How UF Law equips students for today’s roller-coaster legal industry

Curriculum

For law students who struggled for three years to master the substantive topics   of   law   school, the  first  day  of  practice might  come  as  a  shock. Course  work  on  appel-late  case  law,  civil  procedure and torts may be replaced in the working world with a bewildering  bustle  of  client  interviews,  dispute mediation and plea-deal negotiations.

So how to join the pedagogical imperatives  of  law  school  with  the  down-to-earth necessities of legal practice? The  Levin  College  of  Law  works  to meet  this  challenge  with  its  recently  revamped mission statement and key curriculum changes in the fall semester.

“The   critique is that students can leave law school without really having a deep understanding of what  the  practice of   law   is   like,” UF Law Dean Robert Jerry said.

“In the past, many graduates of law schools nationally  have  acquired  that  understanding  in  their  first  practice  years.  Our  aim  is to accelerate the students’ acquisition of this knowledge  of  what  it  means  to  be  a  legal professional.”

Florida  Bar  President  Scott  Hawkins (JD  83)  agrees  that  well-prepared  Gator grads  are  a  necessity  in  today’s  fast-paced and frequently changing legal marketplace.

“If you can help get new grads prepared where  they  can  be  more  valuable  more quickly than in the past, I think that will be valuable for UF Law and its reputation, and for the profession,” Hawkins said.

UF Law has long been ahead of the curve in areas like legal drafting, trial advocacy and  alternative  dispute  resolution.  Courses that will launch in the fall semester are set to  further  deepen  students’ practical skills.

“The strategic planning  process  focused in on enhancing instruction in legal research  for  a  number  of  reasons,”  said Amy  Mashburn,  head of UF Law’s strategic planning  committee  and  of  implementing the new curriculum. “But partly this reflects feedback we were getting that our students needed more intensive hands-on instruction on how to do legal research and how to use computer-based   legal   research   earlier in their legal education.”

Mashburn  (JD  87)  said  the  planning committee  consulted  students  and  lawyers, including UF Law’s Board of Trustees, and studied evaluations of legal education trends like  the  Carnegie Report to evaluate curricular   changes  that  would  be most beneficial to students.

CURRICULUM SHIFT

UF Law’s curriculum will shift in three major  ways  this  fall:  the  addition  of  Introduction  to  Lawyering:  Serving  Clients  and Society; moving the current course, Professional  Responsibility, from  the  first-year curriculum to the second year; and the creation of separate Legal Research and Legal Writing courses  from what is currently a single course combining the topics.

Introduction to Lawyering will expose  students  to  professionalism in the workplace, developing a professional identity  and an introduction to lawyering skills and the role of problem solving in law practice.
The  course  will  include  guest  speakers brought in for their familiarity with the hottest legal trends.

“Nothing  can  replace  having  judges and  lawyers and other legal professionals who are out there in the world doing this to  assist  us  with  educating  the  students,” Mashburn said. “So a big part of the program is to ensure that our students get some exposure to those professionals in the first year.

“We  want  students  to  understand  the power and potential of a law degree and to get real examples and role models to encourage and inspire them,” she said.

Senior  Associate  Dean  for  Academic Affairs  Alyson  Flournoy  points  out  that the  introductory  course  will  also  expose students  to  interviewing,  counseling,  negotiation  and  mediation  skills.  While  trial skills  are  generally  the  skills  new  law  students are most familiar with, the new course will  “introduce  them  to  the  whole  toolbox of  skills  and  competencies  that  they  may want to acquire or start to acquire through the curriculum here,” Flournoy said.

Mashburn  notes  that  the  UF  Law  curriculum will still contain plenty of its traditional law school fare — what professors call “substantive” law courses. The new curriculum introduces  a  measure  of “balance.”

“We  hope  that  the  acquisition  of  those skills  is  central  to  their  legal  education,” Mashburn  said.  “This  also  introduces  a  bit of balance because if you look at the traditional lineup of substantive law courses in their first year, they are predominantly reading appellate cases and reading about law in a litigation model.”

For  Paul  Pakidis  (3L), immediate-past editor-in-chief  of  the Florida Law Review summer internships made him appreciate the connection between his legal education and the real-world application of skills.

“The  experiences  helped  me  draw  a more definite connection between our work in the classroom and the actual practice of law,”  Pakidis  said.  “Also,  they  helped  me develop a sense of what type of law I want to practice.”

