New law dean settles into Columbia

Gary Myers was appointed to the job in April and started officially in August.
Gary Myers was appointed as the dean of MU's School of Law in April. He officially took office in August. Courtesy of the MU News Bureau

Every so often, there has to be a new kid on the block.

For MU this year, it is newly appointed law school dean Gary Myers, and for Myers, this isn’t his first rodeo.

Shoes to fill

Myers was a professor at the University of Mississippi for 23 years as well as an associate dean of research since 2009. Last school year, he was selected to become MU’s new law school dean by way of an extensive interview process. He succeeds Larry Dessem, who held the position as dean for a decade.

“People have been very nice and welcoming,” Myers said regarding the transition. “Larry Dessem himself has been incredibly helpful and supportive. I couldn’t have a better predecessor as far as someone who is easy to work with. He always gives me the background and the history on any question that I’ve raised with him.”

Myers is aware of the ten-year-long standing that Dessem built during his time as both dean and part-time professor.

“He’s done a great job in his ten or so years as dean, and in that way I’ve got big shoes to fill, but he’s been extremely helpful and supportive,” Myers said.

Small Changes

While the Midwest and the Deep South might have their distinct differences, Myers does not find as many within the law schools.

“There certainly are a lot of similarities,” Myers said. “Both of the law schools are state flagship law schools. They both have long histories and traditions of training lawyers, particularly within their state.”

Myers said he is pleased by the MU law school.

“I’ve been really impressed with the scope of the activities that our faculty are engaged in,” Myers said. “The level of collegiality is great here and I feel this is a school that’s really moving in the right direction. I’m hoping to continue that as the years go by.”

Myers, while content with the current school, has plans for improving upon existing programs.

“I think that we should expand our skills training offerings to provide our students with more opportunities to learn skills they need in order to practice law,” Myers said. “That will help to make our students even more practice-ready than they are now. Mizzou has always been known for its good work in training lawyers but I think we can build on that.”

The types of hands-on and experiential learning include clinics, simulations and externships. During a clinic, students represent clients under supervision of practicing lawyers or members of MU faculty.

Simulations are exactly that: students stay in the law school and go through exercises that mimic what would happen in a court room. Externship placements are also a wonderful teaching too. Students would be placed in non-profit, governmental or other public service positions, working directly with lawyers and others to gain hands-on experiences.

“It’s something we’ve been doing for a long time, but this would be a way to expand the number of students who have this opportunity," Myers said.

Myers also wants to increase the number of “centers” within the law school. Centers are similar to emphasis areas – units within the law school that would focus on a particular area of study. MU is nationally known for its dispute resolution center, but Myers is looking to spread national acclaim to more varied centers.

“The value in that is two-fold: one is it gives student’s increased coursework and programming, and it also can raise the profile of the law school,” Myers said.

MU clinical professor Kandice Johnson, who teaches criminal prosecution clinics, said Myers is interesting in these types of opportunities for students.

“It’s hard to get ‘real-world’ experience because students can’t go into court until they’re halfway through their legal education,” Johnson said. “But they do have the opportunity, prior to that point, to work as interns with attorneys who closely supervise their work. This way they can develop important legal skills that are necessary outside of the courtroom. They can gain experience and work with attorneys who serve as their mentors, many of whom are our alums.”

Myers said he is looking forward to working with students and student organizations.

“I’m not teaching any classes in my first year or two as dean, so I’d like to work with any student orgs that want to interact with me,” Myers said.

MU Provost Brian Foster said he is very optimistic about Myers’ plans.

“He has a very low-key style,” Foster said. “It’s good for making relationships with faculty and with others outside of the university. I think he’ll do very well.”

From Oxford to Como

Myers, his wife Bridget and twin daughters moved to Columbia from Oxford, Miss., this summer in order for Myers to begin his new job.

“We really feel very welcome here,” Myers said. “People have been helpful and steered us to all the good restaurants and told us where things are that we need to know about. Flatbranch is one of my favorites. I really like their outdoor seating, and the beer is good too."

Myers' wife will be starting a position as a research professor at the Truman School of Public Affairs in October, and the couple’s 3-year-old twins will be starting preschool in September.

“It’s a great town to live in,” Myers said. “We’re settling into a nice routine and it’s been fun.”

Myers, a football fan, is also looking forward to MU’s inaugural year in the Southeastern Conference.

“I’ve had season tickets at Ole Miss for most of the last decade,” Myers said. “I’m very excited that Missouri has joined the SEC. I think it’ll be fun for fans here to see the level of intensity that SEC fans bring, and I think we’re going to match that here. Hopefully it’ll be a good year.”

Ole Miss and MU do not play this year, but Myers has already pledged allegiance to the black and gold.

“I’ll cheer for Ole Miss when they play anybody except us,” Myers said, laughing.

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