Law Students Shadow Judges; Florida Coastal Program Allows Them to Observe Professionals

Article excerpt

Byline: MATT COLEMAN

Sue Unto Others As You Would Have Them Sue Unto You.

The mantra is inscribed on a plaque placed prominently on a shelf in Judge Peter Dearing's office in the Duval County Courthouse.

It greets everyone who enters his chambers, and it was the first lesson of the day for the Florida Coastal School of Law students hanging on Dearing's every word.

"Ask me anything," he said. "That's what you're here for. I'm at your disposal."

The students recently spent a day with Dearing, a circuit judge with decades of law experience, as part of Florida Coastal's growing shadowing program.

The 2-year-old program pairs inquisitive students from the Jacksonville for-profit school with local lawyers and judges. Students are able to choose from a list of almost 300 area law professionals and observe trials, settlements and mediations up close.

There aren't any tests, reports or grades. The end goal is for students to gain valuable practical experience interacting with seasoned professionals and to bridge the gap between instruction and skill development, said program developer Rob Hornstein.

"A picture is worth a thousand words in law, and a good chunk of that picture can be viewed outside the classroom," Hornstein said. "Hands-on experience is a necessary part of the learning process in any field, and it's especially important in law."

The idea for the voluntary program took shape during a lunch meeting between Hornstein, a Florida Coastal law professor, and George "Buddy" Schulz Jr., a lawyer at Holland & Knight, in late 2008.

Hornstein had been teaching a clinical law course and was looking for a way to get his students out in the field so they could learn more about the day-to-day operations of their chosen field. Schulz was glad to help, so the pair developed a curriculum and convinced a few local law offices and judges to host the inaugural event.

The initial run was limited to a handful of third-year students, but the program has expanded steadily since its inception.

Hornstein said it's now open to all Florida Coastal students. About 200 sign up for at least one event each semester, and some particularly motivated scholars register for multiple shadow sessions. …