March 2021 Deans Corner - Turning Challenges Into Opportunities

by Matthew J. Parlow

Much like other law schools, in the last year, Chapman University, Dale E. Fowler School of Law has faced unexpected challenges in the wake of the global health crisis, including determining how we would continue to build on years of progress during such an extraordinary and difficult time for society. By approaching these challenges not as roadblocks, but as opportunities, we found ways to continue our upward trajectory.


Reaching New Heights

The Fowler School of Law started the year with strong momentum—experiencing the greatest rise in U.S. News & World Report rankings of any law school in the country over the last two years, seeing record employment for our recent graduating classes, and being named one of the top fifteen law schools for practical training by preLaw Magazine.

Faced suddenly with the new, socially distanced reality in response to the pandemic, our faculty and staff seized on this opportunity to adapt and adjust to deliver the kind of personalized education and support for our students that typifies the Fowler School of Law and the Chapman experience.

With the robust support of the university, our classes quickly pivoted from in-person to online instruction as stay-at-home orders took effect. Students in our legal clinics were able to continue gaining real-world experience while providing much-needed pro bono services to our local communities. And our staff found creative ways to continue offering individualized support through such services as career advising, academic support, and research assistance to ensure continued student success.

Thanks to all these efforts, we were able to build on our momentum in several ways. First, our class of 2020 saw record at-graduation employment—an extraordinary outcome in such uncertain times. And second, we recruited the strongest class ever in the history of the Fowler School of Law, with a median LSAT score of 159 and median GPA of 3.52—which follows a trajectory established over the previous three years, during which time we saw the biggest gains in class credentials of any U.S. law school.


Leading on Diversity

In addition to being our strongest academically, the most recent incoming class is also the most diverse of any in the history of the law school, with 50% minority representation and 36% first-generation college students. This comes in tandem with the Fowler School of Law’s being once again named one of preLaw Magazine’s “Most Diverse Law Schools,” the latest in a number of accolades received for our diversity efforts over the years, including six Law School Admission Council (LSAC) Diversity Matters Awards, and a CLEO EDGE Award for Greater Equality in 2018.

These accomplishments are representative of the hard work our staff and faculty put into diversity and outreach efforts, including such initiatives as the LSAC-funded Pre-Law Undergraduate Scholars program, which provides an immersive law school experience to undergraduate students from underrepresented groups; various pipeline programs that introduce Southern California middle and high school students to higher education and law school specifically; and a First Generation Scholarship available to qualifying students who have shown a history of service to legally underserved communities.


Expanding Educational Opportunities

The Fowler School of Law also took advantage of the present situation to move our signature Chapman Dialogue Series to an all-online format this fall, welcoming an even greater number of high-profile speakers from around the nation than usual—including such guests as Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Jacqueline Nguyen, Arizona Coyotes President and CEO Xavier Gutierrez, and judicial reform advocate Jimmie Gardner—to share their insights and experiences with our students.

This spring, the Chapman Dialogue Series will continue to welcome national leaders in their fields—such as Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Don Willett, One Fair Wage President Saru Jayaraman, and MSG Sports Senior Vice President of Legal and Business Affairs Jamaal Lesane—allowing students to learn from people who can’t necessarily teach a semester-long course and helping raise Chapman’s profile nationally as a university on the rise.

Although the months ahead are likely to continue to be challenging in unprecedented ways, we are confident that the Fowler School of Law is prepared to not only face whatever may come, but that we will continue to provide our students with the highest caliber of legal education and formative experiences that will allow them to hit the ground running as successful attorneys from day one.


Matthew J. Parlow is Dean and the Donald P. Kennedy Chair in Law at Chapman University, Dale E. Fowler School of Law. He may be reached at parlow@chapman.edu.