How Law Professors Make Their Mark

Dean Robert Jerry

I have spent almost 30 years of my life on law school campuses, first as a law student and later as a law professor and dean. During that time, I have been privileged to work with a distinctive group of people who are, without a doubt, the nucleus of any law school. I refer, of course, to my faculty colleagues.

The law professors I have known through the years, including my outstanding colleagues at our own law school, are fascinating individuals who are as different as they are alike. Yet I have observed some common characteristics as they engage in their vocation of teaching, research and service. My personal experience is that most of these men and women are determined, hard-working, intellectually gifted and passionately committed to educating the quick minds that scrutinize them in the classroom. They study, debate, inspire and lead in the hope of building a more equitable world.

The purposes of the modern university, of which law schools are a part, are to transmit and discover knowledge. For law professors, discovering knowledge equates to generating ideas that promote law reform and improvements in the system of justice. Thus, legal scholarship, as measured by the quality and quantity of scholarly publications, is a vital part of any professorʼs activities and usually complements and enhances the teaching function. Yet, I think for many it is the role of teacher that provides profound satisfaction and constant opportunities to tangibly shape the lives of students. In this regard, I agree with my colleague Kent Syverud, now the law dean at Washington University-St. Louis, who made this point in an article he wrote about teaching. With the exception of a very few of us, most of us will change the world more through our students than through what we write.

Several articles in this issue demonstrate the significant ways our alumni are making their marks on the world, including serving as distinguished judges, lawyers and public servants. But what this issue also highlights is how some of our alumni are changing the world by teaching in universities across the nation. As a law professor, I find it particularly gratifying to see our graduates answering the calling to train the next generations of lawyers. This is another reason I am both privileged and proud to be a member of the faculty and the dean at the Levin College of Law at the University of Florida.