An Interview with Professor Kelli Alces Williams

Our interviewer, Beatriz Elizabeth Benitez, is a second-year law student interested in corporate law at Florida State University College of Law. Kelli Alces Williams is the Loula Fuller and Dan Myers Professor at Florida State and her scholarly work focuses primarily on corporate governance. She has taught at the University of Richmond School of Law, University of Iowa College of Law, George Mason University School of Law, University of Chicago Law School and is a graduate of the University of Illinois College of Law. Professor Williams teaches Property, Corporations, Securities Regulation, Bankruptcy and Contracts.

Beatriz Benitez: How did you originally get interested in business law?

Professor Williams: I started out in law school wanting to do child advocacy and one of our first legal writing projects was on divorce. After seeing what people do to each other in divorces, I figured that family law was not going to work for me and I really liked my business law classes like contracts and property. So, I took more classes in that area and enjoyed the types of questions business law posed.

Beatriz Benitez: Why Florida State? How did you end up teaching here and what has kept you here?

Professor Williams: This is one of the schools that I really liked from the beginning of my teaching career. The faculty has a strong scholarly reputation, it was in the southeast and I was familiar with the area. When I came to interview it felt like a good fit and it was a place I wanted to come back to. It was an up-and-coming school with a lot of potential. It was exciting, and still is exciting, to be a part of that.

Beatriz Benitez: What are some of the differences you have found teaching in a smaller town versus teaching in a big city like Chicago?

Professor Williams: Our students are great! They are very interested, engaged in class and interesting. Our students are more laid back than what I have seen of students in bigger cities, who tend to be a little more intense.

Beatriz Benitez: What advice do you have for students deciding to attend law school or in choosing a law school? What do you think are some of the important factors you considered or have found important in choosing a law school?

Professor Williams: I thought I went into law school knowing exactly what I wanted to do and I changed my mind. I was looking for what I thought I needed based on what I thought I wanted to do. I ended up choosing a school that gave me a well-rounded program and that ended up being a good choice. I have come to understand that all but a few law schools are largely regional schools. I had not realized how insular legal markets are and how hard it can be to break into a legal market without an alumni presence from your law school. You should think carefully about where you want to work when choosing where you want to go to law school.

Beatriz Benitez: What was your 1L year like?

Professor Williams: I was really anxious because I did not know how I was doing and at the beginning of my first semester I did not know what I was supposed to do. The hardest part was the uncertainty. Listening to professors’ questions and seeing if I knew the answer was my way of knowing whether I was on track. I really felt like class discussion was the only way I knew if I was getting what I was supposed to be getting out of the material.

Beatriz Benitez: Any key advice for what helped you survive the transition to law school and your 1L year?

Professor Williams: Try really hard to keep in touch with your closest friends and family even if it means you have to schedule times to talk to people. You really need a support network.

Beatriz Benitez: I know you always tell us in class to eat cake to get through tough the times, but what do you do during times of stress?

Professor Williams: Yoga. Walking. My dad is a law professor so it is great to be able to talk to him about work-related stuff. My best friend from middle school is great because I can always talk to her about anything else. Having the constant, steady support of my husband at home is comforting. Having people to talk to about work and other people to talk to about anything but work is a good strategy.

Beatriz Benitez: What are three things you cannot live without?

Professor Williams: 1. Decaffeinated tea–on vacation I take tea bags with me. 2. An afternoon nap–I am a napper since I do not drink caffeine. 3. Dark chocolate covered almonds–this is how I overcome my cake cravings.

Beatriz Benitez: If you got stuck on an island and could only eat two things for the rest of your life, what would they be and why?

Professor Williams: Dark chocolate covered almonds and Cuban beef stew. The almonds are my little dessert vacation at the end of the day. The Cuban beef stew is delicious and healthy and comforting all at once.

Beatriz Benitez: What is your favorite season/holiday and why?

Professor Williams: Fall is my favorite season because I like the weather getting cooler and I am less allergic to fall than I am to spring. Christmas is my favorite holiday because my birthday is a week before, so it is just a fun, festive time of year. I get really excited about shopping for Christmas gifts for my friends and family and for less fortunate children in the community. It is fun to try to make magic happen for people at that time of year.

