From Liberal Arts to Law – Tony Arnold

Tony Arnold earned his B.A. in political science and history from KU in 1987.

Tony Arnold Lake 3
Tony Arnold has written and taught extensively about the role and limits of law in achieving protection of Lake Mono, Calif. (pictured), from water withdrawals in Los Angeles. It is a distinctive terminal lake tied to the Sierra Nevada ecosystem.

What do you do and what’s your current title?
I teach and research in the fields of land use planning and regulation, water resources law and policy, property and real estate, and environmental conservation and law.  My primary appointment is in the Louis D. Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville, but my work is broadly interdisciplinary.  I have an affiliated appointment in urban planning, direct an interdisciplinary research center, and have affiliations with major interdisciplinary research centers at 5 large public universities.  In addition, I serve or have served on many government commissions and task forces and nonprofit boards.  For example, I was Chairman of the City of Anaheim Planning Commission when I taught in California, and I currently serve on the Board of Trustees of The Nature Conservancy, Kentucky Chapter.  Before entering full-time law school teaching in 1995, I practiced law at a large law firm in Texas, including serving as a city attorney for two municipalities, and was a law clerk to a federal appellate judge.

Tony Arnold at creek in Louisville (credit Tony Arnold)_web
Arnold teaches at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, with interests in land use, environmental planning, and water resources law. He’s posing at Goose Creek, near where he lives.

I have five titles:

  1. Boehl Chair in Property and Land Use, Brandeis School of Law, University of Louisville
  2. Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Development, Brandeis School of Law, University of Louisville
  3. Professor of Law, Brandeis School of Law, University of Louisville
  4. Affiliated Professor of Urban Planning, Department of Urban and Public Affairs, College of Arts and Sciences, University of Louisville
  5. Chair, Center for Land Use and Environmental Responsibility, University of Louisville

Where did you complete your law degree?
Stanford University

How do you use what you learned as a KU College of Liberal Arts & Sciences student in your career?
My liberal arts and sciences education at KU gave me foundational skills that lawyers need every day: analytical thinking, critical thinking, problem solving, and effective oral and written communication.  Moreover, lawyers need to be able to understand other people across cultures and life experiences, engage in active listening, grasp broad trends in history and in social institutions, think globally, and see interconnections in the world, all skills that are core to a KU liberal arts and sciences education.

From Liberal Arts to Law
View more stories from our alumni here.

Equally importantly, I went to law school and then into law practice already thinking about a variety of important questions that came up in my classes at KU: what is justice, what are the similarities and differences between legality and morality, what are the necessary elements of a legitimate government, what do sustainability and environmental responsibility mean, what duties do we owe fellow humans?

Finally, law is an essentially liberal-arts profession in that it draws on the insights of multiple disciplines, including political science, economics, psychology, sociology, philosophy, literature, and others.  In my work in environmental, land use, and water law, I regularly use the biological and ecological sciences, hydrology, and chemistry.  My undergraduate class in statistics continues to help me understand studies that serve as evidentiary foundations for regulatory decisions.  The major ideas that influenced western civilization – which I loved studying in Western Civ – continue to influence law and legal institutions, yet competing ideas from other cultures, which I encountered in other courses, are increasingly relevant to the globalization of law.

Why law?
I wanted to pursue a broad multidisciplinary approach to societal problems, yet develop and exercise practical problem-solving skills.  A legal career offered the opportunity to do both.  Then, I moved into a career in law teaching, where I could help students to develop broad multidisciplinary perspectives and practical problem-solving skills.  When I was a student at KU, I realized that I wanted to be both a thinker and a leader, both a scholar and a public servant, someone who can both look critically at institutions and systems and yet design and build institutions and systems.  Lawyers do all of these.

What’s your advice for aspiring law students?
I actually have two important but somewhat different kinds of advice.  First, give serious thought to pursuing a dual-degree or joint-degree program in law and another discipline, such as urban planning, public administration, public policy, environmental studies/natural resources management, business administration, public health, social work, bioengineering, or the like.  The problems that lawyers will face – like the problems that society faces – cut across disciplinary boundaries.  Having multiple competencies at the level of graduate education will help you to see the world from multiple perspectives and work in teams across professions.  It will also enhance your attractiveness to prospective employers that value multi-competent problem-solvers.

Second, make wise, reasonable choices among the law schools you’re considering based on the relative value of their programs in comparison to your net costs (total costs including living expenses minus scholarships and grants) and the amount of debt you will incur.  Much of the recent public angst about the value of legal education in general has expedited changes that were already underway at many law schools to adapt their programs to the evolving needs of law graduates.  But recent research shows that a legal education continues to have great value both for enhanced earning potential and advanced problem-solving, advocacy, and institutional-design skills, as long as the ratio of debt to earning potential remains reasonable.  In short, legal education is still a great option but don’t take on too much debt and be sure to get the most value for your money – basic common sense about making any investment in the future.

Favorite KU memory? 
I have so many meaningful memories of my times at KU that it’s difficult to pick one.  But the most enduring and important ones fall into two broad categories.  Most of all, I remember the people: close friends who shared the KU experience with me and professors and administrators who were mentors to me in ways that still influence me today.  Second, I remember vividly the traditions that are common to the KU experience, such as the Rock Chalk Chant, waving the wheat, going on Joe’s runs (sadly no longer a part of the KU experience), and walking on the KU campus – indescribably beautiful in any season – while the Campanile chimes in the background.

Photo credits: Tony Arnold