Gaining Insight from Judges, Lawyers, and Hypothetical Situations


One of the regular events in Miami Law's academic year affords students some lighthearted fun while dining with judges and lawyers and gaining crucial tips and connections into the profession and its many opportunities. The most recent event, in November, was part of the school's Partnership for Professionalism program, and was paired with a meeting of the Spellman-Hoeveler Chapter of the American Inns of Court.

The dinner, held in the elegant Hurricane 100 Room of the BankUnited Center on campus, featured members of the state and federal judiciary mingling in a friendly manner with law students, many of whom had not previously socialized with such notable legal players. The highlight of the evening was the staging of a series of hypothetical legal quandaries, which small teams of law students were required to discuss – and even solve – in front of the assembled company. A panel of three judges – real ones – appraised their performances in the style, as someone pointed out, of "American Idol." The judges were John O'Sullivan, a Magistrate Judge for the Southern District of Florida; Judge Vance Salter of the Third District Court of Appeal; and Judge Beth Bloom, who oversees cases in the criminal division of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court.

William P. VanderWyden, J.D. '84, the Assistant Dean for Professional Development at Miami Law and the driving force behind the Partnership for Professionalism's yearly events, welcomed guests as they arrived. The president of the Spellman-Hoeveler chapter, Jordan Dresnick, J.D. '08, made the opening remarks, while Judge Lester Langer, of the Eleventh Circuit Court, was moderator of the hypothetical scenarios.

The three situations presented to the students were designed to illustrate some of the issues facing attorneys and judges in the realms of ethics, civility, and professionalism. Several off-the-cuff remarks prompted lively and often amusing responses, although serious lessons were imparted as well.

"I found it very informative, and met a wide variety of extremely interesting practitioners," said Ethan M. Knott, a law student and a former intern in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

The morning after the dinner, Samantha Moussa, a law student who interned in the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court and the Broward County Public Defender's Office, wrote an e-mail to Dean VanderWyden to thank him for inviting her to the event: "I truly enjoyed the networking experience and our discussion of professionalism and civility. Rather fortuitously, I worked alongside one of the panelists, Judge Beth Bloom, while interning at the criminal court with Judge Ellen Sue Venzer. We had a lengthy chat about the hypotheticals and it was interesting to note that most professionals would agree that civility exists less in civil court than criminal court."

Effie D. Silva, a senior litigator at Baker & McKenzie in Miami, told Dean Vanderwyden the following day that she had received warm messages from people who attended "specifically stating how wonderful the venue was and how smart the students were."

The Spellman-Hoeveler Chapter of the American Inns of Court is a group of 280 judges, government lawyers, private practice attorneys, and students. Membership includes federal and state judges, solo practitioners, managing partners, county attorneys, and corporate attorneys. The chapter schedules seven dinners and lunches each year. Most of the dinner receptions are held at the Banker's Club restaurant in downtown Miami, overlooking Biscayne Bay, while one event is hosted by the University of Miami School of Law each year. The Inns of Court says it provides an "ideal opportunity for networking as many of the members are well suited and very eager to foster the beginning of a law student's career."