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Bobby Knight put Texas Tech University on the national stage. And if Walter Burl Huffman has his way, its law school will start people talking, too. He wants to change the perception of the school and make pursuing a J.D. there on par with playing on a championship team. “We’ve been operating under a bushel basket,” says Huffman, the former judge advocate general for the U.S. Army who took command on Aug. 1 as law dean in Lubbock, Texas. “It’s not that we have a negative image; we have no image. I want to keep doing the great things we’re doing, but I also want to tell people about it.” Huffman already has battle plans to improve alumni relations and career services, two steps he believes will enhance the school’s image and attract more students. Making his alma mater (he’s a 1977 graduate of the Texas Tech University School of Law) a top-choice institution was so important to him that he made hiring two additional law school employees part of his contract talks. “Some negotiate for parking and memberships to country clubs,” Huffman says. “I’ll pay for my parking and hope my friends take me to the country club.” One of the new workers will help with alumni relations and the other with career services. Only one staff member at the law school handled alumni relations, career services and continuing legal education up until two years ago, when a faculty member took on part-time duties to help out. Huffman points out that other law schools have much larger staffs devoted to these tasks and that the Texas Tech workforce was stretched so thin that it’s been almost three years since the law school last published an alumni magazine. His two goals are intertwined: By emphasizing student placement, Texas Tech graduates get good jobs and demonstrate to firms and others in the legal field the quality of students it turns out. The alumni, in turn, spread the word to potential students about the opportunities a law degree from Texas Tech offers. As the school’s reputation grows, its ranking in the U.S. News & World Report annual survey of best law schools improves. Although Huffman has criticisms about the survey, he’s realistic about its importance to students and firms. “This is a very fine law school, but the reality is that people tend to use snapshots as the truth,” he says. Huffman looks to the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., as a kind of guide. Its Marshall-Wythe School of Law is about the same size as Texas Tech’s and shares the state with a top-ranked institution, the University of Virginia School of Law, just as Texas Tech operates somewhat in the shadow of the University of Texas School of Law, he says. The difference is that the Marshall-Wythe School of Law was ranked in the top tier of the 2002 U.S. News & World Report rankings, while Texas Tech fell in the fourth, or bottom, tier. Huffman notes that Marshall-Wythe has a much larger staff handling alumni relations, career services and communications. He wants a bigger staff to get the word out about Texas Tech. “I’m not trying to out-Texas Texas,” Huffman says. Instead, he says, he wants to publicize the Lubbock school’s stellar qualities and offer it as a place to get an outstanding legal education. Texas Tech has a strong faculty, and its smaller student body of about 700 students allows more individual attention, Huffman says. The bar passage rate, which was more than 89 percent of the first-time takers in July 2001, equals other highly ranked schools, he adds. And the school offers a summer program in Mexico that teaches students about the North American Free Trade Agreement and cross-border commercial activities. “Our focus has been on preparing good lawyers; we’ve excelled at that,” he says. ROLE OF TECHNOLOGY True to its name, technology plays a big role in legal education, Huffman says. He says Texas Tech has more computers per law student than any other law school in the nation and provides library carrells to all students to serve as small offices. “We’ve recognized that … information and computer technology is the way legal services are going to be performed and provided,” the dean says. “We’ve make a significant investment in legal technology.” The choice of Huffman as new dean appears to be popular. Brian Shannon, who was a candidate for the spot until the search committee decided to go outside the university, praises Huffman’s plan to build alumni support and increase recognition for the school. “Dean Huffman was my choice from the get-go,” Shannon, a professor and associate dean for academic affairs at the law school, says. Huffman, 57, took a nontraditional journey to the deanship, going from soldier to law student to military lawyer to government adviser. Now, he’s come full circle and returned to where he began, in Lubbock. He grew up in the west Texas city, the son of legendary Texas Tech basketball and football coach Burl Huffman. When he was 3, he met the girl who would become his wife, Anne Robison, the daughter of another legendary coach, Polk Robison, who later served as the university’s athletic director. The two coaches were good friends, and their children have been married 36 years. After earning an undergraduate degree from Texas Tech, Huffman enlisted in the U.S. Army and served as an artillery officer in Vietnam. When his stint was up, the Army offered to put him through law school if he would stay in the military. Huffman says he was intrigued with the law. “There are a lot of things you can do with a law degree,” he says. “Also, I was attracted by the idealism of the law and the rule of law.” He returned to Lubbock and graduated first in his law school class in 1977. Huffman still has the idealistic view of lawyers as defenders of justice, a feeling he tries to impart to his students. The school, which opened its doors in 1967 and was still operating under founding Dean Richard Amandes, created a nurturing environment where students could discuss what being a lawyer meant and where professors always had time to talk, he says. “I always felt I had as good an education as anyone,” Huffman says. After law school graduation, he owed the Army six years of service and served in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps. Then, he took a position teaching at the American Bar Association-accredited JAG School in Charlottesville, Va., which offers a master’s in law. In addition to criminal cases, these military lawyers deal with contracts, claims, real estate law and other civil areas. They also serve in every conflict and help out in post-war nation-building. Huffman, who was promoted to major general and put in the top JAG spot in 1997, says the Army taught him leadership and management skills that will serve him well as a law school dean. During his 33 years in the military, he tried a variety of cases and was in charge of a workforce of more than 4,000 uniformed and civilian employees. As the Army’s top attorney, he participated in negotiations in international law cases and was part of peace missions around the world. He led the first U.S. mission to China after relations had been broken between the two countries over the Tiananmen Square incident. He counts as friends the top military lawyers in Hungary, Russia and other nations. After retiring from the Army when his four-year statutory tour of duty as judge advocate general ended in the fall of 2001, Huffman became a senior assistant for law and policy to the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Then, the position of law dean opened up when W. Frank Newton resigned on Dec. 31, 2001, to become executive director of the Class Settlement Charity Foundation in Beaumont. Huffman, who’s received the Texas Tech University Distinguished Alumni Award and who’s always been active in alumni affairs, decided to apply. Third-year student Tina Tuccelli, a student government officer who was involved unofficially in the search for a dean, is pleased he got the position. She’s impressed that Huffman gave up a job in Washington, D.C. “I think it’s terrific that an alumnus cares enough about the school to come back and serve,” she says. Law professor Victoria Sutton also is pleased. “I think the dean’s going to be great,” she says. “He has a lot of vision.” Huffman is on a year-to-year contract that pays $217,000 annually, with a commitment to stay at least five years, but says money wasn’t the attraction. “The reason I’m here is that I care about Tech. I’m professionally excited and personally honored,” the new dean says. He and his wife also like being back home. Coach Robison, who’s now 90, still lives in Lubbock and plays golf three times a week. The Huffmans’ son lives in Dallas, and their daughter lives in Jacksonville, Fla. Their youngest son is deceased. Huffman works out of Amandes’ former office, which still has the original furniture from the school’s founding. The new dean says he’ll change some of the furniture, but keep up the Texas Tech tradition of producing good lawyers. “We have a great story to tell,” he says. “We just have to start telling it.”

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