For nearly a century, the law school at the University of Florida has taught and shaped the characters and opinions of thousands of men and women who have studied here before going on to practice law, lead businesses and serve in leadership roles around the globe.
Now, through the university’s Florida Tomorrow campaign, the law school hopes to raise $47 million to continue to address the challenges facing all of us, both today and tomorrow.
What is required to both sustain this record of success and build a great law school for tomorrow?
To recruit and retain the best faculty, we must build an intellectual community rich in energy and productivity that enables individual faculty members to set and attain high professional aspirations, says UF Law Dean Robert Jerry.
“The best faculty do more than pass on knowledge to their students; they also ignite a lifelong passion for the law,” said Jerry. The funds will be used to endow professorships, chairs, fellowships and scholarships as well as support additional student services.
“Updated facilities also will be key to the acquisition of top faculty and their ability to teach, as well as to the ability of students to learn,” Jerry said. “Funds for renovations and technological enhancements and training are vital to the modern learning environment.”
Creating a better tomorrow is already underway as conveyed by a sampling of programs at the Levin College of Law.
Florida Tomorrow is a place … where our natural resources and rights are protected.
A trial lawyer, Jennifer Zedalis believes, is like an artist. Sketch an argument. Add details. Paint a picture that convinces a judge and jurors. Like all artists, it’s practice, Zedalis knows, that can make a good law student a great trial lawyer. And as director of the Trial Practice Program at the Fredric G. Levin College of Law, she’s passionate about training that next generation of trial lawyers to be masters at their craft.
“The most visible lawyers in our culture are those arguing cases in front of juries,” she says.
Consequently, trial lawyers represent not only their clients, but the whole profession. In order to do both effectively — to become what Zedalis calls “mature” lawyers — students in Trial Practice undergo rigorous training. In addition to traditional coursework, they attend lectures and discussions, participate in weekly workshops taught by practicing attorneys and judges, and hone their skills through one-on-one video critiques. Ethical conduct, integrity, professionalism and devotion to client are stressed. So is the need to understand increasingly complex scientific evidence, such as DNA and data from fields like engineering, forensics and medicine.
As law becomes more specialized and places more demands on its practitioners, training new trial lawyers to understand and successfully meet those demands becomes even more essential, Zedalis insists.
“The higher the standard set for the profession,” she says, “the more noble the profession.”
Toward that end, students completing Trial Practice — some 90-plus each semester — can intern through the State Attorney’s or the Public Defender’s Office, representing actual clients before real judges. Or they can assist indigent members of the community through the Virgil Hawkins Civil Law Clinic. Students also compete to be on UF’s Trial Team, which has won national titles three times in the last five years, including the National Civil Rights Advocacy Competition and the National Civil Trial Competition.
All that preparation pays off in the end, Zedalis says. Students are taught to think quickly, synthesize information from other disciplines, understand and apply subspecialties in law and communicate effectively and persuasively — all while adhering to the highest principles exemplified by the profession.
After all, Zedalis says, “trial practice is an art form.”
Florida Tomorrow is a belief … that everyone deserves equal, informed and fair representation.
At the Fredric G. Levin College of Law, children are important clients. Barbara Bennett Woodhouse makes sure of it. Woodhouse is director of the law school’s Center on Children and Families. The center, established in 2001, has an ambitious vision. Woodhouse and her team see the center as a spearhead in efforts to serve Florida’s most vulnerable residents: its children.
To put it in simple terms, the center’s mission is to make sure all neglected and abused children receive integrated help from professionals in law, social services, education and mental health.
“We make a difference,” Woodhouse says, “because we are involved at every level — from the trenches to the Supreme Court.” With legal issues nowadays affecting families and children so commonplace — there are 1.2 million divorces each year and more than 21 million children involved in some form of custody or child support dispute — the need for coordinated services has never been greater, Woodhouse explains, especially when resolution and problem-solving, rather than litigation, is the goal.
To that end, UF’s Center on Children and Families now includes the Child Welfare Clinic. The clinic is one of the first in the country devoted to teaching law students the skills to collaborate with physicians, nurses and social workers in a unified approach to child protection. Another program in the UF Law Virgil Hawkin’s Civil Clinics, Gator TeamChild, makes it possible for law students to learn firsthand the art and science of child advocacy. Through Gator TeamChild, UF students become Florida Supreme Court-certified legal interns and represent at-risk and indigent children in the 16-county area surrounding Gainesville. The program provides practical, ethical and interdisciplinary experience in cases involving custody disputes, delinquency, domestic violence and health care.
