The Orientation Express: Bringing New Students and Fellows Up to Speed

September 10, 2014

The 195 members of the J.D. class of 2017 gathered in Mondale Hall at 8 a.m. on Aug. 26 for the start of their Law School orientation. Over the next three days, they would be welcomed, briefed, tipped off, and clued-in; meet professors, administrators, and other key figures; go to lunch, go to socials, go on a scavenger hunt; and be given not one, but two legal writing assignments, lest they forget what this whirlwind of meeting and greeting was really about.

In his opening remarks, Dean David Wippman noted that the class of 2017 is one of the most academically talented the Law School has ever admitted, and that it contains “ultramarathoners, Congressional interns, Fulbright scholars, airline pilots, firefighters, professional musicians, veterans, entrepreneurs, and a power lifter who can lift a thousand pounds. We even have a student who was released from a jail cell following a visit to his country by Hillary Clinton and was later granted political asylum here—the student, I mean, not Hillary.” The dean reassured students who might be feeling overwhelmed that “the skills that brought you here are the skills that will help you do well,” but cautioned the group, quoting Vice President Walter Mondale (’56), not to “get so wrapped up in pursuing success in the classroom that you forget why you wanted to be a lawyer in the first place.”

In a speech that was both witty and inspirational, Law Council President Sushmitha Rajeevan (’15) invoked “the great philosopher Taylor Swift” as well as Albus Dumbledore, headmaster of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series, on the importance of making good choices. She segued smoothly from “vital food-related queries” to a personal story of sitting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., late at night, looking across the reflecting pool to the illuminated Capitol dome in the distance and feeling “this insatiable drive to do great things.” She went on: “It’s the same feeling I get when I see the Minnesota Supreme Court in St. Paul, or even when I present in the moot courtrooms upstairs. Everything may not be right in the world, but we can make it better. That singular thought inspires me.”

About 30 percent of the class of 2017 is made up of students from Minnesota. The remaining 70 percent come from 33 U.S. states and 3 foreign countries.

The Bearmon Lecture

Another important component of orientation took place on Sept. 3 with the presentation of the Lee and Barbara Bearmon Lecture on Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility. The Bearmon Lecture is presented during orientation each year to introduce awareness of and interest in these issues at the earliest point in students’ legal careers. It is sponsored by Barbara and Lee (’56) Bearmon through an endowed fund that supports examination and teaching of legal ethics and professional responsibility at the Law School. Lee Bearmon served with the Carlson Company for 40 years as senior vice president, secretary, and private counsel and was a 1996 recipient of the University’s Distinguished Alumni award.

This year’s Bearmon lecturer was Justice Paul Anderson (’68), who retired from his seat on the Minnesota Supreme Court in 2013 after two decades of service. A self-described “Minnesota farm kid,” Anderson earned his B.A. from Macalester College in St. Paul in 1965. After graduating from the Law School, he served as a VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) lawyer and worked in the Minnesota attorney general’s office before entering private practice. In 1992 he was named chief judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, and two years later he was appointed to the state’s highest court.

Anderson offered students a collection of pointed observations based on his 45 years as a lawyer and judge. Quoting figures ranging from Alexis de Tocqueville to Fareed Zakaria, from Teddy Roosevelt to Sir Thomas More, Anderson told the 1L students that they, as lawyers-to-be, “are the guardians of the rule of law”—reminding them that there is an enormous difference between rule by law and rule of law. He spoke of other differences as well: between sympathy and empathy, honesty and integrity, cynicism and skepticism. In each case, he said, the latter quality was to be sought and prized by lawyers and judges. “Watch the small compromise,” he said. “If you’re capable of making the small compromise, you’re going to move on….” Perhaps what students will remember most is Anderson’s reference to The Winslow Boy, the famous play and film (based on a true story) in which a father fights to clear his son’s name after the boy is wrongfully accused of stealing. In the end, justice was done. “Justice,” Anderson said, paraphrasing the script, “is the easy part. Doing the right thing—that’s the hard part.”

Humphrey Fellows and LL.M. and Master of Science in Patent Law Students

The 2014-15 Humphrey Fellows and LL.M. students arrived and began their orientation processes earlier in August.

This year’s LL.M. enrollment totals 53 students—29 women, 24 men. They come from 17 countries, with the largest contingent (21 students) from China. All LL.M. students have completed a law degree in their home country and come to the Law School to further their legal education and broaden their experience. Their backgrounds include engineering, art, finance, early childhood education, military service, nutrition, and pharmacy. Their orientation included an intensive three-week Introduction to American Law course.

The 13 Humphrey Law Fellows (7 men, 6 women) come from 12 countries—2 from Pakistan and 1 each from Brazil, Colombia, Israel, Lebanon, Maldives, Morocco, Serbia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Togo, and Vietnam. In their home countries they work in government, academia, law enforcement, the judiciary, and nongovernmental organizations. Their orientation included a visit to Vice President Hubert Humphrey’s grave at Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis, site visits to the Center for Victims of Torture, the Minneapolis police department, and the offices of The Advocates for Human Rights, and a two-day team-building retreat in Lanesboro, Minn.

The Law School’s new Master of Science in Patent Law program officially launched on Aug. 18, when the inaugural class of seven students began a two-week course introducing them to the American legal system and the law school environment. The students’ backgrounds range from biology to computer science, while their degrees range from baccalaureate to Ph.D. One student holds an M.D. Their coursework this fall will focus on patent law, patent prosecution, patent portfolio management, and persuasive writing.

Justice Paul Anderson (’68) giving the Bearmon Lecture
Justice Paul Anderson (’68) giving the Bearmon Lecture

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