August 22, 2012
Lauren Brucker

Five Questions with Dean Tom Keefe

As dean of Saint Louis University School of Law for the 2012-2013 academic year, Tom Keefe ('78) believes it is the duty of law schools to mold students into professionals who can think, write and advocate like a lawyer and are ready, willing, able and eager to represent clients and serve the community. Keefe's new position allows him yet another opportunity to give back to the school that helped lay the foundation of where he is today. In his first week at SLU, Keefe spoke with the School of Law about his goals for the year and what makes SLU LAW such a special place.

Tom Keefe, J.D.

What are your goals and expectations for the year?

My first goal is to persuade everyone - students, faculty, alumni and the entire community - to just give me a chance to do this job. I understand that I am not a logical choice, but I have skills, including 35 years of successfully advocating for my clients. This law school is now my client, and my goal is to bring every tool I have to fight for this client. No individual is bigger than the institution they serve, whether it is a dean, a vice-president, a provost or even the president. I fully expect that out of this seeming chaos we face today this school will emerge stronger, better and perfectly situated in the heart of the action where lawyers lawyer and judges judge.

What sets SLU LAW apart as a special place to learn the law? Why have you stayed so connected to the school?

To me it has been a tone set by the late, great Vince Immel. Vince (and so many other faculty members both before and after him) was deeply committed to the welfare of his students, but never at the expense of legal scholarship and teaching excellence. He loved us, but in the classroom it was a tough love which prepared each of us to be great practitioners which drove us to always make him proud. And then, after all of those years of sacrifice, he left his entire estate to Saint Louis University School of Law, believing this school is great and will remain great. Since Vince Immel was smarter than me, I'm putting at least some of my time and money where he put his.

How will your background as an alumnus and practicing attorney influence your approach to help the law school succeed in this period of transition?

The first thing I will do is try to listen - which is hard since I so deeply love the sound of my own voice. I hope to learn from all of the school's constituencies what makes them happy and what concerns them.

I'm a trial lawyer. I advocate for clients. To do that you must understand and believe in your case and then be persuasive in your presentation, and then just outwork the opposition. That's the only way I know how to approach problems, and that's the approach I intend to bring in hopes of helping this school succeed during this period of transition.

How do you plan to advance the campaign to raise funds for the Joe and Loretta Scott Law Center? What do you see as your role in this next chapter in SLU LAW history?

First, communication. All potential donors must know that we were a great school the day before Dean Clark resigned and we remain a great school. I hope to send a message that we all have skin in this game. The value of each of our degrees from Saint Louis University School of Law can remain as valuable as each of us choose to make it, but all things of value demand continued investment. This law school is worthy of investment.

We have a unique school with a unique opportunity to set ourselves even further apart in the market. Our new school makes us unique. The location of that school makes us unique. The proximity of that school to where the action is makes us unique. The table is set. If we can raise the money to make this new school all it can be, and at the same time send a message to potential students that we are committed to trying to lower tuition and work even harder to find them jobs, then all of us - alumni and students - benefit from the ever increasing value of a Saint Louis University degree.

What is the most important thing the SLU community should know about you?

The Lord's Prayer says, "Thy Will be done." I believe His Will is to tell the truth and make the day a little bit better for the next guy. I try to do that every day, and on the days I don't succeed I try harder the next day. I don't know how this is going to turn out, but I promise I will do the very best job I can.

Higher purpose. Greater good.
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