Ready to Lead Next Generation: Couch Bringing Academic, On-the-Job Experience to Oklahoma City University's Law School Post

Article excerpt

Federal Magistrate Judge Valerie Couch didn't take the job as dean of Oklahoma City University's law school because she wanted to retire or was looking to take a step back from her career on the federal bench.

Instead, Couch - the school's 12th dean and the first woman to lead it - said she left the judiciary because she has a deep, ongoing interest in the way future lawyers are trained and educated.

Call it her been-there, done-that approach.

Named in December after a yearlong national search, Couch said she was happy with her present career and wasn't looking for a new job.

"I was very satisfied, but when this opportunity came along last spring, I was intrigued with the idea of working with teachers," she said. "I've always been interested in how lawyers and judges are trained."

That interest, coupled with a desire to work in what she calls a dynamic, collaborative enterprise, pushed her to the academic side.

"The federal judiciary is somewhat limiting in terms of personal action," Couch said. "And my personality is probably better suited for this type of enterprise. A position as a federal judge is a job that is more isolated and focused on the exact case or controversies that are before the court."

Appointed as a U.S. magistrate judge in the Western District Court of Oklahoma in 1999, Couch already had a deep knowledge of what it took to be an attorney. Prior to her federal service, she spent about 16 years in private practice with Hartzog, Conger and Cason, P.C.

"I understand what it takes to be an attorney," she said.

University President Robert Henry - a former dean of the law school, himself - said Couch's decision to join OCU was a gift to the school and its students.

"This is a remarkable Christmas present for OCU. Judge Couch will be an exceptional dean," Henry said. "She has been involved with our law school as an adjunct faculty member for a decade and her rapport with students and faculty is sterling, as is her reputation within the legal community."

A graduate of the University of Oklahoma's law school, Couch earned a master's degree in English literature from OU. She has a bachelor's degree in English literature from the University of California, Los Angeles.

But her path to the legal profession, she said, was serendipity.

"After I got my master's degree, I had my first child and I taught on a part-time basis and I think that experience led me to believe that wasn't what I wanted to do," she said. "Although I love literature, it's a big part of my life. I didn't want to teach literature. …