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Q&A: Jim Rosenblatt, Dean, Mississippi College School of Law, Jackson

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A native of tiny Ft. Adams, Jim Rosenblatt is dean of the Mississippi College School of Law.  A former judge advocate general (JAG) with the U.S. military, he served 30 years in a variety of postings worldwide. Rosenblatt also is an accomplished lecturer and has been published in several law review publications, including The Mississippi Lawyer.  He recently sat down with the Mississippi Business Journal for a conversation about the Mississippi College School of Law and other law topics.

Q —  During your years as dean of the law school, how, if at all, have the dreams and aspirations of young law students changed?

A — At MC Law, we have seen a greater number of our law students who want to go into public service.  This is a broad field and includes working in government agencies, working for legal aid organizations or serving in the JAG Corps of one of the military branches.  We still have a good number who plan to work in a traditional law firm or open a private practice, but the trend to public service is notable.

Q —  The Princeton Review named the law school “one of the best kept secrets of the South.”  What makes the MC school unique?

A — The Princeton Review provided that moniker some years ago.  However, we believe the secret has been out for some time now.  Our new tag line is “Motion to Succeed.”  MC Law has become well known through the success of our national moot court program, the work of our graduates and the accomplishments of our faculty.  I have noticed a greater awareness of MC Law in the legal academy, in the legal community and by the general public.  Our graduates are our best advertising as they go out and become a force in their practice and their communities.  I really enjoy meeting with our graduates at our alumni gatherings all over the country.  It is inspiring to learn of their work and to hear them comment on the value of the education they received at MC Law and the professors who played such a vital role in their education and training.  Our newly constructed campus on Griffith Street with its modern classrooms and attractive grounds has also raised the awareness of MC Law.

Q —  What are the advantages of being located downtown in the capital city of our state?

A — Our downtown location is a huge advantage for us.  We are within walking distance of courthouses (federal, state and county), the State Capitol and numerous government and law firm offices.  This proximity affords our students the opportunity to become a part of the legal community while in law school and to experience various aspects of law practice.   Likewise, this location allows judges and attorneys to come to our law school to teach skills classes, judge moot court competitions, speak to our students, or coach moot court national competition teams.  I can’t imagine a law school that is more fully supported by the local bench and bar than we are.  At the same time, we give back to the legal community by serving in bar organizations, supporting code revision committees, organizing pro bono legal aid operations and providing continuing legal education and legal treatises with a Mississippi focus.

Q —  Give our readers an overview of the school’s Children Law Center.

A — Our law school has long championed a child advocacy program, which allows our students to be appointed and to serve as guardians ad litem for children who are involved in court disputes.  The chancery judges recognize the quality work of our students and request them to serve in challenging and difficult cases to represent the interests of the children while working under the supervision of our clinical professors.  Our students are admitted to practice for this limited purpose and gain real-life experience in preparing a report for the court and offering testimony on behalf of the children.  We teach a course in juvenile issues and the law and provide assistance to families on children’s issues through our Mission First Legal Aid Office.  Another aspect of our Children’s Law Center is our adoption project, where our students complete all the paperwork for the adoptive parents for the adoption of a child and then coordinate with a chancery judge and a volunteer attorney to complete the adoption.  These programs allow our students who want to focus on family law and children’s issues to get superb classroom instruction, skills training and practical experience.

Q —  With the downturn of the economy in the last couple of years, have you had to change marketing strategies to attract new students?

A — Our marketing strategy has been consistent — to attract bright, hard working, principled students to our school.  Our recruitment methods include the traditional ones of attending graduate fairs at undergraduate schools, providing information at law school forums and advertising in publications.  As a new method, we are able through electronic means to create a message touting the attributes and advantages of MC Law and provide that message to those who have expressed an interest in a legal education.  As a result, information about MC Law has gone out to a broader range of prospective students.  In this year’s entering class, we have students from 27 states and 85 undergraduate schools.  Our students are from diverse backgrounds and bring an exciting mixture of personal and professional experiences to MC Law.  We use a “whole person” concept to evaluate our applications and look at intangible factors in addition to scores on the LSAT and grades.  Our applications have increased about 10 percent a year for the last three years.

Q —  What is your placement rate and what percentage of MC law students have full-time employment within a year of graduation?

A — The National Association of Law Placement measures placement nine months out from graduation.  For the class of 2009 our reported placement rate was 93 percent.  The economy has made placement more challenging in the last two years.  Our focus is to produce a high-quality graduate armed with problem-solving, advocacy and writing skills who will be competitive in the market place.

Q —  In your opinion, has tort reform made a difference in Mississippi?

A — Tort reform has made a difference in Mississippi and in a number of other states.  The caps on damages combined with greater difficulty in aggregating cases has reduced the number of law suits.  In addition there is a greater use of mandatory arbitration which has moved disputes out of the court room.

Q —  What have been your greatest challenges in your career, both as an attorney and now as a law school dean?

A — Prior to becoming the dean at MC Law I was a career Army JAG officer.  In my 30 years of military practice all over the world my greatest challenge was to ensure that our newly assigned personnel had the proper training to perform their duties.  As the dean my greatest challenge is to ensure that the many parts of MC Law all work together to ensure that we offer a quality legal education, stay connected to our graduates, and preserve the collegial culture for which our school is so well known.

Q —  Any advice for an individual who wishes to pursue a law degree?

A — I would advise a prospective law student to engage in serious introspection to ensure they have the true desire and commitment to complete a challenging program of legal education and then to employ their education and training in a professional manner for service to one’s clients.  Law school is too difficult and too expensive to enroll simply as a place holder.  There must be a personal commitment to the work and to the profession as opposed to wanting simply to make money, continue a family tradition, or be cool.  If  one is committed to pursuing a legal education, my advice would be to do well in challenging undergraduate course that require one to read, offer critical analysis, and present ideas in writing.  In addition, I suggest being involved in some activities that show a breadth of interest beyond the classroom.  My advice in preparing for the LSAT exam would be to take as many practice exams as possible under realistic testing conditions.

Hometown: Fort Adams (pop. 50); attended school in Woodville
Degree(s): B.A. from Vanderbilt University; J.D. from Cornell University Law School
Hobbies/Interests: Walking, gardening and MC Law
Favorite Restaurant: Char’s (braised lamb shank)
Favorite Movie: “It’s a Wonderful Life”
Last Book Read: “The Associate” by John Grisham
Persons who inspired you the most: Bill and Nancy Rosenblatt (parents)

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