Student Ambassadors for College of Law Beatriz Elizabeth Benitez, 2L

Williams, Kelli Kelli Alces Williams, Loula Fuller and Dan Myers Professor

Balancing A Summer with Both Legal Experience and a Learning Experience Through Study Abroad Can Be Done…and Can Be Rewarding

Taking advantage of opportunities as a law student should include your summer months as well as the fall and spring semesters. Last summer, the College of Law students below took this to heart for the summer between their 1L and 2L years. Each participated in a legal program, internship or job during the first part of their summer and then spent the second part as participants in Florida State University College of Law’s Summer Program in Law at Oxford.

First Part – Experience

 Aqueelah Mitchell

I spent the first part of my summer last year interning with a judge in Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach, Florida. Having participated as a member of the Moot Court team, I was very interested in exploring appellate advocacy and this internship gave me exposure to appellate work from a judge’s perspective. I was challenged by exposure to cases in areas I had not yet studied and by having to help serve as the decision maker when weighing both sides of an argument instead of just playing the role of an advocate for one side. This opportunity really helped me recognize the importance of being flexible.

I never imagined I would be spending my first law school summer working with a judge, but I definitely learned how important networking and having an open mind can be. I also had not realized just how small the legal community was in South Florida. I discovered this opportunity through a family member of a friend of a friend who had heard that I was in law school and asked the judge about having a summer intern. I also assumed that I would be spending this time at home in Miami and the idea of an internship in a neighboring county was not something I had event considered.

Grey Dodge

Last summer I was lucky enough to have three weeks off before I had to be back in Tallahassee to work on the Florida State University Summer for Undergraduates Program (SUG). So, after the spring semester I went back home, visited family, took a trip to Disney World and went out on the boat. Basically, I did everything other than studying.

When I returned to Tallahassee, I was met by 60+ undergraduate students from all over the country. SUG puts these students through a four-week, full-immersive law school program. Participants take classes with law school professors, attend presentations from lawyers practicing in various areas, hear from different campus offices about preparing for law school and even visit brick and mortar law firms all over the city. In my role, I mentored student participants, helped facilitate the running of the program and had a great time doing it.

Lauren Thompson

Last summer I worked for a law firm that handled personal injury cases. Being very interested in this area, I could not wait to get started and get some exposure to in this area. Fortunately, I got that and so much more! I attended depositions and mediations and performed research in multiple areas of law, including areas that I was not familiar. What I discovered by doing this was that there are other areas that interest me, including labor and employment law and commercial litigation. Following this experience my advice to anyone studying law is to not be afraid of stepping outside of your comfort zone, even if you already think you know exactly what area you want to practice. It cannot hurt and will either help confirm your choice or open your eyes to other possibilities.

Rob Sylvester

In the first part of my summer last year I worked as an intern for a county criminal judge. Interning for a judge was surprisingly fun. For someone who is not from a family of legal professionals this was a great opportunity to see what occurs both inside and outside of the courtroom. It also offered tremendous insight into the work of prosecutors, defense attorneys (both private and public), the trial process in general and some of the legal issues that arise. During this time I was able to conduct legal research and even wrote a judicial order.

Second Part – Summer Program in Law at Oxford

Aqueelah Mitchell

I spent the latter part of my summer as a participant in the Summer Program in Law at Oxford. As optimistic and open as I am, I was at first concerned about traveling so far from home to take classes at Oxford. I now know I had nothing at all to worry about. There is something wonderful about being taken out of your comfort zone and becoming the foreigner in another place. I learned a lot about myself, the culture of England and others. I even expanded my role as the international traveler by visiting France and Italy as well. The program itself is truly amazing, well organized and I experienced some great professors and classes.

I will never forget my time spent in Oxford. While there I enjoyed my 23rd birthday, cut my hair, discovered that shopping in the UK is absolutely wonderful, and learned new lingo. It all came to an end much too early and I was not ready to go, but I definitely left with a greater appreciation for life.

