UF Law aligns curriculum with practice of law
BY MATT WALKER
With an eye toward changing technology, economics and expectations in the legal profession, the University of Florida Levin College of Law has adopted a new academic mission statement that will help guide the school’s curriculum so students can hit the ground running in the legal world upon earning their degree.
“This is a time of great change for the legal profession, and we recognize that to better prepare students for this new world, legal education needs to adapt,” said UF Law Dean Robert Jerry. “The new vision and academic mission statement sets the table for more detailed discussion of curricular changes the college will make.”
In addition to establishing the goals of advancing legal scholarship, serving the public and fostering justice, the new mission statement emphasizes the importance of providing a well-rounded legal education that includes competency in five main areas. These core competencies are: legal analysis; legal research and writing; fundamentals of client services; fundamentals of dispute processing and legal problem solving; and fundamentals of professional responsibility and identity.
Jerry explained that the establishment of the fundamentals of professional identity necessary to understand what it means to be a lawyer goes beyond traditional textbook curriculum.
“Being a very good lawyer means having a sense of self-awareness; having a sense of how one projects confidence and has the substance to back it up; understanding what’s involved in working collaboratively with a team and how one most effectively solves a problem. That is all connected to legal doctrine and to understanding how legal institutions work,” Jerry said.
Jerry added that the mission statement also focuses the law school on preparing students for their jobs upon graduation. “Graduates should step into the profession and be ready to represent clients. Our mission is more than just understanding what the law is or just understanding the process of the law’s application.”
Alumni and other legal employers have echoed the need for graduates with these skills.
“It is more important than ever for law school graduates to be prepared for the legal world on both a theoretical and practical level,” said Andrew Fawbush (JD 74), a partner in the tax section of Smith Gambrell & Russell, LLP in Jacksonville. “The economics have changed over the past 40 or 50 years in the legal profession and young people must be prepared for this new model.”
The new mission statement was put forth by a strategic planning committee chaired by UF Law Professor Amy Mashburn and was approved by the faculty in November.
The more detailed academic mission statement represents a commitment by the faculty to focus on providing UF Law graduates with the specific skills they need to begin the practice of law, she said.
“We all want to provide our students with the best legal education we can, but we do not always agree on which methods are best or how to set institutional priorities,” Mashburn said. “The committee is hopeful that the new mission statement will provide a consensus that ensures that, in our efforts at reform, we are all pulling in the same direction.”
Mashburn said the strategic planning committee hopes to implement the new academic mission statement by winning approval from the law school’s Faculty Senate for significant curricular changes.
University of Florida Levin College of Law Vision
A law school dedicated to advancing human dignity, social welfare, and justice through knowledge of law.
Academic Mission Statement
The mission of the University of Florida Fredric G. Levin College of Law is to achieve excellence in educating professionals, advancing legal scholarship, serving the public, and fostering justice. We aspire to prepare lawyers to serve their clients, the justice system, and the public with a high level of accomplishment and a commitment to the highest ideals of the legal profession. We strive to provide students with a well-rounded legal education. Our curriculum is designed to teach students about the law and to help them develop the skills necessary to use that knowledge in practice. Our goal is for our graduates to possess the core competencies essential to embark on the practice of law. These core competencies include:
1. Legal Analysis (including knowledge of laws and rules, the ability to apply laws and rules to different factual settings, and the ability to engage in legal argumentation);
2. Legal Research and Writing (including the ability to conduct independent legal research and produce legal writings of professional quality);
3. Fundamentals of Client Services (including interviewing and counseling skills);
4. Fundamentals of Dispute Processing and Legal Problem Solving (including litigation, settlement, and transactions); and
5. Fundamentals of Professional Responsibility and Identity (including knowledge of the shared values of the legal profession and ethical problem solving, the skills to create a professional identity, and the skills to work with people from diverse backgrounds).