Welcome to you, the Law School class of 2015! On behalf of the faculty, administration and staff I welcome you to Albany Law School.
You are embarking on one of the most exciting journeys of your life. What you do during the next three years will shape your future in marvelous and unforeseen ways.
I want to start by congratulating you on what you have achieved so far, including your undergraduate degree and being chosen amongst the many applicants to Albany Law School. You are a talented and accomplished group of people and I want to applaud you.
Allow me to tell you a little about you, the Class of 2015:
· There are 200 or so of you, roughly equally divided between females and males.
· Our youngest student is 20 years old and we have two students in their mid-40s. The average age of your class is 23-years-old. Almost 20 of you have received your undergraduate degree five years ago or more.
· A few countries are represented, including the United States, Canada, China, and Turkey.
· Your class speaks 10 different native languages in addition to English. They include Mandarin, English, Hindi, Korean, Malayan, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Setswana, Spanish, and Swedish.
Your backgrounds reveal extraordinary narratives of resilience. You record witnessing domestic violence. You record the day a beggar imparted a particular piece of wisdom after you dropped coins in his hat. You record being an “army brat” and having to move more regularly than you’d like. You record growing up in a very small town and experiencing the exhilaration of Manhattan. You record working with children with cancer. You record how being a member of a choir helped you overcome bullying. You record being sexually abused as a child. You record how much you love dance—and how it impacted your decision to come to law school. Reading your personal statements is quite a lovely experience—and I am keen to get to know you individually.
Your numbers, and your personal stories and personal journeys, demonstrate your reach—and provide Albany Law School with quite an edge vis a vis other student populations.
Now, I want to turn to the faculty and tell you some of the amazing things about the faculty, things you will find out for yourself and use for your advantage. Faculty members here at Albany Law School are among the most talented, committed and creative teachers, scholars and advocates that I have met. You should see them as a valuable resource in the development of your professional identity at the Law School and in your professional work after law school. The relationships that I developed with my teachers in law school in South Africa and at Columbia Law School have been central to my professional development. And I wish the same for you.
Our faculty scholarship focuses on an extraordinary array of subjects. In addition to traditional subjects of legal scholarship such as contracts, torts, property, and criminal law with which you are already familiar, faculty scholarship here includes areas that may be less well known to you such as issues of a green environment and sustainability for local governments; Wall Street and regulatory reform; practices, procedures, policies, and priorities involving the New York Police Department’s stop and frisk policies; federal income tax reforms; globalization and corporate social responsibility issues; the world wide food and nutrition crisis in public health; religious issues involving the clergy; critical race theory; the foreclosure crisis; violence against women; Medicare and Social Security issues, etc.
Our faculty includes many who are notable experts on New York law, including evidence, civil procedure, trusts and estates, and New York practice. Your appreciation of these strengths will be greater three years from now when you find yourself studying for the New York bar exam.
Our clinical and lawyering faculty members write on cutting-edge issues involving lawyering, client representation and access to justice.
This of course is only the tip of the iceberg on the scholarship and areas of expertise of the faculty. I invite you to go on to our website to see the impressive quantity and quality of faculty scholarship and service. I also want to remind you to get a copy of this year's introductory issue of the Albany Law School Magazine.
The members of our staff and administration are among the most diligent and wonderful people that I have encountered. It will take you some time to get to know them but do get to know them. They work behind the scenes, unseen but you will find that they make this a very supportive environment for both faculty and students.
All of us have high expectations for you. And you should have high expectations of us. You are entitled to an education that allows you to develop as a competent attorney.
Law School is different—unlike anything that you have encountered before. Like graduate school, it is academically demanding, with success predicated upon hard work by both students and faculty. But as a professional school, you will receive training that is valuable for serving future clients and doing so in accordance with the highest ethical standards.
Over the course of the next three years you are going to undergo transformative personal and professional experience—and if you take full advantage of everything that is being made available to you—both inside and outside the classroom—you are going to be an impressive lawyer ready to take on the many challenges that you and your clients will face. You will be skilled, more mature, and hopefully enthusiastic about your new role.
I have been teaching for over 20 years, and I’ve seen many students enter law schools, graduate and then go on to become practicing attorneys, policy advocates, or business people.
What I want to do in the next few minutes is provide you with some advice that I think you might find useful and that will hopefully prepare you for the personal and professional opportunities and challenges that await you over the next three years.
