News » Cover Stories

Lawyers are getting better. Really.

One reason: It's tougher to get in an Arkansas law school these days.

Dean Goldner:
  • Dean Goldner:
They're the butts of countless jokes, a buzzword for "greedy" if they do trial work, and all over the United States - including Arkansas - legislatures are capping the amount of money they can earn. So there ought to be fewer men and women attracted to a career as a lawyer, right? Wrong. Applications to law school in Arkansas at both campuses, in Little Rock and Fayetteville, have increased steadily over the past three and four years to hit record highs this year. At the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, 591 applied for 150 spots in 2001; for the class of 2004-05, 1,273 applied, for the same number of places. The University of Arkansas at Little Rock hit a low of 500 applicants in 1999; this year it returned to early-1990s levels with 1,100 applications for its 140 seats. Deans Richard Atkinson at Fayetteville and Charles Goldner Jr. at Little Rock speculate that the slow economy is the cause for the surge in would-be lawyers: When jobs are scarce, a professional degree appeals. (The same holds true for medical school applications, professors at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences say.) As applications have risen, so have the standards that applicants - most of whom are chosen based on a number that reflects their LSAT scores and college grades - have to meet. The median UA applicant LSAT score jumped from 152 in 2002 to 156 for the fall (152 to 156), "huge changes," Atkinson said. Those scores put UA's applicants in the top quartile of all who take the LSAT; they're in the top third at UALR. The greater competition for spots is satisfying, but it is new strides in racial diversity that have both deans most excited. Atkinson noted with pride a study in the National Jurist magazine that the UA School of Law ranked 13th in the nation in improving student diversity. "There's a nice story," Atkinson said. "[Professor] Bob Laurence used to take out the members of BALSA, the black students law association, out to dinner every fall, and he could take them in his car." Now, Atkinson said, with 50 African-American students in the three classes, "we've moved from a 'taxi' to a fleet." At UALR, recruitment efforts funded with a grant from the Law School Admissions Council were rewarded with a significant increase in minority enrollment, from 9 in 2003 to 19 in 2004. At one time, there were arguments that Arkansas didn't need two law schools. That thinking has died, Atkinson said. He and Goldner work together, he said, on legislation to find additional support for the schools and policy issues; the faculty of both schools will get together in the fall. Both schools are needed, he said: "I think Arkansas is one of the most under-lawyered states in the United States." Increasingly popular at UALR's School of Law are its legal clinics programs that allow students, under the supervision of licensed lawyers, to get experience representing real clients. They litigate in domestic and criminal courts, represent low-income taxpayers (such as the owners of failed business startups) and try to find alternatives to detention for juveniles in cases referred from circuit court. Sixty students took part in the clinics last year; Goldner said the number would go higher if there was more money available for faculty or if more licensed lawyers could take the time to supervise. Getting more money for the school takes up most of Dean Atkinson's time. He's $7 million toward a goal of raising $13 million to add space to the law school. Phase one, to start in the fall, will build four new state-of-the-art classrooms, a new library and a new entrance on the central mall of the campus. The latter is to be built with a $1 million gift from Norma Lea Beasley, the only woman law student in the class of 1953. A reading room honoring the six pioneer black students admitted to Southern law schools will be also built. Atkinson is confident funds will be raised for phase two of the expansion, which will add a new courtroom and classrooms for the agriculture law program, which awards the only agricultural law degree in the country. "I can't tell you how excited I am," Atkinson said. At some point, some of the lawyers who graduate from these law schools will be included on a list of best lawyers. This year, the Arkansas Times offers Woodward/White Inc.'s Best Lawyers in America list, the result of interviews with Arkansas lawyers. Woodward/White takes pains to note that while it urges the lawyers it interviews to use "their highest standards" when voting, "In the interest of honesty and by way of disclaimer, we should note as we have in previous editions that the lists may tend to reward visibility or popularity over sheer ability." The Times has not corrected the list to exclude lawyers who've retired from practice or who are deceased, but is running it in full. ANTITRUST LAW Little Rock Peter G. Kumpe, Philip S. Anderson, Robert Shults. BANKRUPTCY AND CREDITOR-DEBTOR RIGHTS LAW Little Rock Isaac A. Scott Jr., Allen W. Bird II, David A. Grace, Charles W. Baker, Charles T. Coleman, James F. Dowden, Alston Jennings Sr. BUSINESS LITIGATION Little Rock Gordon S. Rather Jr., H. William Allen, Patrick J. Goss, Beverly A. Rowlett,Steven T. Shults, Cathleen V. Compton, Steven W. Quattlebaum, David M. Powell, Elizabeth