To date, some 50 graduates of the Levin College of Law have earned a Family Law Certificate, creating what Woodhouse calls a ripple effect in society. In training a new generation of child-centered advocates, Woodhouse and the other founders of UF’s Center on Children and Families hope to see that salutary effect strengthen and spread. As Woodhouse explains, the center’s initial leadership role — based on the philosophy of inclusion and collaboration — might well serve as a model for other similar and much needed statewide initiatives.
Florida Tomorrow is a place … where business and the economy thrives.
An invisible framework supports every business, every organization, every way of life. It governs how institutions and individuals interact, and can dictate who succeeds and who fails. It is the Rule of Law, and it provides the structure that allows civilizations to flourish.
The University of Florida Levin College of Law has helped build and maintain this framework for close to a hundred years. With more living alumni than only a handful of law schools and top-ranked programs in vital areas such as Taxation, Family Law and Environmental and Land Use Law, UF Law graduates are found everywhere important decisions are made.
“You cannot successfully generate or distribute assets without a sound understanding of the law,” says Dean Robert Jerry. “Businesses realize this, and you can find many of our graduates at the top of the country’s most successful organizations. Our alumni also are shaping public policy at the highest levels and leading law firms that help define how the law is applied and followed.”
UF Law’s Graduate Tax Program, for example, has impacted the nation’s formulation and interpretation of the nation’s tax laws for 30-plus years. It is widely regarded by tax scholars and practitioners nationwide as a leader among all graduate tax programs. Its faculty include internationally respected people in the field such as Culverhouse Eminent Scholar Larry Lokken and Freeland Eminent Scholar Paul McDaniel.
“My years at UF provided wonderful preparation for my career,” says Lindy Paull, a current co-managing partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers in Washington, D.C. who earned her J.D. and her LL.M. in Taxation from UF before embarking on a career that includes service as chief of staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation of the U.S. Congress. This respected program recently increased its impact by adding the nation’s first Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.) in Taxation, and an LL.M. in International Taxation Program that places the program at the forefront in the study of international taxation.
“Legal expertise in international taxation is greatly valued in a world of multinational corporations, electronic commerce, and international business and investment transactions,” says Associate Dean Michael Friel, head of the law school’s Graduate Tax Program. “U.S. lawyers in cities throughout the country must become more familiar with international tax rules, and foreign lawyers must become more familiar with both U.S. and international tax rules.”
Florida Tomorrow is a day … when our assets and loved ones are protected.
Florida is one of the most populous states in the country and growing fast. It also features an unusually high number of the retired and elderly, with an accompanying need to provide top-notch programs and graduates well versed in their special needs.
The UF Law Center for Estate and Elder Law Planning integrates teaching, training, research, scholarship and public service, and is dedicated to advancing estate planning, charitable giving, and elder law knowledge, professionalism, skills and policy by educating and training both students and lawyers.
“We offer meaningful academic programs and services, help prepare students to meet the challenges of an estates and trusts practice, and provide community services for the area’s elderly and poor. Many of our alumni practice in the field,” says Center Director Lee-ford Tritt.” I believe our center and our graduates can play a major role in shaping estates and trusts public policy and statutes in Florida and beyond.”
The center also administers the Certificate Program in Estates and Trusts Practice and supervises the Estates, Trusts and Elder Law Society, which enables students to participate in outreach programs as community service to the elderly, and judicial externships for academic credit, established in probate divisions of several judicial circuits. It coordinates with UF’s Graduate Tax Program, is affiliated with the Institute for Learning in Retirement, which sponsors adult education courses on estate planning and elder law issues, and works closely with UF’s Oak Hammock retirement community, where faculty regularly teach classes to residents.
“Resources through the Florida Tomorrow campaign will help train and shape the lawyers and leaders we need to enhance economic development and encourage successful entrepreneurship,” says Dean Jerry. “We also see it as our mandate to help others successfully manage their assets, both physical and personal, to the best uses for the well being of the state, the economy, their families, and themselves, and pass on those assets according to their wishes in later years.”