A general point about the Albany Law School academic program: Albany Law School's unique lawyering curriculum, its doctrinal teachers who are leaders in New York law and other areas of law, its very strong clinical and externship program, have made it a national leader in legal education.
The curriculum engages students in a thoughtful combination of rigorous coursework in traditional substantive areas and in a lawyering and clinical program that teaches the skills recognized by the American Bar Association as necessary for competent, successful legal practice problem solving. Allow me to list these skills: legal analysis and reasoning, legal research, factual investigation, communication (generally and including legal writing and oral argument); counseling, negotiation, litigation and alternative dispute resolution procedures, organization and management of legal work, and recognition and resolution of ethical dilemmas.
You should know that Albany Law School is part of a national consortium, housed at the University of Denver School of Law and titled Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers. Albany Law School has been at the forefront of student-centered learning for more than 20 years. Our innovative faculty remains committed to pursuing excellence in teaching and assessment methods.
We have a supportive and impressive group of alumnae. They are very supportive and very loyal to the law school.
Now I want to move on to more specific skills, in addition to your mastery of the legal doctrine. In 2009 two law professors developed what came to be known as the Shultz-Zedeck tests (named after the authors of the study), to identify and assess many factors not measured by the LSAT that are vital to lawyer competence, such as problem solving, advocacy, practical judgment, and communication skills. They conducted interviews with more than 5,000 law graduates, and their research suggests that tests can be developed and validated that will predict professional performance.
The skills of legal professional competence—they identified—can roughly be bundled into the following six characteristics:
· Active listening
These competencies are reflected in the skills of some individuals whom I admire tremendously. Undoubtedly, you will hear me talk about these people and skills over the next three years – and probably for the rest of my life. The individuals are Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, and Wangaari Maathi Kenyan, an environmentalist and the first African woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
I think the skills, or characteristics, that form the basis for their competencies in successful efforts as professionals, citizens, and individuals, are basically six qualities. I call them the “6 Rs”:
Respect, Responsibility, Rigor, Resilience, Rejoice, and Reward.
Respect – For yourself. You are on the way to becoming a legal professional. Remove improper photos and statements on Facebook and other social networking sites.
Respect for your colleagues and peers. They are the people with whom you are going to practice law. You need their respect and they need your respect. Disagree vigorously—but do not demonize those with whom you disagree. Learn how to be open and sensible in emotional situations in which you are uncomfortable. Learn this from classmates, professors, reading, and wherever you can, including the rituals of classroom etiquette.
Responsibility – Take responsibility for your learning, and do what you need to do to succeed in law school. Create a structure and plan that works for you. You will experience a range of emotions during your three years of law school—elation, frustration, boredom, irritation. That is fine—but use those feelings as a vehicle in which to grow and flourish, and not to cast blame needlessly. Use challenging moments as opportunities to learn—not opportunities to blame others without justification.
Rigor – Aim for rigor in the approach to your studies and your engagement with your classmates and faculty. Treat rumor for what it is—rumor—not fact. If you are confronted with an allegation that has a negative impact on someone’s reputation, evaluate the statement the way you think a good lawyer should, namely, by checking the veracity of the statements. Be an independent thinker with rigorous standards.
Resilience – Qualities that have served me best. Ability to be resilient—a defining skill of the lawyer in the 21st Century. To engage with people who look different from you, who think differently than you, who speak a native language different than you, whose cultural habits may be different from yours.
Rejoice – Surround yourself with individuals who are positive with a preference for those who will inspire you and bring out the best in you.
Similarly, laugh when you can. Do not take yourself so seriously that you cannot find the humor in some situations. Be helpful and understanding when from time to time others here make mistakes. If you experience discomfort with or offense from a member of the community, consider approaching the person. If that is too difficult, seek advice from someone in the administration, such as the Dean of Students, or perhaps a faculty member. But do not take every misstatement or clumsy statement as an indication of mean-spiritedness or malice, or even worse, as a clear indication of someone’s racism/homophobia/sexism.
Reward – Allow yourself the rewards of work. Take time out for yourself. Celebrate your achievements.
I am dedicating my deanship to ensuring that the Class of 2015 has a rich and rewarding experience. More importantly, I want to ensure that you are able to recognize and grab opportunities. And that you are able to confront challenges creatively and constructively. I will have a series of Dean’s coffees over the course of the semester, and will also have drop in hours.