Four Questions

Q: U.S. News & World Report recently ranked the University of Florida Levin College of Law as the state’s only top 50 law school, and in a related article you referred to how the school has improved over time. Can you elaborate on that?
A: The U.S. News ranking methodology suffers from several severe flaws, and there is no ranking system that accurately assesses true institutional quality. The reality, however, is that we ignore the rankings at our peril. And some aspects of the various rankings can give us a rough guide in evaluating certain aspects of our progress over the years. In the U.S. News rankings just released, for example, we improved in every category except one, and we continue to rate especially high in reputation for quality.
Of course, we don’t need a news magazine to tell us how we’re doing with our student body quality. We have steadily improved in this measure during the last decade. The rankings do not measure improvements we have made in our curriculum, changes in our facilities, increased out-of-class educational opportunities for our students through symposia, lectures, jurist-in-residence programs, and visits by practitioners, or the strength of our alumni support, but we are better in all of these areas as well. And, of course, the quality of our school is demonstrated by the large number of our graduates who are members of the federal and state judiciaries, not to mention the dominance of our graduates in the Super Lawyers rankings, both state and nationwide. The bottom line is this: Despite the limitations of state support, we are an excellent law school, and we are working hard to get better every year.

Q: What’s next?
A: The legal profession is undergoing great change, and the impact of that change on legal education will be profound. For example, e-discovery didn’t exist 30 years ago, but we now offer an e-discovery course twice during the academic year and once during the summer. We have a new course on law and entrepreneurship, which explores the common legal and economic issues faced by innovative start-up companies and those who fund them. The law of intellectual property is evolving quickly, as are laws related to the Internet and our digital world. We have even had a course taught on the Second Life platform — a virtual world within which we have constructed a virtual UF Law on “Gator Island.” Given the emergence of virtual law firms practicing law without buildings or offices, the idea of legal education occurring in virtual space is no longer futuristic. We also feature courses taught online. I don’t believe this format will ever replace the residential model in legal education, but we are exploring innovative applications of online delivery in some subject areas.


Q:
What changes do you think might emerge from the college’s strategic planning process?
A: We have had two faculty committees this past year looking at how our skills curriculum should be improved, and in the fall the work of these committees will be merged into the agenda of our strategic planning committee. This committee is discussing curricular innovations, such as how a course on the values and culture of the legal profession could be incorporated into our first-year curriculum.
One of the ideas that has emerged in this process and will be implemented during the next year involves extending our orientation program for first-year students beyond the first few days of law school. The restructured orientation program will include expanded information that links academic advising to long-term professional goals, plus more programs on the legal profession and the practice of law. Some of this time will be used to discuss what is commonly described as “emotional intelligence” — matters of judgment, personal presence, and good sense — in an effort to deepen our students’ understandings of these critical aspects of being effective lawyers.

 

Q: What do you think will be different about UF Law 10 years from now?
A: I believe we will have enhanced our skills program, and we will have further developed our already substantial program of using practitioners to teach niche, substantive courses as adjuncts and to otherwise help us with skills instruction, which requires small class sizes.
Technology is changing faster than most of us can imagine, so it is difficult to predict how this will impact us, but the one certainty is that it will. For alumni from the 1970s and earlier, who would have thought reading a case would involve, not going to the library and taking a reporter off the shelf, but typing a cite into a keyboard and reading the case online — or printing the case out of a machine on one’s desk? And who would have thought many courts would have paperless filing systems? UF Law will continue to evolve in ways that prepares our students for this rapidly changing world.
Just as we have seen the retirements over the past decade of several faculty members important to the history of this college, the faculty’s composition will continue to evolve. This natural state of change will be guided by our continued focus on the recruitment of high-quality new faculty members. These future additions to the faculty will contribute to the UF Law lore future graduates will share at alumni gatherings, similar to the stories I hear from our current alumni about how important their teachers were to their own careers and professional development.
One shared characteristic between today’s alumni and the graduates of tomorrow that I feel confident in predicting with absolute certainty is they will join a long and illustrious line of very proud Gator lawyers.