Grey Dodge

The second, and best part of my summer was studying abroad as a participant in the Summer Program in Law at Oxford. One of my fellow law student and I went over early, flew into Rome, and spent nine days traveling around Italy before eventually making our way to Oxford. Once there, it was hard to differentiate between class work and a vacation. Oxford is easily one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited. Every day was like waking up and going to class in a castle. We took courses from Oxford Dons and College of Law professors. It was a six-week program and I can say without a doubt, was one of the best six weeks of my life. From exploring the City of Oxford and seeing a Shakespearean play in Stratford-upon-Avon, to sightseeing in London and learning about English legal history, it was an unforgettable summer.

Lauren Thompson

The second half of my summer was definitely an experience I will truly never forget, as I spent it as a participant in the Summer Program in Law at Oxford. Not only did I get to travel to four countries I had never visited before, but I also took classes with actual Oxford Dons and with our very own Professor Téson. Throughout this experience I was able to travel while also learning about the different legal systems of the countries I visited. Two of the courses I really enjoyed were English Legal History and European Union Law. I had never studied abroad or even traveled abroad before, so I was thankful for the opportunity and am so glad that I decided to do it. I know this experience will truly be invaluable for me now and in the future.

Rob Sylvester

The rest of my summer was spent abroad as a participant in the Summer Program in Law at Oxford. For anyone looking for adventure, while earning college credit, this is a great program. It is also an excellent opportunity for anyone who has not traveled abroad before. Not only do you get to stay at the world-renowned Oxford University, but the program also provides for and encourages travel and exploration outside of Oxford. While gaining exposure to a different culture and experiencing England’s rich history first-hand, I also was able to make new friends and amass some unforgettable memories.

In Conclusion

Aqueelah Mitchell

I began last summer concerned that about prospects for landing a job after graduation. I ended the summer with new legal knowledge, a wealth of cultural experiences and assurance that I was going down the right path for my legal career.

Grey Dodge

When I finished my final law school examination last spring, a grueling 3-hour experiences that left me dazed and confused, I spent the rest of that day watching reruns of The Office and eating BOGO Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream I had purchased from Publix. At that time I had a lot to look forward to during the summer, but it was not as clear to me then. By the conclusion of summer I had come to realized just how valuable my summer experiences had been and just how much I had enjoyed them all.

Lauren Thompson

Last summer was a period of growth for me in more ways than one. I have normally been someone who has every aspect of my life planned out in advance. This included choosing the path to law school early and not looking back. However, my experiences last summer helped me realize how important it is to be flexible. Before summer I thought I would practice civil litigation law, and specifically personal injury law. My overall summer experience working, traveling and learning about other areas of law opened my eyes to options I may not have considered before. It also got me to start asking; “How can we know what we really enjoy if we do not explore other options?”

Rob Sylvester

I am extremely lucky to have been able to participate in the opportunities I did last summer. I encourage anyone thinking about what to do during the summer to explore your options and secure an opportunity (or opportunities). For me the process started immediately after the fall semester and final plans did not materialize until almost the end of the spring semester. I sent in many applications to different jobs and summer programs and most were denied. However, it all turned out to my satisfaction and was a very rewarding summer.

Student Ambassadors for College of Law Aquellah Mitchell, 2L

Student Ambassadors for College of Law Grey Dodge, 2L

Student Ambassadors for College of Law Lauren Thompson, 2L

College of Law, Student Ambassadors. Rob Sylvester, 2L

My First Law School Summer Vacation: From Distress to Delight

After my first year of law school I was very happy with how everything had turned out. I had been elected vice president of our Black Law Students Association (BLSA), had worked as a Student Ambassador since the beginning of the spring semester and I had been crowned Miss Tallahassee. On top of that, I was pleased with my academic performance and was active in my church. However, we were told that legal experience, employment and networking during the summer were important, even if we were taking some classes, so landing a summer job was high on my list of priorities.

