First-Year Law Students Helped Through Trial by Fire


It's no secret that law school can get tough. From managing time to surviving the Socratic method, new law students must learn to navigate the world of casebooks, hornbooks, study groups, and outlines – all without succumbing to the pressures of functioning every day in a highly competitive environment.

Fortunately, the Dean's Fellows Program has been helping confused first-year students since 1994. Begun by Joanne Harvest Koren, Director of the Academic Achievement Program, with an inaugural group of 12 examplary upper-level students, the program has grown to include 1L Dean's Fellows study groups, Academic Achievement program Writing Dean's Fellows, and upper-level students from Essentials of Law Schools Achievement workshops.

Even though there is the undeniable benefit of hands-on, face-to-face guidance from students who have previously performed well in law school classes, being a Dean's Fellow can be a thankless job, which is why the Academic Achievement Program held an invitation-only Dean's Fellow and Alumni Reception earlier this week. Current Dean's Fellows mingled with alumni, friends and members of Miami Law's faculty and administration at the Robert and Judi Prokop Newman Alumni Center, all wearing pins courtesy of the Miami Law Alumni Association signifying their commitment to the program.

As she welcomed the group, Koren thanked the faculty and administration, as well as the Dean's Fellows, for their contributions to the program, citing the collaborative effort of all those involved. "The program has evolved tremendously over the years," she said, noting that the current number of Dean's Fellows is close to 40. "I've been fortunate to get to know all of you. I know that I can call on you all at any time, and every one of you would work with brilliance, professionalism and grace."

She thanked each of the alumni, sharing the microphone with them for updates on their lives since they left Miami Law to start their professional careers. Alex Schimel, a Dean's Fellow from 2007 to 2009, wrote a book called "Law School Exams: A Guide to Better Grades" based on the exam-writing workshops presented through the Academic Achievement Program. "I really have to thank Joanne," Schimel said, noting that she wrote the foreword. "She gave me the freedom to teach an exam workshop to current students while I was still in law school."

Koren presented plaques to Dean's Fellows who were active for four semesters – the largest time commitment a Dean's Fellow can make – with plaques for their service to the organization. Some of those devoted students spoke to the crowd about their experiences.

"The Dean's Fellows Program gives its students the opportunity to master a subject through trial by fire," Justin Wales, 3L, said. "You have to know the material well, because 1Ls are always quizzing you to test your credibility."

Rachel Chadsey, 3L, said she felt that she was "more connected to the whole Miami Law community through its students – from the 1Ls to the 3Ls." Chadsey is a Dean's Fellow for Koren, and helps to coordinate and teach the Essential of Law School Achievement workshops for Miami Law students.

Mike Steinberger, 3L, had the unique experience of twice guiding first-semester 1Ls. "By the time students get to second semester, they think they know it all," he said. "But first-semester students are always more nervous. It's great to see them go on to have success in law school by joining moot court, law reviews, or even becoming Dean's Fellows themselves. It's a great experience."

Faculty members also shared their thoughts on why the program has been so beneficial to the Miami Law community. "This is one of the university's most unique and rewarding programs," Professor David Abraham said, "because it benefits not only those who have the opportunity to be Dean's Fellows, but a large number of students – especially 1Ls – who will have the benefit of assistance from their peers."

Associate Dean of Students William P. VanderWyden III chimed in. "It's a win-win program," he said. "It's a plus for the school in its education of students in their first year, so students get an increased understanding of the material. It's a program for students so they can be successful now and in the future."