Megan Carpenter thinks legal education has been isolated from other academic disciplines for far too long and that law schools need to come back into the fold.
As the newly appointed dean of the University of New Hampshire School of Law, Carpenter is one of a handful of people around the country in a position to make this happen.
“We’ve looked at law school and legal education as kind of a separate, ivory tower institution, and while law school applications have declined in recent years, the need for legal knowledge among the community is greater than ever,” she said. “I think what we’re seeing is really a growing recognition that law isn’t separate but interrelated with other disciplines.”
UNH Law may not be widely known among lawyers, but its intellectual property program ranked sixth in the country in the most recent U.S. World & News Report survey. Overall, the school ranked 100th in the same report.
Carpenter, who assumes the role on July 1, said she wants to expand UNH Law’s course offerings beyond IP, particularly to put its students in contact with the community more often. She pointed to interdisciplinary courses already happening at the school, such as a course on “Deflategate,” which explores the role the legal system plays in sports by analyzing the infamous case against the New England Patriots.
“I think what we’re seeing now is a different type of legal services market,” said Carpenter. “Historically, you’d want your students in J.D.-required jobs over J.D.-advantage, but I think in this new environment what we’re going to see is the J.D.-advantage jobs are going to expand.”
J.D.-advantage jobs are positions where a law degree is a preferred, but not required qualification. This can include positions in compliance departments, legal technology companies, and legal operations’ departments.
Carpenter added, “I think it’s incumbent upon us to recognize that those types of jobs aren’t lesser.”
In her current position, at Texas A&M University School of Law, Carpenter founded and serves as co-director of the Center for Law and Intellectual Property where she created clinics that allow studentsto work on real IP cases.
Carpenter previously practiced at the firm now known as K&L Gates and will be UNH Law’s first female dean. Below is an edited transcript of our conversation, conducted by phone and email, with her.
Big Law Business: What made you want to be dean of UNH Law?
Carpenter: It’s an interesting question because it’s just such a changing time in legal education. People are using words like crisis to describe it, but I have a completely different take. I feel like what’s happening in legal education is something that’s needed to happen for a long time. We’ve looked at law school and legal education as kind of a separate, ivory tower institution, and while law school applications have declined in recent years, the need for legal knowledge among the community is greater than ever. I think what we’re seeing is really a growing recognition that law isn’t separate but interrelated with other disciplines. That’s a very healthy development.
Big Law Business: Tell me a little bit about the clinics you started at A&M.
Carpenter: When I created our clinical program, we did that in part so our students would be assisting student entrepreneurs on the main campus who are working as part of an incubator, Startup Aggieland. That kind of peer-to-peer interaction is just something that creates a learning experience that can’t be duplicated in the classroom environment. I also created pop-up courses in IP or entrepreneurship. It’s been really incredible. We did them for students and we realized there were just as many faculty interested in it.
Big Law Business: What are pop-up courses?
Carpenter: I was awarded a grant to conduct a series of seven pop-up courses across the main campus on various legal issues affecting entrepreneurs, inventors, and small businesses. The courses include such titles as “Debunking Common Intellectual Property Myths,” “To Patent or Not to Patent?”, “Naming Your Business,” “Issues to Consider When Creating your Website,” and “Planning for Exit.” Often, both faculty and students attend the courses, which are taught in an interactive workshop setting.
Big Law Business: The school ranked 6th in IP law. What’s happening there with IP that’s so amazing?
Carpenter: We have alumni in any major corporation that has IP aspects, whether it’s Microsoft or Pepsi. What we need to consider at UNH now is what does the top IP program look like in the next 50 years. How is that changing? In part, that means recognizing the connection of IP with other areas and other disciplines.
Big Law Business: How do you plan to make UNH grads attractive to law firms?
Carpenter: I don’t think there’s any one thing that is sort of the secret for a student to be attractive to employers. I think having a variety of different experiential learning opportunities within the law school is valuable, cultivating and promoting the relationships of students within the community and getting students involved in the community is also part of it. Exposing students to global opportunities as well is valuable. When you have those kinds of opportunities for students, the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.
Big Law Business: Do you think firm hiring has improved?
Carpenter: I think the market is different. There are some people who question whether, is it bottoming out now or is it going to return. I think what we’re seeing now is a different type of legal services market. Historically, you’d want your students in J.D.-required jobs over J.D.-advantage, but I think in this new environment what we’re going to see is the J.D.-advantage jobs are going to expand. I think it’s incumbent upon us to recognize that those types of jobs aren’t lesser. Not everyone is going to get a job in a firm and in the kind of traditional way that people used to, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
Big Law Business: How do you think law school debt should be addressed?
Carpenter: I think the idea of conceiving of legal education more broadly and making it more accessible to different people in more forms, that can make legal education less expensive for people. Certainly that’s not the solution because the J.D. is still incredibly expensive, but I think that’s something that all law schools are going to be trying to figure out over the next 10 years.
Big Law Business: What did you think of Harvard’s recent announcement about not requiring the LSAT?
Carpenter: I think it’s great. Of course, we have yet to see how and whether this will impact admissions requirements at other schools. However, accepting the GRE in lieu of the LSAT will potentially provide greater access to legal education, in particular for international students. Perhaps the most important thing about this in my opinion is as a signifier of willingness to reconsider something that has long been a traditional institutional aspect of — or hurdle to surmount in — legal education. I hope it will be a harbinger of legal education reform more generally.
Big Law Business: What was your experience like at Kirkpatrick & Lockhart (now K&L Gates)?
Carpenter: I loved my experience at K&L. I didn’t enter big firm life thinking that I was going to do IP; in fact, I hadn’t taken an IP class in law school. At one point, someone sent me an email and asked if I wanted to do some trademark work. Within just a few months, my entire practice was IP. By the time I left, most of my practice was working with World Wrestling Federation Entertainment [now WWE]. I absolutely fell in love with the work.
I think one of the things I take with me still is the sense of collaboration. Academics can be such an isolating experience for people—you’re working on your own stuff, in your own office, and you’re typically the only person who teaches what you teach. Learning the art of the practice of law and that spirit of what it is to collaborate with other people on various projects; both of those have very much shaped my entire academic career. I’ve sought to not just have students study the theory and the policy but to ground those in the practice.
Big Law Business: Tell me about your work for the estate of Crazy Horse, the famous Native American.
Carpenter: It’s actually a really interesting IP problem because the Crazy Horse estate has been very concerned with the use of Crazy Horse on strip clubs, clothing, earrings, cigarettes — and in particular something like liquor because Crazy Horse is said to have thought of alcohol in general as being the white man’s weapon against the Native American people. But there isn’t a good IP mechanism to say, ‘we don’t want to use this as a brand, but we don’t want you to either.’ That’s more like right of publicity, but any right of publicity that Crazy horse would have had would have been expired. I was helping consult with them on those kinds of issues and develop ways they might consider honoring his legacy.
Big Law Business: What are your thoughts on being the first woman dean of UNH Law?
Carpenter: It was announced on International Women’s Day, which was sort of perfect timing. For the first time last year, women made up the majority of law students. In this kind of environment, it is particularly important for law schools to have representation in leadership by women. Representation matters, to our daughters and granddaughters, to our mothers and grandmothers, and also to all of those female law students. And I also think it is important for my sons to see women, including their mom, in positions of leadership.