He  said  making  that  association  even earlier could be beneficial for students.

Hawkins, The Florida Bar president, supports the idea of exposing students  to a broad set of  skills in  their  first  year  — he said some of the skills he learned at UF Law helped distinguish him among his peers early in his career.

“Being  effective  is  not  only  being  able to think well, but it’s being able to execute and perform,” Hawkins said. “And that’s not just a matter of trial skills, it’s learning how to think strategically. So, I think that focus is important — getting students to think early on about thinking strategically on handling a case, handling an interview, handling a pre-sentation. It’s not just a matter of putting the words together, but having a sense of ‘where do I want to end up in this matter?’”

Hawkins  stresses  that  young  lawyers should approach their work with a “value-added”  mindset  —  always  thinking  about how they can serve the law firm or client in the best possible way. He said this approach is crucial for young lawyers and can impact their identities early in their careers.

Hawkins quickly sorts out young lawyers who carry themselves with a sense of maturity and self-discipline from those who “seem not to get it all.”

“I guarantee you every partner is plugged into what’s going on in his or her law firm, paying attention to how their young lawyers behave,” Hawkins said. “It’s not just a matter of brain power, it’s a matter of knowing how to carry yourself like a future owner of the business because that’s what being a partner is all about. It’s not a popularity contest.”

“I think if we can help students become more attuned to that mindset, that will benefit the students, and  thus the profession and the school,” Hawkins said.

Career

Back in 2008, the legal job market was reaching all-time peaks, according to statistics compiled  by  James  Leipold, executive director of the National Association for La Placement. NALP figures indicate   that by February of that year, the employment rate was 91.9 percent for 2007 law school graduates — a rate  higher  than  any  point  in  the  previous 20 years. But like so many other fields, the legal world was dealt a serious blow by 2008’s financial meltdown. The same report for 2009 shows  the first decrease in employment rates for recent law school grads since 2003.

Pascale Bishop,UF Law’s assistant dean for career development said employers today are looking for “students and  graduates who have already received practical experience, who are prepared to take a file and run with it, and who know how to interact with clients, other attorneys, judges, support staff and the professional world at large.

“There is definitely more pressure to be ready to practice from day one with littl  training or hand-holding, in order to prove (new employees’) value to the law firms,” Bishop said. Bob  Maland  (JD  75), a civil, trial  and personal   injury   lawyer   in   Miami   understands.

“Now, more than ever, Gators need to help Gators get that critica  first law job,”Maland said.

Maland isn’t just talk when it comes to helping Gators — he recently made a donation to UF Law that will bolster Symplicity, the  CCD’s online jobs database. The  database allows the CCD to connect UF Law students and recent graduates directly to UF Law alumni who are seeking young Gators for hire.

“If an alum or law firm  can  use  some  help, or hear of a job opening of any type, it will now be easy  for  UF Law alumni to immediately post that information on the CCD job board  —  before the job is taken by a non-Gator,” Maland said.
“I remember how important that first job was to me,” he said. “So I think it is important to help our law students and recent grads secure job opportunities on a priority basis.”

The  CCD  also  maintains  an  extensive collection  of  career-related  legal  websites that  provide  career  development  aids,  resources  to  assist  in  career  transitions  and even  an  alumni  job  “hotline,”  which  provides alumni with a direct link to job opportunities and networking events.

For those still in school, the goal of the Center for Career Development is to make it easy for employers to fi nd and hire UF Law students. In addition to the Symplicity jobs board,  the  CCD  maintains  Resumé  Books that  can  be  distributed  to  employers  (the books  are  organized  by  class  year  and  areas of interest), an on-campus interview program by legal employers, and plenty of networking and off-campus recruiting opportunities.

CCD  Director  Rob  Birrenkott  emphasized  the  value  of  the  services  provided  to current and past students.

“Gator  lawyers  have  a  strong  tradition of  excellence  and leadership within the   legal   profession,  the  CCD  is a  bridge  that  can help connect alumni   and   the   next generation of legal leaders,” he said.

Bishop  said  in addition  to  increasing  reactive  job-seeking methods like Symplicity, the CCD employs a number of proactive approaches as well.

“We  work  one-on-one  with  each  student to create a proactive job plan involving identifying contacts in the legal community and honing the students’ networking skills,” she said.

This  multi-level  approach  works  well for UF Law students, as they remain high in job-placement rankings in Florida.

