March 5, 2009
After announcing a sweeping reform of the third-year curriculum last year, Washington and Lee's School of Law received strong endorsements for the novel approach from many quarters. Then, earlier this year, the school received a major financial boost with the announcement of a $2-million gift to support the efforts to change the way third-year students prepare for the transition from law students to legal practitioners.
A. John Huss, a 1965 law graduate, and his wife, Ruth, are giving the money for unrestricted use within the third-year program, which seeks to provide a bridge from the study of legal theory to the actual practice of law by engaging students in a broad array of real-world and simulated applications of legal knowledge.
The gift provides $1.5 million in cash to support the immediate needs of the program in its first years of operation, plus an additional $500,000 to match additional funds raised.
As a successful bank executive, John Huss has spent his life carefully considering the kinds of professional and personal projects he wants to invest in. And he doesn't like to see money wasted, either.
He closely followed the battle for the senate seat of his home state, Minnesota, and bemoaned the amount Democrat Al Franken and Republican Norm Coleman spent during (and after) their campaigns. "That money could have been better spent on health care," he said.
Over the years Huss has supported the fine arts, public television, local hospitals and education, an area he considers especially worthy of his resources.
"The third year makes all the sense in the world," he said. "Knowing the law only gets you so far. You have to know how to deal with clients, keep time sheets and so on. When I describe the third year to friends who have practiced law for years, they are floored by the possibilities and the program's practicality. Without exception, they said what a terribly good thing it would have been for them to have had that kind of grounding. As new associates, they felt they didn't know which end was up."
Huss never wanted to practice law. He earned his J.D. instead of an M.B.A. on the advice of his father's friends who said a legal education would be more useful in the business career he intended to pursue. He looked at a number of schools, including the University of Michigan, where he met the legendary Roy Steinheimer. "He told me that I might want to take a look at a little place in Lexington that would give me a solid education without the kinds of competitive stresses I would encounter at a place like Harvard or Yale. So I flew down, and it was love at first sight."
He fondly remembers the close friendships he forged with classmates. "I'm still in touch with many of them," he said. And he attributes his skill in "orderly thinking" to his legal education. Most of all, Huss commends what hasn't changed over the years: "W&L's honor system and commitment to ethics, both of which are sorely lacking in today's world. I feel these are extraordinarily important."
Of course, the law school Huss attended was a much different place. He noted that W&L now is more reflective of the nation's population. "When I was there, we were all white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Now there are women and students of color. All of that is good."
The change he approves of the most is the third-year curriculum, and he encourages alumni to support the new program. "You had to learn how to be a lawyer the hard way--on the job--but now there's a plan in place to provide students what they need to know. It's such a realistic and practical approach to teaching the law and will give our students a leg up. I'm so impressed with what this program will do for future generations."