Five Minutes of Fame: Law professor reflects on his career
In the UH Law Center’s “Celebrating a Lifetime of Faculty Service” ceremony, UH will celebrate the career of professor Robert Schuwerk, Professor Emeritus, who is nationally recognized as an expert in lawyer professional responsibility and malpractice.
After a tri-decade contribution to the growth and education of UH law students, Schuwerk has reached the end of the road, with mountains of wisdom and nostalgic sentiments pertaining to his experience as an educator at the University.
The Cougar: What influenced your career?
Robert Schuwerk: I started off in the legal practice of law; one job was staff council for a state agency in Illinois, and another was a litigator for a small law firm. There came a point in my life where my children were young and I felt my life was out of balance — that I was being consumed by work and I wasn’t putting my family first. I realized that wouldn’t change if I continued doing that type of work. I thought teaching was an opportunity to do something I always felt I would enjoy while being available to my family.
TC: The “Celebrating a Lifetime of Faculty Service” ceremony takes place on Nov. 6. How do you feel about your upcoming retirement?
RS: I feel that I retired at about the right time. I still enjoy teaching and thought I was still pretty good at it, I didn’t want to squeeze the last drop of blood out of the stone before I decided to move on, but what influenced me most to move forward and retire was my wife. Our primary residence is here in Austin and it was becoming increasingly burdensome to commute the last 10-11 years. I didn’t commute everyday; I would come down before the week started for my teaching responsibilities and then return to Austin. There would be some weeks that I would only get to be back for a day or two.
TC: What promoted you to teach at UH if your primary residence is in Austin?
RS: Well I wasn’t always in Austin. I lived in the Clear Lake area from Christmas Eve in 1981 until about fall of 2002, so we were in Houston for quite a long time before we relocated. Once our children were grown and had gone through the school system out there, some already gone through college, My wife and I thought in some ways Austin would be more congenial by the time we retired.
TC: Do you plan to keep busy post-retirement?
RS: I still consult in the field that I like the most, which is legal ethics, and I still write a treatise that gets published every year — it has to be completely updated. It’s called the Handbook of Texas Lawyer and Judicial Ethics and it’s now up to three volumes. I have a co-author who does most of the work about the judicial side and I cover the lawyer side. We’ve been doing that together since about 2002 and that’s what I’m doing. That and keeping up with my three children and five children, which takes up a lot of our time.
TC: Is there anything you will particularly miss?
RS: Oh yes, I miss the students. I really enjoyed the students, there are some professors who decide after they graduated from law school there were no more good students, but I never felt that way. I really enjoyed the students; I got a lot out of them. I taught a couple of different classes that explored sort of legal education itself toward the end of my career that were basically about the negative effects of legal education that is commonly practiced and how you can sort of insulate yourself from those negative effects and drive as a lawyer. It was a very interesting set of courses, I had psychologists who have a substantial number of patients who are lawyers come in and talk about the stressors faced, and even lawyers who were disbarred who gave them the reality what can happen in the field and what they may go through in the process.
TC: What kind of lasting impression has UH left you with?
RS: It’s an extremely dynamic place; the students are terrific. Where we are in law teaching right now is sort of a revolutionary turning point — applications to law school are down dramatically nationwide, 40 percent in the last five years. I think there should be less of a focus on legal theory and more of the practical aspects, and work on the personal skill sets you need to be a good lawyer; communication skills, being able to read people, empathy towards clients. I think it’s an exciting profession to teach in and to be in and if I were younger and had more energy, I would look forward to it.
We have a great future for the school, we are very fortunate with whom we’ve hired over the last few years. Just a very talented group of young professors — I see a very bright future for them and for our students and the years to come.