Bruce Smith, dean of the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, knew the conversation might be an uncomfortable one to have so early in his tenure. After all, when Smith took over at the helm of Denver’s only law school two years ago, he inherited a highly regarded part-time program with a deep-rooted history. “It would be contrarian and a little curious and maybe even a sign that one had not done one’s homework to walk into a law school and touch a top-20 program,” Smith said.
And yet, that’s exactly what he did. This fall, DU will welcome the first class of approximately 35 students into its new part-time J.D. degree program. Previously structured around classes held four evenings a week, the law school’s new part-time model consists of coursework that’s one-third online — the ABA cap for online instruction — and two-thirds in-person during eight weekends throughout the semester. Smith hopes the adjusted schedule will make the idea of going to law school more attainable for those who might have long been interested in doing so but for whom an evening program was still inaccessible.
“It’s a program that in some ways was imagined for a time different than the one we are in now,” Smith said of the evening classes. “Part of the inspiration was to be self-reflective about our mission. We had always been a law school that cared deeply about broadening legal education. But in my estimation as dean, I did not think we were broadening it far enough. So, we took up, I think, additional themes that relate to our law school: pedagogical education, trying to be at the forefront of innovation in serving the state of Colorado, and in some ways even the entire Rocky Mountain west.”