GAINESVILLE, Fla. — As the result of a successful pilot in 2001, a unique professional shadowing program for first-year law students developed by the University of Florida Levin College of Law will be formally launched this summer.
The pilot, according to law school officials, allowed students to spend volunteer time in five Florida law firms to gain experience and assist the organizations.
“First-year law students often are hungry to get real-world experience, but few firms are ready to hire students so early in their legal careers,” said Kathy Urbach, assistant dean for law school Career Services who helped coordinate the pilot.
To fill that gap, Career Services organized and tested the shadowing program last summer. Three of the students were asked to stay beyond their originally scheduled three to five weeks, and ended up getting paid by the firms, Urbach noted. “And because feedback from students and participating firms was so positive, we will expand.”
“The program was designed for a student to follow or ‘shadow’ key firm attorneys and experience their daily routines,” according to student Richard Weldon of Sarasota, who worked at the Tallahassee firm of Akerman and Senterfitt. “In my case, I did some of that, but I also did much more. Since it’s a Tallahassee firm, I was able to go to Public Service Commission meetings regarding Bell South and AT&T. I also got to review briefs and was involved in some practical, legal activities.”
Akerman and Senterfitt’s Bruce Culpepper described Weldon as “a lifesaver. We ended up putting him on some major projects.”
George Moraitis, partner in the Fort Lauderdale firm of Moraitis Cofar and Karney, said the program was “a great experience for the students, and it was certainly beneficial for us.”
Moraitis said student Juan Perez of Fort Lauderdale, who is bilingual, helped with the firm’s foreign clients and participated in real estate closings.
Susan Miller of the Tampa firm Zinober and McCrea, P.A., said of student Lauren Heatwole: “She did much more than expected, including attending depositions. She was a great asset, and we definitely want to be involved with more first-year UF students.”
Officials from the Hoppe Law Firm in Miami and Morgan Colling & Gilbert of Orlando echoed those sentiments, and plan to be involved with the formal program starting this summer.
“This is a win-win situation where we can provide first-year students with valuable practical experience,” said Dean Jon Mills, “and the participating firms have an opportunity to see firsthand the quality of UF law students.”
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