While I explored different options, I did not have much luck at first. I participated in an on-campus interview (OCI) with one law firm and thought my interview went great. This was reinforced by the fact that I received a thank you note from the attorney that interviewed me even before I had the chance to send one. I did not get the job, though. I had also met an attorney from the sports industry at an organization lunch during the school year who encouraged me to apply for their summer internship opportunities. He had even offered to walk my resume into their hiring department himself and another contact of mine had arranged for me to talk to the company vice president. I thought I had that one in the bag until I received the rejection letter a month later.

By this point I was really discouraged. I did not understand why I was not getting any offers. I felt like I had the grades, the personality and enough documented leadership and involvement to qualify me for jobs in a variety of areas. So, I decided to enroll in a summer law class and began the on-line event management program offered through the Graduate School at Florida State.

A few weeks later, I was encouraged by Dean Ingram in our Office of Student Affairs to apply for a positions as a mentor for the Florida State University College of Law Summer for Undergraduates (SUG) Program. I submitted the application and got the job. I was very excited because the job included event planning, working with undergraduate students and they were going to pay me! Knowing that it would only be for four weeks, I continued my job search for something to do for the rest of the summer after the program ended.

I really enjoyed my time as a mentor for SUG. I was able to interact with faculty, staff, prospective and current students and even a lot of distinguished alumni who came to visit with the students. So, it also became an opportunity to grow my legal network and gain new perspectives on how to approach my legal education. I also participated in behind-the-scenes tours of the Florida Capitol, seminars with alumni and attorneys and luncheons with faculty and College of Law deans. By chance, I ended up having a conversation with one of my first year professors that turned into an offer to work for him as a research assistant after SUG ended.

I was also offered a job clerking for my BLSA Mock Trial Coach at the Florida Department of Business and Regulation (DBPR) Office of the General Counsel. I started working there too after SUG ended and got a lot of experience drafting administrative complaints, closing orders, motions, correspondence and other legal documents.

As it turns out, my first law school summer ended up being full of many different experiences that were applicable to various areas of my life and future legal career. After the summer ended, I continued working at DBPR and also started working as an assistant to the Director of Membership and Marketing at the Tallahassee Museum.

If you do not get that dream job you thought you would for the summer, do not give up! Just remember that there are other options out there, so keep trying and be open to opportunities you might not have first considered. If your experience is anything like mine, the opportunities you land just might end up being more valuable to you than the one you wanted.

Student Ambassadors for College of Law Lauryn A. Collier, 2L

Criminal Practice Clinic and Externship: A Great Training Ground For Tomorrow’s Litigators

When I arrived at law school I expected that I might have an opportunity to be an intern at a law firm and do some behind-the-scenes work like doing legal research or drafting briefs or motions. I did not expect to get real hands-on experience. Knowing that the best way to learn how to do something is to go out there and “do it”, I definitely wanted to take advantage of such an opportunity once I found out that I could.

The College of Law offers students the opportunity to extern at either a State Attorney’s Office or Public Defender’s Office. The process starts with an in-class preparation course, the Criminal Practice Clinic. During the Clinic students are provided with training in trial and pre-trial skills and are provided with the information needed for the job through a very hands-on approach. Professor Krieger, who teaches the course, is a seasoned prosecutor and his experience and insights are invaluable.

During the in-class portion, we were taught everything we need to know related to criminal process from the time the accused is taken into custody, to filing motions, through the end of a trial. I chose the prosecution side, so my goal was to work in a State Attorney’s Office. Even while in the class, I still did not think about how much real work I would be doing. I did not think that they would really give law students so much responsibility when it came to criminal records and real criminal cases. I was completely wrong!

After completing the course and obtaining my designation as a Certified Legal Intern (CLI), I spent my summer completing my externship placement in Tallahassee at the Office of the State Attorney, 2nd Judicial Circuit, Juvenile Division. I started by observing what my supervisor was doing and recognized a lot from what I had learned in my class. Before I knew it I was arguing cases for the State of Florida in first appearance hearings, doing arraignments, offering plea deals, and even participating in trial proceedings. I made many of the decisions on how to proceed with a case, including exactly what to offer a defendant in a plea deal.