“UF  has  consistently  out-performed  its peers  in  Florida  in  terms  of  overall  placement  numbers,  and  is  well-known  as  the Florida  school  with  the  most  graduates  in the  state  and  local  government,”  Bishop said.

Value

After   three   years   of   intense learning,  work  and  determination,  law  school  graduates enjoy  a  wide  array  of  career options   —   from   the   many specialties   offered   by   law firms, to academia, public service, nonprofi ts or other alternative careers.

Well,   that’s   the   idea anyway.

The    reality    is    that many  law  students  in  the United States end their three-year journey saddled with  a  pile  of  debt  they must  carry  into  their  careers,  leaving  them  with significantly  fewer  practical options.

“High  tuitions  at  many  law  schools  have produced very high debt loads for many graduates and this has forced those graduates to look at  particular  post-graduation  employment  opportunities because of the difficulty — the impossibility in some instances — of paying back the debts with certain kinds of jobs,” UF Law Dean Robert Jerry said.

Law  students  who  graduated  in  2011  carried an average debt of $100,433, according to U.S. News & World Report. And the National Association for Law Placement pegs the employment  rate  for  new  law  grads  at  87.6  percent,  the  lowest  since  1996.  With  high  debt and reduced job prospects, recent graduates are feeling the pressure.

It’s an area where the University of Florida Levin College of Law offers a clear advantage.

According  to  American  Bar  Association data,  in  2010,  UF  Law  students  borrowed  far less  than  the  national  average  reporting  the sixth  lowest  debt  load  among  the  top  50  law schools. Considering  in-state  tuition  and  fees alone,  the  discrepancy  is  even  greater.  Private law school tuition and fees are often more than double that of UF Law and most public schoolsalso are more costly.

Jerry  put  it  this  way:  “Students  can  leave UF  Law  with  much  more  freedom  to  pursue the careers they are passionate about instead of pursuing a career to pay off loans.”

Joe   Joyce   (JD   11)   and Jackie  Jo  Brinson  (JD  10)  are flesh-and-blood    benefi ciariesof these statistics. Joyce’s first love  at  UF  Law  was  Brinson. His second love was trial law, thanks  to  Legal  Skills  Professor Jennifer Zedalis.

But when Joyce graduated from law school it wasn’t clear if he would get to remain close to either love. But because his debts were manageable, Joyce found himself in court on his second day on the job as a defense attorney in the 3rd Circuit Public Defender’s Offi ce. And his Live Oak, Fla., office is a stone’s throw from Brinson’s where she works as a trial court law clerk.

“In terms of value, I think (UF Law) should be  among  tops  in  the  country,”  Joyce  said. “With the tuition rates being what they are — if you go to a private school you’re looking at paying $30,000 to $40,000 a year for a legal education. At UF, you get the best legal education in  the  state  for  about  half  the  money  of  what you would at a private school.”

The  2011-2012  in-state  tuition  at  UF  Law is  $18,709.80  for  30  credit  hours .  And  while  not insignificant, the $62,000 average borrowing by UF Law students is among the lowest for students at first-tier law schools.

Along  with  landing  the  job  he  wanted, Joyce  was  able  to  stay  close  to  Brinson  — choices the deeply indebted might not be able to make.

“What  really  won  me  over  about  this  job is that they let you step in on day one and they say ‘Listen, you’re an attorney. Do what attorneys  do;  interview  your  client,  listen  to  their concerns,  investigate  the  situation,  negotiate the  best  resolution.  Look  out  for  your  client’s interest and if necessary, you go to bat for that client  at  trial,’”  Joyce  said.  “My  supervisors mentor me while still giving me a great deal of independence.”

Joyce has some student loans, but working at the Public Defender’s Offi ce allowed him to approach  Brinson’s  parents  for  permission  to marry  their  daughter  without  seeming  like  he would be a potential fi nancial burden on her.

“Once I got this job I was able to propose,” he said. “For that, I feel so blessed.”

Adjuncts

From  trips  to  the  Florida  Supreme  Court  to  providing  legal  counsel  for  a  hypothetical start-up   company,   University of  Florida  Levin  College  of Law  students  are  exposed  to the current practice of the law and lawyers through its adjunct professors.

UF  Law  has  roughly  40  adjunct  professors practicing in fields ranging from tax law to family law, and each adjunct brings a new dimension  and  perspective  of  real-world  experience to the realm of academia.

