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Bar Journal - September 1, 1999

Remembering Bob Viles
1939 ~ 1999


By:
 

In his twenty five years at Franklin Pierce Law Center Bob Viles was assistant dean, dean, contracts professor, president, vice-chair of the Board, architect, interior designer, landscaper, fundraiser, oenologist, parking attendant, singer, comedian, historian, chauffeur and ambassador-at-large for the Law Center. He defined the Law Center, its values and its future.

In its formative years the Law Center advertised itself as different or non-traditional. One initial difference was that it was housed in a building that was formerly a bull farm. Besides having a library that looked suspiciously like stalls, the bulls' legacy to the law school was hundreds of flies. The flies however were no match for Bob who, as he taught contracts, occasionally wacked one with his ever present flyswatter.

A more important difference was the students who chose to attend Franklin Pierce. As Bob explained at the Law Center's Twenty-fifth Anniversary Convocation in 1998, the "early students were risk-takers. They came to an unproven law school, part of a little known college, named for a president given low marks by historians. People who are looking for a safe life, a comfortable life, a life free of risk don't go to a law school in a bull barn headed by a searcher for the Loch Ness Monster."

In addition, Bob hired non-traditional faculty. Rather than recruiting scholars who would produce law review articles that would pave the conventional path to acceptability in legal education circles, Bob chose lawyers who had practiced law who were interested in teaching students about practice and the analytical skills needed to practice. The faculty was expected to and did spend significant time with students outside the classroom teaching in informal settings. This created a non-hierarchical environment that fostered cooperation instead of competition.

Another difference was the new law school's emphasis on law-science. This aspect took time to take hold but eventually Bob and the faculty he hired developed a solid program in patent law, placing Franklin Pierce in a position to take advantage of the explosion in intellectual property law that occurred in the 1980's. Later, Bob encouraged the development of a one year program for foreign non-lawyers, the Masters in Intellectual Property Program, which today admits about 75 students a year from all over the world. As a result of these initiatives Franklin Pierce became by the mid-1990's, the leading American law school in intellectual property law.

At the same time, Bob led the law school as it became a major force within New Hampshire. Its graduates achieved positions of prominence in the judiciary and the Bar. Equally as important to Bob, its graduates became known for challenging the status quo and for representing those who are unable to afford lawyers. At the time of his death, Bob and others were in the process of further developing the law school's Community Lawyering program.

It is not an overstatement to say that, far more than any other individual, Bob Viles has shaped legal education in New Hampshire. His life's work has proven that a law school can take a non-traditional path and achieve success. As he said at the convocation marking the school's 25th Anniversary:

"We want our graduates to approach practice with a gusto that is motivated by something beyond winning the litigation or besting the other side in negotiation: helping your client create new wealth, assuring that the less powerful person gets a fair hearing, righting some of the wrongs in the world. Without a larger end continuously in sight, you run the risk that, like some ordinary people, you will despise the law and leave the profession. Thus we believe that legal education should both inspire you to high goals and prepare you against disillusionment."

To those of us who worked with him, he was a source of energy, of vision, and of forward-looking optimism. To those he had in class, he was occasionally baffling, sometimes eccentric, often entertaining and always challenging. He inspired others to embrace change. He saw opportunities and possibilities where others did not. He was the soul of Franklin Pierce Law Center and we shall deeply miss him.

The Author

Attorney James E. Duggan, Director of Appellate Defender, Franklin Pierce Law Center, Concord, New Hampshire.

 

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