The dean of the University of Montana’s School of Law is stepping down to rejoin the faculty and conduct research for a new book after leading the program up the national charts ranking law schools across the country.
Irma Russell will remain dean until a search lands her replacement. She plans to write a book for the American Bar Association on ethics – a sequel to a book she wrote 10 years ago on ethics and the practice of environmental law.
“A lot has changed that needs to be addressed in a new book,” Russell said. “Things are in flux, and we decided it’s time to follow up on the changes.”
Russell took over as law school dean at UM in 2009 after heading the College of Law at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma, where she directed the National Energy/Environmental Law and Policy Institute.
During her tenure as dean at UM, she helped position the School of Law as one of the nation’s best graduate programs. The school saw its applications for entry increase 10.5 percent last year, a mark achieved by only two other law schools.
Just 12 national law programs saw any increase at all. Nationally, 187 programs saw a decrease in applications, with 41 of those schools recording a drop of 30 percent or more.
Russell attributes the success at UM to the program’s professors and an increase in scholarship funding for students. Last year, she said, the school awarded $100,000 to incoming students.
“It’s one of those things that sounds like a lot, but compared to other schools, it’s not,” Russell said. “We’re doing better and getting attention. We have vibrant young professors putting us on the map.”
Earlier this year, the School of Law moved up 32 spots on the U.S. News and World Report’s rankings of Best Graduate Schools of 2014. Last year, National Jurist magazine also ranked the UM program seventh on its list of best values among law schools.
The list considered cost, debt load, bar passage and placement in legal jobs.
“We’ve gotten good attention,” Russell said. “It’s very gratifying to see that students are noticing us more. We’re doing more to get the word out, we have a wonderful new admissions director, and we’re becoming better at putting more information up on our website.”
Russell served as chair of the American Bar Association’s Section of Environment, Energy and Resources, and the Association of American Law Schools Section of Natural Resources and Energy Law.
She is a newly appointed board member of Dividing the Waters, an organization of judges and lawyers focused on issues of water adjudication in the western U.S.
“She has worked tirelessly to support students and faculty of the School of Law, and she has brought the school several new, outstanding faculty members during her tenure,” UM Provost Perry Brown said. “It’s been a pleasure working with her over the last four years.”