Former Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice  Ben  F.  Overton  (JD  52)  teaches  Florida Constitutional  Law  and  the  Florida  Supreme Court.  Students  in  Overton’s  seminar  have the opportunity to produce publishable work, sharpen  their  advocacy  skills,  and  gain  a broader perspective on the legal system.

Students  watch  oral  arguments  in  front of  the  Florida  Supreme  Court,  and  Overton

stresses  the  increasing  importance  of  mediation. “All  law  students  need  to  know  mediation,”  Overton  said.

“It  doesn’t  matter  what kind of law. All cases are going to me diation.”

Adjuncts  can  also  provide  students  with instruction  in  courses  that  are  not  often  on  a student’s radar.

Judge  Cathy  M.  Sellers  says  administrative law, for example, often gets ignored.

“People  are  more  interested  in  thinking about what the courts and legislature do,” said Sellers,  an  administrative  law  judge.    “But, most  laws,  by  far,  are  administrative  agency rules interpreting the statutes. Administrative law is an area that  many  lawyers  —  much less citizens — simply aren’t familiar with.”

In  Florida Administrative Law, Sellers seeks to educate students   about   the   breadth and  depth  of  Florida  administrative  law  and how it affects every aspect of citizen life.

Corporate  finance  is  another  often  over-looked subject area in law school. Glenn Sturm (JD 85), an adjunct professor teaching Corporate   Finance  and  Finance  Decision  Making, said “a lot of law students come out with absolutely no understanding of finance. We thought it was important to give them an understanding  of  the  financial  aspects  of  transactions.”

Students    analyze    business    case    studies weekly in what Sturm calls a combination of legal, finance and accounting issues.

“I want them to be able to look at a business and understand how to fi nance it … and how  different  strategies  impact  shareholder returns,” Sturm said.

Adjunct  professors  also  provide  students with professional development opportunities.

Along   with   classroom simulation     activities     for her Adoption  Law  and  Procedures   course,   Jeanne   T. Tate  (JD  81),  who  owns  an adoption  law  fi rm  and  international  adoption  agency provides  mentoring  for  students.  Students  shadow  her  at  her  firm,  and she  assists  students  with  finding  jobs  after graduation.

Saliwanchik,    Lloyd    &    Eisenschenk Shareholders      David      Saliwanchik      and Jeff  Lloyd  (JD  87)  co-teach  two  seminars: Patent Drafting and Prosecution 1 and 2.

Saliwanchik   used   his   connections   in UF’s  Warrington  College  of  Business  and the  College  of  Engineering  to  involve  UF Law    students    in    the    Integrated   Technology   Ventures   program.   In   the   program,   a virtual company is created in which engineering students build a prototype, business students develop a business plan, and law students advises the company on intellectual property law.

“Our classes and the ITV program provide opportunities to expose students to things that are not easily addressed in a typical law school class — such as what it is like to work in a private firm and on actual IP matters,” Saliwanchik said.

Adjunct  professors  offer  added  value  to  a student’s  law  school  education  —  from  real-world insight to practical experience — but adjunct programming can be successful only if the faculty are on board as well.

“For  the  adjunct  piece  to  work,  it  is  all about  the  environment  and  engagement  created  by  the  faculty,”  Business  Law  Adjunct Daniel H. Aronson said. “The law school goes out  of  its  way  to  provide  a  welcoming  home for adjunct faculty, and clearly Dean (Robert) Jerry and other faculty members are very committed to this.”

Alyson  Flournoy,  senior  associate  dean for  academic  affairs,  said  adjunct  faculty  add value to the curriculum.

“We    feel    very    fortunate    to    have    a large   number   of   talented   adjuncts   whose courses   enrich   the   curriculum,”   she   said.

The  current  focus  is  not  on  hiring  additional adjuncts, she said, but on calibrating the selection of offerings each semester to the school’s smaller entering class size. “It’s really an embarrassment of riches.”

And,  as  the  law  school’s  curriculum  improves, so does the caliber of students, Sellers said.

“Every  time  I  teach  the  course  I  am  very optimistic about the future of The Florida Bar,” Sellers said. “I am very confi dent that many of them are going to do the profession proud.”

Technology

Jennifer  Wondracek,  head  of research and faculty services for the UF Law library, took a   picture   of   a   conference handout   with   her   tablet’s scanning  application,  saved it to Dropbox, an online file- sharing application, and tweeted the link on the trending topic for the 2011 Federal Depository Library Conference.

