Ave Maria Law School Marks Milestones in SW Florida
Published on Wednesday, 16 May 2012 23:19
Calling the May 12 graduation, which saw 169 students receive degrees, “an historic occasion,” Ave Maria Law School President Eugene Milhizer said he had a special affection for this class, which was the first to complete all three years at the Vineyards campus in Naples, after the school moved from Ann Arbor, Michigan.
The law school has reached another important milestone, Dean Milhizer (right, in his office) said, having achieved two consecutive years of financial independence from its founder, Tom Monaghan, whose donations subsidized the school from its beginnings in Michigan in 1999.
Challenges remain, however, including efforts to improve the passage rate for students taking the Florida bar exam.
While acknowledging disappointment in the low passage rate last year, “what’s significant is what we’ve done to address that,” Dean Milhizer said.
He cited the increased presence and stature of the school’s academic success program, which now includes four additional classes -- one mandatory -- to provide in-depth coverage of areas expected to be addressed on the exam. “Our academic success program is available to all students all three years to help them cope with the rigors of their law studies,” he said, adding that the program provides lectures, individual counseling, “a robust mentorship program” that includes individual contact with a faculty member or other member of the bar, “and that’s in addition to the commercial bar prep course” taken by students, he said.
The students preparing for the bar exam also received some unexpected encouragement from Florida Governor Rick Scott, who toured the law school campus Monday and recounted his own efforts to pass the bar exam.
The law school also is attracting better-quality applicants, Dean Milhizer said, adding that although the quality of the incoming class is better than the last two years, it will probably be smaller.
“The quantity of law school applicants is down all over,” he explained, citing the specter of loans in a tight economy and the negative splash made by recent press articles questioning the value of pursuing a law degree.
Despite the growing pains that arose from the school’s transfer, Dean Milhizer says he thinks that in the long run, the move to Florida was the right choice. “I’m a native Michigander,” he pointed out, “but where we were before, there were five or six law schools all within an hour’s drive.”
Dean Milhizer seemed especially enthused about the recent establishment of the Reed Larsen Professorship of Labor Law, which came into being in conjunction with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. The chair will be held by John Raudabaugh, a former member of the National Labor Relations Board and an experienced labor and employee relations attorney, who will be teaching about “real world issues,” according to the Dean. The establishment of such a chair “is a mark of the school’s maturation,” said Dean Milhizer, who expressed hope that more chairs would be established over time.
The law school has also grown in its service to the community, Dean Milhizer said, citing work”that begins at orientation, where students give four days of community service,” and continues throughout a student’s career at the school through service organizations and the providing of pro-bono services to organizations sharing AMSOL’s values, such as Catholic Charities.
“We have around 30 student organizations,” estimated Milhizer. “Each must have a community service project” – for instance, he explained, the environmental law student organization cleaned up a canal and the military law society remains involved with veterans’ homes.
He particularly underlined the work of the student organization Lex Vitae (Law of Life), whose members say a rosary every Saturday after mass in front of Planned Parenthood, and who helped send a record number of participants to this year’s March for Life. He noted that “our commitment to the pro-life issue is one of the really distinctive aspects of the law school,” which was reflected, he continued, in AMSOL’s legal challenge to the HHS mandate which would require employees to provide coverage for contraceptives, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs.
Although he doesn’t see a move to the town of Ave Maria happening in the foreseeable future, he says it’s certainly still part of the vision for the school. Right now, though, he says, there are benefits to being closer to Naples. “We’ve made connections with members of the bar and found good adjunct professors here. Those relationships will carry over whenever we come out to Ave Maria.
For now, he said, “I’m happy to be in Southwest Florida.”