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Oriented Toward Law School Success

SEPTEMBER 13, 2013—All law students are "travelers in a strange land," Assistant Dean of Students Erin Keyes (’00) told members of the University of Minnesota Law School J.D. class of 2016 during her opening remarks in August. Keyes spoke to the assembled group as part of this year's orientation program, along with Dean David Wippman and Law Council President Anna Mazig (’14).

In her remarks, Keyes expanded on her metaphor, reminding her audience that as law students, "you're more than travelers or tourists: You have taken your first steps towards citizenship in the legal profession. And in this land of law, we are all naturalized, we are all immigrants. We have all had to learn and embrace a new culture, a new set of rules and expectations, and we’ve had to get to know and get along with fellow inhabitants."

Mazig, an active member of the Black Law Students Association and the Criminal Justice League, lightheartedly encouraged incoming students to occasionally step away from their studies. "Eat, sleep, and bathe," she stressed. "For crying out loud. Bathe."

On a more serious note, Mazig emphasized the importance of paying equal attention to academic work and real life. "No one will argue with you that your studies are important, because they are," she said. "You may be forced to find a new approach to academia that will challenge you in ways you did not think possible. However, losing sight of yourself and the endeavors that brought you to law school is not the goal."

In Dean Wippman's remarks, he encouraged members of the class of 2016 to be open to new opportunities for learning and to strike a balance between insecurity and overconfidence. He reminded attendees that when they graduate they will be officers of the court, a role they should never take lightly.

"As lawyers, people will look to you for help," Wippman continued. "Livelihoods, and sometimes even lives, may hang in the balance. It is an important trust, but one we know you can fulfill."

Getting comfortable, meeting classmates

The three-day orientation period was an opportunity for new J.D. students to become acquainted with the Law School and its faculty and staff, through campus tours and social events.

Members of the diverse class, which includes, according to Dean Wippman's introductory address, "DJs, champion figure skaters, professional musicians, missionaries, Peace Corps volunteers, national handball champions, to name a few," also participated in a novel orientation event: the Law School scavenger hunt. Developed by Student Programs Coordinator Nubia Esparza, the hunt was designed as a way to get students out of their seats and moving around campus. Participants scoured the Law School, looking for arcade games in the student lounge, researching faculty career histories, and locating the computer help center—then identifying what type of candy was available there. Winning teams were awarded prizes from the campus bookstore.

"The idea was to put a little twist on getting the new students used to getting around the building on their own," Esparza said. "We were hoping to build a bit of camaraderie and break up a long day, a day that featured a lot of speakers and a lot of sitting down. Everybody really seemed to enjoy the hunt. They were having a great time."

Humphrey and LL.M. orientations

Humphrey Fellows and LL.M. students arrived earlier in the month.

This year, 68 LL.M. students are enrolled at the Law School. According to Dorothy Schlesselman, international and graduate programs coordinator, this class is significantly larger than last year's group of 48. "This is in part due to a greater international demand for this type of program," she explained. "We aren't the only law school that offers this program, but our law school is prestigious. And that's an attraction."

There are 11 Humphrey Fellows, seven men and four women. Kristi Rudelius-Palmer, fellowship program co-director and co-director of the Human Rights Center, said they are all established legal professionals in their home countries—"judges, human rights lawyers, law enforcement officials and government leaders," among others.

As part of their orientation, the Humphrey Fellows were invited to an American Bar Association reception in the Minneapolis offices of Dorsey, where they met some of the state’s legal leaders, including Associate Justice Wilhelmina M. Wright of the Minnesota Supreme Court and Judge John R. Tunheim (’80) of the U.S. District Court. They also took part in a bike ride around Lake Calhoun, a trip to Minnehaha Falls, a site visit at the Minnesota International Center, and a pizza and bowling party at Coffman Memorial Union.

Students in the LL.M. program were divided into mixed country-and-gender groups to make a presentation during their "Introduction to American Law" class. "Each student was required to have a speaking part," Schlesselman recalled. "That went off well. That means we have a well qualified class that arrived ready to work with other classmates and gain connections with people from other countries."