As I noted, these were things I never thought I would be doing as a law student. There was a lot of pressure to because this was someone’s future and I also had the consideration of the victims in the back of my mind. It was a great learning experience because I experienced what lawyers are dealing with every day. My efforts secured a conviction during my only case that went to trial. It was a great feeling to win a case; a feeling I never thought I would have so early on in my legal career.

Getting hands-on experience through an externship was one of the best decisions I have made since starting law school! It also helped confirm my desire to go into criminal litigation after law school. I recommend it to anyone who is thinking about doing litigation, whether criminal or civil.

Employers love seeing this on your resume and talking about your experience as a CLI during interviews. I can speak from experience because this was the very first thing an interviewer asked me about during my first interview as a 3L.

?????????????????????????????????????????? Matt Sulkin, 3L

Mock Trial: A Great Way to Practice for Your Future Practice

Just as the new 1Ls are buzzing around town gathering their first set of books and hurrying to complete their first set of reading assignments, the 2Ls are congregating and having new experiences too. One group of 2Ls in particular is enveloped in enticing opening statements, expressive direct examinations, fiery cross-examinations and convincing closing arguments. All of this presented in full courtroom attire in the courtrooms of the Florida State University College of Law Advocacy Center.

These new members of the Florida State University College of Law Mock Trial team were chosen through a try-out process held during the past spring semester. Throughout the summer some participated in optional clinics to provide that extra “oomph” of practice for upcoming competition. In August and September, these new members are broken out into smaller, three and four-member teams with each being assigned to a returning member who will act as their coach for the upcoming intramural sessions.

All of the teams receive an identical case packet and each team practices for weeks determining how they will approach the case, perfecting their presentations, and strategizing. In the latter weeks of the process, the teams compete against each other in several rounds of intramurals, or “IMs”. The purpose of IMs is to simulate the mock trial competition experience and to give new members exposure to what mock trial competition entails. During this process, they learn about how the process works and are provided with the opportunity to actually go through the motions in a real-life setting. Local attorneys, often College of Law Mock Trial team alumni, are brought in to judge each round and offer feedback to each team.

As someone who has gone through this process, I can attest to just how much IMs help in getting one past the mock trial learning curve. It was an eye-opening and humbling experience to realize just how much talent, hard-work, and commitment each member brings to the Mock Trial team. Each night of competition we arrived with our game faces on, ready to give it our all. I was thoroughly impressed by my team as well as with the skills and abilities of the other teams. I was especially fascinated with how other teams presented the case in ways that my team had not even considered.

It was also amazing to witness the dedication of Tallahassee’s legal community to the College of Law Mock Trial team. They gave their time and undivided attention to judging each competition (each lasting 3 hours) and then provided individualized feedback to the competitors for improving their performance in future state-wide and nation-wide competitions.

Overall, Mock Trial is a great opportunity to acclimate yourself to the courtroom experience, especially if you are interested in a career in litigation. I was interested in Mock Trial because I wanted to become more comfortable with public speaking. I can definitely say that this has already come to fruition. Whatever your interest, there is a wide array of skills to be gained by any future attorney through participation in the College of Law Mock Trial team.

??????????????????????????????????? Melanie Kalmanson, 3L

An Interview With Professor Nat S. Stern

I am MaryCatherine Crock and I am a third-year student at Florida State University College of Law. Although I plan on pursuing a career in criminal law, constitutional law has become a passion of mine, both inside and outside of the classroom. I had the pleasure of having Professor Nat S. Stern for Constitutional Law I and Constitutional Law II. Professor Stern is a well-known instructor and scholar and is a favorite among the students at the College of Law. I had the opportunity to interview Professor Stern about his passion for constitutional law, his research and academic activities, and what advice he would offer to both prospective and current law students.

MaryCatherine Crock: Can you give us a little background about your legal education?

Professor Stern: I received my B.A. from Brown University and my J.D. from Harvard University.

MaryCatherine Crock: How did you become interested in constitutional law?