R. Murray, N.M. Norton Jr., John G. Lile, William H. Sutton, Peter G. Kumpe, Gary D. Corum, John E. Tull III, Timothy O. Dudley, William A. Waddell, H. David Blair. El Dorado Dennis L. Shackleford, Floyd M. Thomas, Jr., Robert C. Compton. Fayetteville Kenneth R. Shemin, Sidney P. Davis Jr. Fort Smith Robert L. Jones Jr. Helena David Solomon Pine Bluff Stephen A. Matthews CONSTRUCTION LAW Little Rock Allen C. Dobson, David M. Powell. CORPORATE, MERGERS AND ACQUISITIONS, AND SECURITIES LAW Little Rock Robert Shults, C. Douglas Buford Jr., Ronald M. Clark, Paul B. Benham III, John S. Selig, Philip S. Anderson, Price C. Gardner, H. Maurice Mitchell, Donald T. Jack Jr. Jonesboro Ralph W. Waddell. CRIMINAL DEFENSE Little Rock William C. McArthur, Samuel A. Perroni, Jack T. Lassiter, Richard E. Holiman, Cathleen V. Compton. El Dorado Floyd M. Thomas Jr., Robert C. Compton. Fayetteville John C. Everett. Fort Smith Eddie N. Christian. Jonesboro Bill W. Bristow, Bobby R. McDaniel. CYBER LAW Little Rock N.M. Norton Jr. EMPLOYEE BENEFITS LAW Little Rock Craig H. Westbrook, Gregory B. Graham, A. Wyckliff Nisbet Jr., Thomas L. Overbey, Joseph B. Hurst Jr. ENVIRONMENTAL LAW Little Rock Charles R. Nestrud, G. Alan Perkins, Samuel E. Ledbetter, Brian Rosenthal, Allan Gates. FAMILY LAW Little Rock Barry E. Coplin, Stephen C. Engstrom, Marcia Barnes, Jack Wagoner III, Judson C. Kidd, Henry Hodges. N. Little Rock Melinda Gilbert. Paragould Harry Truman Moore. FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS AND TRANSACTIONS LAW Little Rock Donald H. Henry. FIRST AMENDMENT LAW Little Rock Philip E. Kaplan, Troy A. Price, John T. Lavey. HEALTH CARE LAW Little Rock Lynda M. Johnson, Donald T. Jack Jr., David L. Ivers, Harold H. Simpson, Scotty M. Shively, Michael W. Mitchell, Lee J. Muldrow, Diane S. Mackey. IMMIGRATION LAW Little Rock Donna Smith Galchus. INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY LAW Little Rock Ray F. Cox Jr., Stephen D. Carver. Fayetteville Robert R. Keegan. INTERNATIONAL TRADE AND FINANCE LAW Little Rock Robert Shults. LABOR AND EMPLOYMENT LAW Little Rock J. Bruce Cross, Melva Harmon, Kathlyn Graves, Carolyn B. Witherspoon, Oscar E. Davis Jr., John D. Davis, Russell A. Gunter, Tim Boe, John L. Burnett, Philip E. Kaplan, John T. Lavey, JoAnn C. Maxey. Fort Smith Benjamin H. Shipley III. Mountainburg Michael R. Jones. N. Little Rock Jay Thomas Youngdahl. Pine Bluff Spencer F. Robinson. PERSONAL INJURY LITIGATION Little Rock Laura Hensley Smith, Cathleen V. Compton, Timothy O. Dudley, R.T. Beard III, Overton S. Anderson II, William H. Sutton, Sherry P. Bartley, Winslow Drummond, James Bruce McMath, D. Michael Huckabay Sr., Lyn P. Pruitt, Bruce E. Munson, James M. Simpson, Robert L. Henry III, Gordon S. Rather Jr., Beverly A. Rowlett, Sam Laser, Donald S. Ryan, Robert M. Cearley Jr., Edwin L. Lowther Jr., Jim L. Julian. Batesville H. David Blair. Bryant Ted Boswell. El Dorado Dennis L. Shackleford, Floyd M. Thomas Jr., Robert C. Compton. Fayetteville Tilden P. Wright III, Sidney P. Davis, Walter B. Cox. Forrest City B. Michael Easley. Fort Smith Douglas O. Smith Jr., G. Alan Wooten, Robert L. Jones III, Robert L. Jones Jr., Charles R. Ledbetter. Jonesboro Bobby R. McDaniel, John V. Phelps, John C. Deacon, Paul D. McNeill, Bill W. Bristow. Pine Bluff Stephen A. Matthews. W. Memphis Elton A. Rieves III. PUBLIC UTILITY LAW Little Rock Lawrence Chisenhall, Stephen N. Joiner. RAILROAD LAW Jonesboro John C. Deacon. REAL ESTATE LAW Little Rock Timothy W. Grooms, W. Christopher Barrier, Darrell D. Dover, George E. Campbell, James M. Saxton, John William Spivey. TAX LAW Little Rock Ronald M. Clark, J. Lee Brown, W. Wilson Jones, John R. Tisdale, Thomas L. Overbey, Craig H. Westbrook, Richard A. Williams, Byron M. Eiseman Jr., Price C. Gardner. El Dorado Joseph Hickey. Jonesboro Randall Ishmael, Tom D. Womack. Pine Bluff Ted N. Drake, James Lee Moore. TRUSTS AND ESTATES Little Rock J. Lee Brown, William Thomas Baxter, Jean D. Stockburger, James E. Harris, Thomas L. Overbey, Byron M. Eiseman Jr. W., Wilson Jones, Richard F. Hatfield, Richard A. Williams, Steve Bauman, William D. Haught, Robert H. Holmes, John Cogan Wade. Fayetteville William Jackson Butt II. Fort Smith Patrick N. Moore. Jonesboro Berl A. Smith, Tom D. Womack. Pine Bluff James Lee Moore, Ted N. Drake. WORKER'S COMPENSATION LAW Little Rock Lee J. Muldrow, Zan Davis, William M. Griffin III, Silas H. Brewer Jr. El Dorado Norwood Phillips. Fort Smith Eddie H. Walker Jr. These lists are excerpted from The Best Lawyers in America® 2003-2004, which includes listings for more than 16,000 lawyers in virtually every major specialty of law in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The Best Lawyers in America® is published by Woodward/White, Inc., of Aiken, S. Carolina and can be ordered directly from the publisher. For information call 803-648-0300; or write 129 First Ave., SW, Aiken, SC 29803; by email ( or at Woodward/White Inc., has used its best efforts in assembling material for this list but does not warrant that theinformation contained herein is complete or accurate, and does not assume, and hereby disclaims, any liability to any person for any loss or damage caused by errors or omissions herein whether such errors or omissions result from negligence, accident, or any other cause. Copyright 2002 by Woodward/White, Inc., Aiken, SC. All rights reserved.

Add a comment