Q&A with Michael Schill, Dean of the Law School

On Jan. 1, Michael Schill became the 14th Dean of the University of Chicago Law School. Schill is a nationally known expert on real estate and housing policy, and he is the first dean of the Law School since Joseph Beale, the school's very first dean, to be appointed from outside the sitting faculty.

Before coming to Chicago, Schill served for five years as dean of the UCLA School of Law. Despite once mistakenly referring to legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden as "John Gooden," Schill was wildly successful at UCLA School of Law.

The following excerpt is from an interview by Marsha Ferziger Nagorsky, Assistant Dean for Communications at the Law School. You can read the full conversation here.

What was it about Chicago that made you willing to pursue the deanship?

I was particularly intrigued by both the great legacy of the Law School and its unique culture. Over the past 50 years, no law school in the nation has had more of an impact on the world than the University of Chicago Law School. And I don't mean just that the President of the United States taught here for years. Our school gave birth to the most influential legal theory of my lifetime - law and economics. The work of our faculty-the legends of the past, including Aaron Director, Ronald Coase, and Henry Simons, and our current faculty, including Dick Posner, Bill Landes, Eric Posner, Frank Easterbrook, David Weisbach, and Randy Picker, as well as a whole host of younger stars-fundamentally changed the way in which law is conceived and affected courts, legislatures, and generations of lawyers and legal academics throughout the nation. Deanships are a bit like relay races. I want to work to make sure that the dean one-half century from now looks back and says that over the previous 50 years Chicago again changed the world more than any other school.

You said that the unique culture of Chicago drew you here. What do you mean by that?

When you say the words "University of Chicago" everyone knows you are talking about a unique culture of intense intellectual and academic engagement. Chicago is an outlier among law schools. Our faculty and students are more intensely committed to the world of ideas than those of any school in the nation. It is reflected in the fact that our faculty has workshops almost every day of the week that are extremely well attended and lunches four times a week where the topics are always substantive. It is reflected in the extraordinary and unusual productivity of our faculty, which makes them the envy of every law school dean in the nation. And it is reflected in the unbelievably high quality of teaching and mentorship that takes place within our walls. This is a school that values teaching immensely, and having the opportunity to read my new colleagues' student teaching evaluations since taking the job has been inspiring. I am going to need to bring my "A game" every day, when I step into the classroom next year, just to keep up with this crowd.

What do you hope to achieve over your term as dean?

While the school is truly extraordinary today, I would not have taken the job to be a caretaker. We can be even better. First, and most importantly, we need to engage the rest of the University more than we do. Law is becoming ever more interdisciplinary. In other words, one can no longer be an excellent lawyer without knowing something about other fields of knowledge, whether they are business, economics, history, or philosophy. Chicago was one of the first law schools in the nation to truly embrace connecting law to other disciplines. Today's faculty is extremely interdisciplinary; over 40 percent have advanced degrees in a field other than law. But our size is small, so we need to leverage the extraordinary excellence that is all around us at the university.

Leave it to a real estate lawyer to talk about "leverage." What do you have in mind?

Well, we should be strongly encouraging our students to take classes across the Midway. Those who are interested should also pursue joint degree programs. And we should find ways to promote active engagement and collaboration between legal scholars and those in other disciplines. Remember the legendary workshops involving Gary Becker, Ronald Coase, Aaron Director, Milton Friedman, Richard Posner, and George Stigler? That is where many of the greatest ideas of law and economics were germinated. We need to re-create linkages between the Law School and other parts of the university, including the humanities and the newly formed Milton Friedman Institute for Research in Economics.

In addition to promoting more opportunities for interdisciplinary classes and research, what else are you planning for the school?

One thing I am hoping to do is to grow our faculty. One of the many wonderful things my predecessor Saul Levmore did was build and nurture one of the greatest law faculties in the nation. But our size is small, one of the smallest among elite schools. This places tremendous demands on our faculty to deliver the extraordinary array of classes that our students rightfully expect. Plus, it would be great to have additional scholars to take part in the intellectual life of the school. I also would like to launch a new public-interest law program at the law school. Each year we have a number of students who wish to seek out permanent employment in the nonprofit or governmental sectors. I am already working with a small group of faculty, students, and administrators to put together a program that will provide career advice and mentorship, new curricula and financial support for scholarships, summer fellowships, and loan forgiveness.

Before we end the interview, our readers no doubt want to know something about you. What do you do in your spare time?

First your question assumes I have spare time. Seriously, I like to go to movies, read books, and watch high-quality television shows such as 24, Damages, Mad Men, and Law and Order. I am a TiVo fanatic and have four of them in my apartment. In fact, this year I was recruited to be a beta tester for the company. Finally, I love shopping for books. Indeed, this is one of the reasons I decided to live in Hyde Park. It has the best book shopping of any neighborhood in the country. On any weekend, don't be surprised to see me in the Seminary Co-Op Bookstore. You probably won't find me in the gym, though. The words of the great Chicago president Robert Maynard Hutchins apply equally well to me: "Whenever I feel the need to exercise, I lie down until it goes away."

So we should believe the rumor that says that your nickname at UCLA was the Energizer Dean?

Well, some alumni used to call me that. I do tend to work a lot. But to be truthful, it is hardly work. I love what I do, and I believe in the mission of the University of Chicago. How could someone not be energetic when serving as dean of such a great school? I want to spend every waking moment making our school better.