Professor Stern: My favorite course as an undergraduate was a political science class about the judicial system that included a significant number of Supreme Court opinions on constitutional law. Unsurprisingly, my favorite class in law school was Constitutional Law.

MaryCatherine Crock: What are your research interests?

Professor Stern: I focus principally on First Amendment doctrine and specifically on commercial speech and defamation.

MaryCatherine Crock: What advice would you offer a student pursuing a career in academia?

Professor Stern: In academia, especially, publication is crucial. A person seriously interested in pursuing such a career should begin writing early.

MaryCatherine Crock: Why is Florida State University College of Law such a great choice for one’s legal education?

Professor Stern: I don’t think I can list all the reasons! One of the most important, though, is our wonderful student culture. Faculty visiting from other schools routinely comment to me on how supportive our students seem to be of one another. Another is the deep commitment of the faculty to the law school’s teaching mission. While the faculty is best known to the outside world for its scholarship, extensive publication has in no way come at the sacrifice of devotion to teaching. Surveys of our students have consistently confirmed this to be the case.

MaryCatherine Crock: What do you love most about teaching?

Professor Stern: It would have to be the opportunity to interact with a diverse group of really bright, talented, and enthusiastic students.

MaryCatherine Crock: Are you involved with advising any extra-curriculars? If so, can you tell us about them?

Professor Stern: My principal involvement since coming to the law school has been with the FSU College of Law Moot Court Team, which had established a tradition of excellence and success long before I assumed the role of advisor in 1993.

MaryCatherine Crock: Who is your favorite Supreme Court Justice and why?

Professor Stern: I really can’t single out one. I guess it shows my affinity for constitutional law that I enjoy reading the opinions of Justices with a wide range of judicial philosophies.

MaryCatherine Crock: What is your biggest piece of advice for incoming/prospective law students?

Professor Stern: Don’t feel that you need to concentrate on learning law before you arrive at law school. In particular, don’t feel pressed to load up on “pre-law” courses in college. On the contrary, the more broadly you are educated before attending law school, the more effectively you’ll be able to employ the legal tools that will be placed at your disposal there.

College of Law student ambassadors. MaryCatherine Crock, 3L

Stern, Nat  Nat S. Stern, John W. & Ashley E. Frost Professor

Three Things I Thought About Law School That Turned Out Not To Be True

Since the age of twelve I knew that I wanted to go to law school and become a lawyer. As the time grew closer for me to actually apply and attend, I became very anxious about what law school was like. The thought of law school was definitely intimidating and when I arrived I found out that some things I had believed about law school were not true:

You cannot maintain personal relationships while you are in law school: I believed that once you began law school you had to shut yourself up in a room and never come out. Contrary to this belief, I have not only been able to maintain existing relationships outside of law school, but also form new relationships with both my Florida State law school professors, my fellow classmates, and alumni.

The professors are here to make you cry: Before law school, I was under the impression that law school professors were there to tell you how wrong you were and to embarrass you in front of your peers. I have definitely found this not to be true at Florida State. All of my professors are genuinely interested in knowing how we view the material as well as how and why we reach the conclusions we do.

Trust no one: I thought that everyone in law school was focused on making it to the top of the class and would do whatever it took to get there. What I have discovered at Florida State is that while working hard to do the best they can, students also work together to help each other succeed. Whether it is through study groups, mentoring, or student activities, students maintain a very positive and collegial atmosphere at the College of Law.

What I have learned is that law school is not always what you believe it to be. What you read in books or even what others who have been to law school tell you will not always the case. In reality, your law school experience is what you make of it and each person will have an entirely different law school experience, whether at the same or at different law schools.

You will also face choices and how you prioritize things while in law school will affect your overall experience. One example is that if you feel that time spent with a significant other could be better spent studying; you may want to minimize or decide not to have a relationship while in law school. Before coming to law school, and even while choosing a law school, you should take the time to analyze what it is that you want from your law school experience and what areas of your life you want to maintain. If you do this, you will be able to find a good balance and ensure that your law school experience is not what you thought law school would be but what you want it to be.

Student Ambassadors for the College of Law Christina Colbert, 3L