Professor accepts award for Bennett Inn at Supreme Court
By Jenna Box (4JM)
Before Oct. 19, the last time UF Law Adjunct Professor Carl Schwait had worn a tuxedo was in 1968 at his high school prom.
But he got to sport one again on that Saturday night — only this time he wasn’t thinking about the weird prom theme, which Beatles song the band would play, or whatever else high school guys thought about in 1968.
This time, Schwait was on his way to the United States Supreme Court on behalf of UF Law’s Gerald T. Bennett Cooperative Learning American Inn of Court, for which he serves as president.
This year the Bennett Inn was recognized by the American Inns of Court with Platinum designation — the highest honor bestowed upon an inn and only afforded to the top 14 percent of inns across the nation. On Oct. 19, the inns were recognized for their achievements at the Ceremony of Excellence at the Supreme Court.
The Bennett Inn is a member of the American Inns of Court, a legal organization that mimics the 800-year-old tradition of the Inns of Court in England. It provides judges, lawyers and law students a place to develop professionalism, the ethical practice of law and legal trends with an emphasis on technology in the law.
Each year, every inn strives to fulfill requirements for an American Inns of Court program called Achieving Excellence. In order to gain Platinum status in the program, inns must show excellence in the areas of administration, communications, program, mentoring and outreach.
The Bennett Inn is the first inn — and also one of the newest inns — in the 11th Circuit to receive Platinum designation, is one of the only inns in the nation housed in a law school and is the only inn in the state that offers opportunities for students to serve as leaders.
Student members sit on the executive board, and each group within the organization has a student leader coupled with a master/barrister in order to foster cooperative learning and mentoring. One of those student leaders is Jessie Ervolino (3L), who serves as technology director for the Bennett Inn.
Both she and Schwait credited earning Platinum in less than three years to the strong focus on mentorship and the interactive nature of the meetings. The approximately 40-member group convenes once a month in the Faculty Dining Hall over dinner for two-hourlong meetings while engaging in an interactive presentation by a guest speaker or group member.
“I think the inn earned the (Platinum) recognition quickly because it is such a focused and competent group,” Ervolino said. “I think we deserve it for the same reasons, as we adopted the benchmarks of the American Inns of Court in addition to our own aspirations for our group. The result has been an interactive, well connected and cohesive atmosphere to celebrate progress and community.”
Perhaps the group’s quick success and celebration of progress would have brought the Inn’s namesake, Gerald T. Bennett (JD 66), some pride. Bennett, who died in 1999, was a distinguished law school professor, innovator in the use of technology, and a friend of Schwait. “We (the Bennett Inn founders) were enamored by his use of technology in the law, and we were excited to be able to name this inn after him,” Schwait said.
At the Celebration of Excellence dinner and reception, the culmination of the organization’s efforts to honor Bennett’s legacy paid off.
“I felt very proud to be able to be part of such a new and innovative inn of court whose members and students had worked so hard that we received our Platinum status this quickly,” Schwait said, recalling how he felt upon the Inn being recognized at the Supreme Court. “It was truly a group effort because everyone has to work together to get to Platinum — meaning the programs have to be top notch, the website has to be done correctly, the mentoring program has to be successful, the outreach program has to be in line with the expectations of the (American) Inns (of Court). So when you consider how new and how small our in is, it was quite a recognition.”
For Ervolino, membership in the Bennett Inn “means connecting with the reality of the profession in a personal a nurturing relationship,” she said. Gaining Platinum makes her even more confident in her organization. “I’m working with a group that will take seriously other goals we decide on together, like providing more mentoring opportunities or focusing on certain innovation topics,” she said.
And as for wearing a tux for the first time in more than 40 years, “It was very, um — strange,” Schwait said with a laugh. But the honor of gaining Platinum status was worth it.