Meanwhile,  UF  Law’s  Legal  Information Center has a mobile  catalog  and online  video  tutorials that  can  be  accessed with a smartphone  by  scanning a   Quick   Response —  or  QR  —  code.

Librarians also train students     on     programs such as LexisNexis for Microsoft Office, which scans a brief and automatically Shepardizes cases mentioned in the document.

Thus do modern librarians deliver the digital  library  quickly  and  efficiently  to their  patrons.  On  the  other  hand,  librarians acknowledge a downside to this legal research revolution.

“While  Google  can  be  a  great  place to start at times, ‘Googlizing’ everything takes sources out of context,” said Wondracek,  who  also  serves  as  adjunct  professor law. “Looking at a book helps youunderstand the structure of the law and gives you the whole picture.”

Claire  M.  Germain,  who  heads  the Lawton Chiles Legal Information Center, was more direct.

“Law firm partners tell us that young law  graduates  don’t  know  how  to  research  anymore,”  she  declared.  “They think they can just Google everything.”

Germain    said    technology    makes things look easier than they actually are.

“The  Google  Generation  and  Digital Natives  need  to  learn  how  to  make  sure they   find   the   official   primary   source when  it  comes  to  legal research,” Germain said. “Google is a wonderful first step, as long as  you  know  how  to filter  sources  and  find legal authorities.”

It’s  not  as  if  Germain,   associate   dean for  the  Legal  Information  and  Clarence  J.  TeSelle  professor of  law,  is  a  digital  Luddite.  Far  from  it. She  has  spent  much  of  her  career  helping to shepherd the law librarian profession  into  the  digital  age.  Germain,  who came  to  UF  Law  in  2011  after  18  years leading the Cornell law library, served in 2006 as president of the American Association of Law Libraries, the organization that  published  a  report  and  spearheaded legislation to address the problem of authenticating  official  legal  sources  now proliferating on the Internet.

The increase of technology use in the legal  field  leads  to  greater  risk  of  using unverifiable  online  sources  or  accidentally  breaching  attorney-client  privilege by sharing private information on online cloud computing programs.

In February, the American Bar Association House of Delegates approved a resolution supporting the Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act, which would require state governments  to  “manage  electronic  legal information in a manner that guarantees the trustworthiness of and continuing access to important state legal material.”

These    developments    ensure    that “good Internet searching skills do not replace a student’s analytical skills,” Wondracek said. UF Law is making curricular changes to reflect this fact.

Starting this fall, 1L students will be required to take one credit of Legal Researcha and two   credits   of Legal  Writing.  Previously,  1L  students only took one two-credit Legal Research and   Writing   class,   and   a   two-credit Appellate    Advocacy    course    in    the spring.  Librarians  will  teach  the  newly created   Legal   Research   course,   and previous   Legal   Research   and   Writing faculty  will  teach  the  stand-alone  Legal Writing course.

Mary   E.   Adkins   (JD   91),   director  of  the  Legal  Writing  and  Appellate Advocacy program, has taught Legal Research  and  Writing for the last eight years,  and  said  she has  never  been  able to   fit   as   much   research  as  she  would have liked.

“Westlaw   and   LexisNexis   representatives  would  take  over  a  class  and show students how to use their systems, but it was hard to find space in the curriculum to teach more than those two,” said Adkins, director of the Legal Writing and Appellate Advocacy Program.
The new Legal Research course will change that.
“Librarians  are  current  with  new technology  for  legal  knowledge,”  Adkins said. “They are already very familiar  with  the  Legal  Information  Center, so teaching research blends really well with what they already do.”
The  shift  allows  writing  professors like Adkins to deepen students’ grasp of legal writing.
“I am considering adding an assignment  in  which  students  would  write  a persuasive  trial-level  document,”  she said. “They usually write internal memos and an appellate brief in the second semester, but this is just an idea I have to give students even more writing experience.”
Students are encouraged to learn how to perform electronic research, but are advised that they may be held even more accountable for their legal research — electronic or not — in the future.
“The  National  Conference  of  State Bar  Examiners  is  studying  the  addition of legal research on the bar exam,” Germain said. “And it’s not a matter of ‘if’  they  will  add  it  —  it’s  a  matter  of ‘when.’”