Tanner Stiehl in front of his great-great-grandfather and great-grandfather's portraits
If Miami Law had a royal family, Tanner Stiehl would be in line for succession.
The great-great-grandson and great-grandson of Miami Law’s first two deans has walked the hallowed halls of the law school as a student for the past three years and is set to accept his J.D. and LL.M. in maritime law in May’s commencement ceremony.
Upon graduation, Stiehl will return to active duty in the Coast Guard where he will be working as a staff attorney for the Seventh District Legal Office in Brickell. While this office is located in Miami, it services most Coast Guard operations throughout much of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Puerto Rico, and the greater Caribbean.
The Jacksonville, Florida, native, however, has followed a far different path than his ancestral deans. While chasing his bachelor’s in media communication studies in 2011 from Florida State University, he joined the United States Coast Guard.
After graduating from FSU and Officer Candidate School, he was attached to U.S. Coast Guard Sector New Orleans where he served as a public affairs officer among other roles. Shortly after taking over as Public Affairs Officer, a major oil spill off the Louisiana coast was his baptism-by-fire moment.
“I was writing press releases that were being read on Fox News and CNN. I even had an interview played on NPR,” Stiehl said. “It really helped keep things in perspective during my stressful 1L year at UM, as bad as things got, nothing was ever actually burning.”
The Coast Guard would take him far afield from his Florida roots. His next posting was in the Big Apple. While working in New York City, he qualified as a marine casualty investigator. He investigated several high-profile incidents that gave him increased exposure to lawyers and the legal profession, which piqued his interest and encouraged him to pursue his family’s legal roots. During this time, he also earned a master’s degree in fisheries and environmental policy from the University of Florida.
He went on to serve as the supervisor of a four-man Coast Guard detachment in Pago Pago, American Samoa, enforcing environmental and safety regulations. His days were spent inspecting ships, investigating shipping accidents, or meeting with local government officials about policy.
“While I was in American Samoa, I really grasped the gravity of how important commercial shipping was to the global economy,” he said. “It made the decision to go to UM, where I could chase my dream of becoming a maritime lawyer, the easiest decision I have ever made.”
It was not just the opportunity to study under the watchful eyes of Richmond Austin Rasco (1928 – 1931) and Russell Austin Rasco (1931 – 1957) gazing down upon him in the Dean’s Portrait Gallery in the Reading Room of the Reba Engler Daner Wing of the Law Library, as it was Stiehl’s cousin and local attorney Guy Rasco, J.D. ‘87, that beckoned. Stiehl’s selection in the Coast Guard’s Judge Advocate General Post Graduate Program was an added incentive. The program underwrites tuition to law schools located in any of the maritime security organization’s nine district offices. The JAG office in Miami was ideal and, his main box to check - Miami Law’s top-ranked maritime program.
“The idea that I could complete all of the required credits for my J.D. and get the LL.M. in maritime law within the Coast Guard’s three-year requirement almost seemed too good to be true. The academics were frequently stressful and rigorous, but again nothing was actually ever burning,” he said. “In my time at UM, I came across some of the greatest people I have ever known. Professors, staff, and students, everyone was always incredibly helpful and welcoming.”
Not to be understated, Miami also beckoned with the abundance of opportunities to marry line with bait and water. Stiehl is a lifelong fisherman, (as was his great-grandfather) whether from bridge or beach or boat. He still gets tips from his father and grandfather who learned directly from Dean Rasco himself.
The Deans Rasco
Not unlike their progeny, the Deans Rasco were explorers in their own right.
Arriving in Miami when the population had “exploded” to more than 42,000, up from just 12,000 a decade before, Richmond had been dean at the college of law at Stetson, then he became a professor at the University of Florida, followed by a professorship at the University of Arizona; in-between, he taught at Vanderbilt. He began at UM as chairman of the law school even before there was a law school, nurturing and building the institution from scratch, hiring the first faculty, building the curriculum, and obtaining approval from the Florida Supreme Court.
Russell, a Stetson grad who came to cover his ailing father’s classes, became acting dean upon his father’s death (for four years until the university finally named him dean). According to the University of Miami history book, the law library and the law school had its own building by the early 1950s, under Russell’s wing. He often remarked that the law library was one of his proudest achievements, but there are many others. He got UM full ABA accreditation, started the Graduate Law Programs, with the Tax LL.M., the Evening School, University of Miami Law Review, the Moot Court Program, and certificate programs in tax and insurance.
He grew the school from several dozen students to more than 1,200 post-WWII, and weathered the university’s bankruptcy in 1932 in his second year at the helm. He hired the first woman on the tenured faculty – one of the first in the country, and the second, making UM the only law school with two female faculty at the time. At 26 years, he is by far the longest-serving dean of the law school.
Together the Rasco era encompassed over 30 years building the fledging (and only) South Florida law school at the time into a powerhouse.
“Growing up I never seriously considered going to law school, but once I realized I could continue following my career in the Coast Guard, specialize in the type of law I wanted to pursue, move back to my home state, and follow my great-grandfather’s legacy, it just seemed like an undeniable sign,” said Stiehl. “I’m looking forward to getting back to the Coast Guard and applying the skills that UM Law has taught me. While that’s in Miami for now, I look forward to seeing where the next adventure takes me, before I retire from Active Duty. When that happens, I hope to come back to Coral Gables and continue litigating maritime claims with a local firm.”