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Letter from the Dean

fall 2005

Dear Alumni and Friends of Boston College Law School:

We had a picnic at our house on Sunday for the new first-year law students. I always worry before such events about whether people will have a good time. Thirty minutes before the students were to arrive I was rummaging around in the garage for Frisbees and basketballs, and bemoaning the fact that the dog had chewed up the only functioning soccer ball. I needn’t have worried. Although it was a perfect day for playing outside, the students only wanted to visit. I tried to get around to as many of them as I could, so it was kind of like speed dating. We covered the important things in a very short time—Where are you from? Where did you go to college? What have you done since then? What drew you to Boston College? Perhaps it was because I asked these questions, but the thing that struck me most forcefully was their geographic diversity. A young woman who had grown up on the upper west side of Manhattan had never had a car. A young man from San Diego looked forward to a change in seasons. A young couple had recently come to Boston after six years in Bogotá. Just being in the company of these various students made me feel cosmopolitan. They were born in Columbia, England, France, India, Jamaica, Lithuania, Canada, Ireland, South Korea, Philippines, Germany, Nepal, Lebanon, Puerto Rico, Haiti, and Taiwan. All told they came from 37 states and 116 colleges and universities. This is a very good thing for the Law School. It’s another sign that we are really a national institution, one that attracts students from all over American and the world.

Boston College’s move this summer from the Big East to the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) in sports will have an important impact on these numbers. The Big East Conference has historically covered New England and the mid-Atlantic states. Five of its seven founding members were Catholic schools. The Atlantic Coast Conference reaches south from Washington, D.C. Except for Boston College, its members are located in Maryland, Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida. The shift will be a step up in athletic quality for our sports teams. It will also give our academic side a new set of benchmark schools (like Duke and Virginia), and name recognition in media outlets in the southeastern United States. This in turn will help us recruit students from an area where we would like to draw better. (We have almost as many students from California as we do from all the ACC states combined.)

The Spread of Chapters
The cosmopolitan character of our student body is both a cause and an effect of another phenomenon—the spread of our alumni across the country. In September, we held the inaugural Alumni Council meeting for this academic year, and we had representatives from all our chapters. For a long time the list of chapters (outside Boston) has included Manchester, Providence, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Chicago, and Los Angeles. In the last three years we have added chapters in Miami, Atlanta, and San Francisco. Notice the similarity between our historical northeastern focus and the scope of the Big East Conference. Notice, too, that we have grown in the same places where our sports teams have moved. One piece of the deeper explanation is that the United States itself has grown in those directions. The South and West accounted for most of America’s population growth in the last census—25 million out of 32 million people. The Northeast grew by only 2.8 million.

The rest of the story is that the Law School itself is becoming a more truly national institution. Students who come to us from across the country tend to go home after they graduate. And students, whatever their state of origin, have more employment opportunities in new places as our alumni settle far from Boston. This diaspora will come full circle with the next generation: Alumni will want to send their children back to Boston College for their legal education. Right now we are in high season for job hunting. Though Boston is still the biggest destination city for our graduates, most of our students will find jobs outside New England. About 30 percent will go to New York and New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. More each year will go to California, which is now our third biggest state in terms of alumni population.

It is not right to suppose that we have abolished all vestiges of federalism. Our entry into the Atlantic Coast Conference is an opening, not a coda. We need to do better in the South. And a number of our students from outside Massachusetts are attracted to us because they want to move to Boston. This gravitational effect has its useful side: It helps us recruit good people. But it pulls against our effort to send more graduates to places such as Seattle, Phoenix, Denver, and Houston.

Some Explanation
Our growth into a truly national law school is, most people would agree, a good thing. How did it come about? You may have noticed parallel trends elsewhere. When I graduated from law school in 1974 there might have been a dozen banks in Boston. Today Bank of America, headquartered in Charlotte, dominates the market. There were hundreds of coffee shops. Today it’s Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts. There were eight accounting firms (the Big Eight). Now there are four. Big Boston law firms were local. In recent years they have merged with firms from New York, Washington, San Francisco, London, and other cities. It is not unusual for the biggest firms in the country to have a dozen offices and a thousand lawyers. In part this is because the market shapes law firms. When Boston had a dozen banks, each big firm could have one for a client. There are fewer to go around now, and they are bigger. In part it’s because law firm growth tracks trends in legal regulation. The locus of much regulatory activity has shifted over the last fifty years from state governments to the federal government. This allows New York and Washington firms to serve the needs of Boston clients. In part it’s because changes in technology and communications have facilitated the growth of both businesses and law firms. Teleconferencing, e-mail, cell phones, and rapid transportation make it easier to hold an organization together. (I sometimes wonder what the anti-Federalists like George Clinton (Cato) would make of this development. Remember the concerns they entertained about the difficulty of holding a large republic together over an “immense extent of territory?”)

Portable Law
These trends in law, business and technology affect the operations of law schools. The law we teach is more portable as its focus becomes more national and international. The firms our students join are national institutions, and they encourage prospective associates to think in those terms. The clients our graduates will serve do business around the world, and they will expect their lawyers to tend to their affairs wherever they are needed. I might add that we raise our children differently than we did thirty years ago. My father was a small-town lawyer, and though I would hardly say I led a sheltered life, I never flew on an airplane until I was seventeen. Parents today send teenagers to academic camps at Duke and Cornell; they encourage high-school children to go on service trips to Appalachia and El Paso; college students routinely study abroad. Small wonder that people choosing a law school look far afield, and that law school graduates interview for jobs across the country.

Of course, there is another essential ingredient in Boston College’s growth into a national law school—our own improving quality. As the world changes in the ways I have described, there is a process of natural selection that occurs among academic institutions. Those that successfully adapt to the new environment grow and prosper. Those that don’t will decline. If the students at our picnic are any indication, our future looks very bright.

John H. Garvey