UF's law school dean Laura Rosenbury
Last summer, Laura Rosenbury began a five-year contract at the University of Florida's Levin College of Law, becoming the first female permanent dean in the school's history.
Rosenbury, a native of northern Indiana and a Harvard Law School graduate, came to UF from Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, where she had been both a faculty member and administrator.
Female law deans have since become something of a trend in Florida. In June, Erin O’Connor replaced retired dean Donald Weidner at the Florida State University College of Law. The top three contenders were all women. Earlier this year, Angela Epps took the helm at Florida A&M College of Law.
Rosenbury, a family law scholar and feminist legal theorist, leads UF Law at a challenging time. Nationwide, high debts and a shaky job market are causing prospective law students to think twice.
Rosenbury says she’s up to the task. “I love solving complex problems,” she says. “That’s one of the things that drew me to law school.”
Rosenbury spoke to Florida Trend about the challenges facing law schools, why more women don’t reach the top of big law firms, and about making gender history at UF.
Her to-do list: “My overarching priority is to raise the national and international profile of UF Law. We’ll do that by raising the credentials of our entering class, helping our students get the most fulfilling and rewarding jobs possible and producing scholarship that impacts the legal debate not just in Florida, but also nationally and across the globe.”
On 55% decline in law school applications between 2011 and 2015: “Unlike some law schools, we did not shrink our entering class, at least in any appreciable way. Because of that, the median LSAT of our entering students declined over the last five years. It went from 162 to 157. My goal this year has been to get the median LSAT back on track. And I’m very pleased that, barring some disaster, we will enroll an entering class in August with a median LSAT of 160.”
On enlarging UF’s applicant pool: “This year, we received 75% more applications than we did last year. And we did that primarily by being much more proactive in reaching out to LSAT takers and letting them know about the strengths of our programs.”
On whether the job market for grads is improving: “I believe so, yes — at least in the larger markets and at the firms doing the most sophisticated legal work. Certainly, markets like New York are booming at the big-firm level. Davis Polk & Wardwell, where I worked before going into teaching, has hired its largest summer associate class ever. San Francisco and L.A. also are very vibrant. D.C. is fully recovered. I think Florida has been slower to recover, but Miami is at full force right now.”
On law school ranking: “Potential students and applicants pay very close attention to the rankings, so if we want to recruit the most qualified class possible, we, too, have to focus on the rankings. I would say that UF Law is now grossly undervalued nationwide. Our overall ranking is 48, but our faculty reputation ranking is somewhere between 35 and 37. I’ve been focused a lot on how we can get our overall ranking up to match our faculty reputation ranking.”
On revenue-generating ideas: “We’re beginning to develop some certificate programs for non-lawyers, which will be primarily offered online. We’re still developing those programs, so it’s unclear how much money they will generate. But we’re hopeful they’ll generate some revenue while also extending the reach of the UF Law brand. For example, we’re working with UF’s school of health and human performance to offer a sports law certificate for non-lawyers.”
On dearth of women in leadership positions at law firms: “It’s partly due to inflexible work schedules and career paths that don’t take into account child rearing and other forms of caregiving. But it’s also due to ongoing forms of implicit bias. I think most of the big law firms, at least, are very focused on both of those issues and trying to improve.”
On being the first woman appointed UF Law dean: “I understand the historical significance. Yet it doesn’t impact my life on a day-to-day basis. In some ways, other law schools in other states were far ahead of Florida. There have been female deans at top law schools for over a decade.”
UF Law Dean
Background: Grew up in northern Indiana near her grandparents’ corn and soybean farm.
Education: Bachelor’s in women’s studies from Harvard- Radcliffe College; J.D. from Harvard Law School
Career: Worked for five years in private practice in New York before entering academia in 2002; joined UF Law as dean in 2015 from Washington University School of Law, where she was a professor and vice dean.
UF’s Levin College of Law
$22,299: Annual tuition and fees for full-time, in-state students
961: Total enrollment for 2015-16
89.05%: Bar pass rate (February and July 2014)
3.50: Median college GPA for first-year students
157: Median LSAT score for first-year students
43%: Percent of female students
30%: Percent of students who are from a minority racial or ethnic group
Source: University of Florida Levin College of Law
National Jobs Outlook
Two years ago, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted the number of lawyer positions nationwide would increase by 74,800 during the next decade. In December, it revised that number down 41%, estimating 43,800 new lawyer jobs between 2014 and 2024. The bureau warns that competition for jobs will remain strong “because more students are graduating from law school each year than there are jobs available.”
A Tough Market for Grads
The recession and its aftermath forced many law firms to cut costs and halt hiring or lay off workers. Meanwhile, a shift away from the billable-hour model continues to affect the legal industry in ways that are taking a toll on jobs for new law grads in Florida.
Last spring, 11 accredited law schools statewide reported that about 1,750 out of 2,710 graduates in the class of 2015 — some 65% — had full-time, long-term, law-related jobs within 10 months of graduation.
The rest of the 2015 class was working part time or short term, or in jobs for which a law degree was not required or preferred. Some had gone on to pursue a graduate degree full time. Others were still job hunting.
About 13% of 2015 graduates from Florida-based law schools said they were unemployed and looking for work in March, up from 11% last year.