America's Longest-Serving Law Dean Defends the Value of a Law Degree

C. Saunders

Rudy Hasl
November 05, 2012

Rudy Hasl, the longest-serving law dean in America, is stepping down June 30 as dean and president of Thomas Jefferson School of Law, in San Diego. Mr. Hasl, who is 70, has spent 32 years overseeing law schools at Thomas Jefferson and at Saint Louis, St. John's, and Seattle Universities.


He has held leadership positions in the American Bar Association, the Association of American Law Schools, and the Law School Admission Council. Mr. Hasl leaves at a time of intense scrutiny of law schools' curricula and high price, and amid questions about the employment prospects of graduates. Here's his story, as told to Katherine Mangan.


This has been a tumultuous period for law schools. It's not that we haven't gone through similar periods. It's just that the trough is a little bit deeper and the issues are a little more difficult than they were in previous times when we reached those bottoming-out periods.

There's been a great deal of coverage in the national press that has underestimated the value of a law degree and caused potential applicants to question whether they should make the investment in a legal education.

I remind students that what law schools are providing is a set of skills that are valued in our society and that will ultimately lead to a meaningful employment opportunity. To try to measure that by what job you have on graduation, or even nine months later, doesn't make sense.

I tell students you're investing in something that provides you the ability to shape your career. That could be in business, in the political arena, or in traditional law-firm settings. I was a classics major, and there's no market directly for someone in classics, but it's a foundational training that hopefully makes one better at analyzing problems and articulating a position.

The legal profession has been slow to respond to the increasing demand for diversity. Students of color made up 10 to 12 percent of the student body when I arrived here, at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, in 2005, and they're a little over a third of our student body today. For me it's an important social issue that we produce individuals who can work within their communities to provide service and develop leadership. We've tried to create an overall culture at the school that's welcoming to people of color. Our faculty and staff are diverse, and we're quite intentional about our outreach efforts and working with ethnic bar associations and others. I'm optimistic that we're producing graduates who will be quite attractive to firms and have a great future ahead of them.

Having been a dean for as long as I have, I've been able to see full career spans—people who start out, build their practices, and then retire. The happiest moments I've had are with people whose lives I've been able to touch and transform.