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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.