gormley

Monday, 01 April 2013 10:00 AM Written by  Drew Singer

20120401du kengormley 150Ken Gormley is the Dean of Duquesne Law School, which was recently ranked No. 144 in the US News and World Report’s best law school listings. It is the first time in a decade that the school made the publication’s controversial, yet influential rankings. Ipso Facto spoke with Gormley about the meaning -- or lack thereof -- of the new honor. Here are the highlights of the conversation:

Ipso Facto: Does this ranking matter?

Gormley: It’s certainly a nice boost when you’ve been working hard to move things forward, to see that others seem to recognize the law school is moving in a positive direction. That is nice to see for anyone and certainly its nice for students and alumni. I have to say our ranking as a top legal research and writing program in the United States is especially gratifying, because that’s selected by actual directors of the programs who know it the best. So yes, it’s exciting and encouraging when you put a lot of work into moving forward. At the same time, we are cognizant of the fact that the rankings have only so much value. I don’t wake up in the morning and figure out how I’m going to move up in the rankings. I focus on how to have a great law school. Fortunately, this is a nice surprise that it seems to be paying off.

Q: We hear this a lot from law schools, that rankings are reflective of school’s progress, yet they don’t really matter. How can you have it both ways?

Gormley: You celebrate good news. It’s ok to have it both ways in a sense that we have consciously not focused on trying to live our lives for the rankings. We have been very careful about reporting information correctly, we’ve tried not to gear the entire life of the law school to creep up in the rankings. Ultimately, that can cause you to lose the correct focus, which is to provide the best legal education for your students. On the one hand, I fully recognize there are lots of flaws in the rankings, but at the same time, one of the flaws is Duquesne has been under-recognized in the past, so it’s nice to be recognized as the first-class school that we are. There’s nothing wrong with celebrating it, but if you become obsessed with it, you’re focused on the wrong things.

Q: Duquesne guys kept admissions standards high despite a nationally and locally shrinking number of applicants. How does that play into your rise in the ranks?

Gormley: We made decision to shrink size of entering class in the face of declining enrollment with the full support of the university. What was significant for me, we faced a choice: Do you start admitting students just to fill seats, even though you have to drop below the standards you feel are necessary for excellence in performance in law school? We made a conscious decision not to drop our standards, in part because it’s not fair to students to take their tuition money just to fill seats. Even if that meant a drop in tuition revenue, it was the right thing to do. I do believe that decision, consequently, had a small benefit of maintaining our standards at a time when a number of other schools were admitting students lower than they traditionally deemed acceptable simply to fill seats.

Q: Now that you’ve achieved this honor, what can you, as dean, do to make sure you keep moving the school in the right direction?

Gormley: That’s what i spend my time worrying about, rather than the rankings. How it is we go forward despite the challenging time for the legal education. We’re doing a few things right now, we just received a total of $750,000 in grants to build a freestanding law clinic in Uptown, so we’ll be two blocks from the courthouse and allow our students to directly serve in the community. If you looked four years ago when I was named interim dean, that was one of the things I said was a personal goal to achieve, because its very important to remember our job is to produce lawyers who serve others. We have just finished revamping our curriculum, injected more legal writing into our curriculum, more skills and training, we’ve just added a capstone skills course in the third year to give students a nuts-and-bolts understanding of the profession.

Q: How will Duquesne’s rise affect competition for jobs among graduates in this region?

Gormley: I think it only enhances opportunities. The best possible scenario is we have two great law schools in Pittsburgh. It is good for the legal profession, it will attract and build businesses, it will attract and built law firms. I think the more highly competent lawyers we are preparing, the better it is for the region. I will say that when you talk about the job market, one of the things that’s been completely evident to me is I believe the legal profession is undergoing a change just as journalism has. When you stop and think about it, does everyone need to go to a law office to practice law today? They can put their laptop on a kitchen counter and file electronically and run a law firm out of their home if they want to. The definition of how we deliver our legal services is changing, and we’re trying to be part of that change rather than resisting that change.

Q: What’s next for Duquesne?

Gormley: April 9, Justice Thomas is coming. I continue to believe it’s important to bring in national figures in the law whether one agrees or disagrees with them, so we learn to think big and aim high. At this point, we’ve had so many changes at the law school, all of which are positive, we’re going to be busy making sure all of these are executed properly and solidified, and I’m hoping I’ll even get a day of vacation in the next year.

Q: What’s the hardest part of your day?

Gormley: Well, it never seems to end. It’s like waves crashing over you. It’s like running a big business, the number of employees and issues that come up in a single day, but it’s very rewarding because you see a direct payoff as your students contribute to society. As challenging as the times are, it’s unrealistic to believe this is the first time there have been these sorts of challenges. I’ve talked to alumni who graduated after World War II and in the 1970s who faced challenges in terms of jobs. For me, the challenge is there’s always more things you want to do to help students acce;l and go out there and really make a big contribution. I just wish there was twice as much time every day to do that.

Q: Pitt Law’s rank dropped from No. 69 to 91 this year. How long until we see Duquesne as Pittsburgh’s top-ranked law school?

Gormley: As long as I'm Dean, I don’t think this is going to be a competition between two law schools. It’s a competition for each of us to keep fine-tuning and make ourselves better. I have no doubt that the faculty and administration at Pitt are working hard to do the same thing, as well. I do not see this as a horse race at all, in fact the moment we start thinking about it in those terms, we’re letting our students down, because we have our eye on the wrong people. It should be on figuring out how to give them a great education.

(Top image: Duquesne University Law School Dean Ken Gormley. Duquesne University photo)

Drew Singer is a third-year student at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or on Twitter @Drew_Singer.

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