Appellate courtroom renamed in honor of landmark gift

Illustration by Karen Kurycki

Florida Coastal School of Law’s appellate courtroom has been named The Martha and Irving Sonnenschein Appellate Courtroom following a generous donation from one of the law school’s earliest advocates.

Irving Sonnenschein, a 92-year-old attorney living in Manhattan, put seed money toward the school when it was first established and has stayed in touch with its leadership over the years. In memory of his wife, Martha, Sonnenschein made a $250,000 endowed scholarship gift to the school that will generate scholarships for students for years to come. In honor of his gift and his appreciation for the accomplishments of Coastal Law’s nationally ranked Moot Court team, the appellate courtroom will be renamed in his honor and in memory of his wife, Martha.

“My wife was interested in Florida Coastal because she thought it was interesting to see how this law school had grown from a thought in the minds of unrelated people to this building with people and professors and students — the school came to mean a lot to her,” Sonnenschein said. “When she died, I thought it would be something she would appreciate — to name the moot courtroom after her and me, that’s why I did it.”

Sonnenschein has been practicing law, primarily real estate law, for more than 70 years. He received his degree from Columbia Law School in New York City. Sonnenschein is a member of the New York State Bar and was a longtime partner in Sonnenschein Sherman & Deutsch LLP. His wife, Martha, passed away three years ago.

The Florida Coastal School of Law Foundation’s scholarship committee is in the process of advertising for applicants, and the school hopes to make its first-ever fund distribution to students before summer’s end. The scholarship will be given annually to students who exhibit leadership in legal education through their academics and extracurricular activities — including law review, pro bono service, mock trial and moot court participation.

The school’s moot court team, which has consistently maintained a top ranking, this year ahead of schools like Columbia and Duke universities, is an example of what Florida Coastal is doing right to prepare students for success in the legal field, according to Sonnenschein. Many prestigious law schools around the country have historically lacked a focus on gaining practical courtroom experience prior to graduation, Sonnenschein said.

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“One of the problems with many law school educations — at least when I went to law school 70 years ago — is that you didn’t get much practical experience; you did not get the equivalent of what a doctor gets in an internship,” Sonnenschein said. “The moot court does give you at least some of that — the moot court experience is an important part of learning to become a lawyer.”

Margaret Dees, director of institutional advancement for Florida Coastal, said the courtroom name and scholarship are a gratifying “statement of approval for what we do and how we do it.”

“It is an amazing gift for such a young school to get such a generous donation,” Dees said. The fact that Sonnenschein has no Jacksonville connection with the exception of his initial gift speaks well for the school and its accomplishments. “It feels good that somebody thought well enough of what we’re doing here and how we’re doing it that they’re willing to support the school’s future at this level.”

Florida Coastal officials hope to host Sonnenschein on campus in the coming year to meet students and faculty. Sonnenschein also is expected to play a lead role in selecting scholarship recipients.

“You don’t get gifts like this unless you’re doing something right,” Dees said. “It is even more special that it comes from someone who didn’t go to school here and has decades of experience practicing law, but could see the quality of the work and lawyers we are producing.”

To directly support Florida Coastal student scholarships, make your gift online now.