New school leadership emphasizes innovation

Chidi Ogene (left) and Dennis Stone (right)

Chidi Ogene (left) and Dennis Stone (right)

Florida Coastal School of Law’s new president and interim dean have dramatically different backgrounds, but what they have in common is a remarkably similar view on how best to prepare students for the opportunities and challenges of the 21st century legal profession.

Dennis Stone, appointed the school’s president in May, is a long-time Jacksonville resident and was both a founding executive of Coastal Law and of the InfiLaw System, the consortium of independent law schools of which Coastal Law is affiliated.

Chidi Ogene, Coastal Law’s interim dean since June, grew up in Nigeria, graduated from universities there and in the U.S., and practiced corporate and commercial law before joining InfiLaw as general counsel.

Despite their disparate backgrounds and paths to Coastal Law, both men’s careers gave them opportunities to observe several models of legal education. Those included the more traditional programs, as well as others that were taking more innovative and radical approaches to achieving desired outcomes. Stone and Ogene agree the latter more contemporary approach is better positioned to more swiftly adapt to the realities of today and tomorrow’s legal marketplace.

The road to practice-readiness

“One of our top priorities is to graduate attorneys who can more immediately add value to their respective organizations because they will have right knowledge and training to do so. The more traditional model of legal education is more likely to graduate law students who expect their first employers to train them after they’re hired,” said Stone. “For instance, our JD Plus program is already one of the most innovative in the country in terms of preparing students for the demands of practice, and we are continuing to introduce other programs rarely found at other law schools.”

This spring Stone said Coastal Law will launch the Center for Law Practice Technology, a unit within the school focused on preparing students for a legal marketplace that demands knowledge and skills related to technology and innovation. He said feedback on the CLPT has been overwhelmingly positive from the legal community in Jacksonville and beyond. (See more on the CLPT on the opposite page.)

“We also just launched the country’s first LL.M. in Transportation and Logistics,” he said. “That’s in addition to our LL.M. for foreign lawyers that has proven to be very popular since its launch a few years ago.

Stoned added Coastal Law will continue to add dual degree programs to its portfolio of offerings that also currently includes a JD/Masters of Business and a JD/Masters of Public Policy.

Don’t _tell me_; _show me_

Dean Ogene shares President Stone’s interest in curriculum innovation, but adds that an enhanced emphasis on graduating attorneys with demonstrable skills will also be critical if Coastal Law hopes to deliver on its promise for modern-day legal education.

“If you look where higher education and professional development are headed,” said Ogene, “you’ll see we’re beginning to shift away from traditional measures of excellence, which were defined on_inputs_—how many credit hours in what subjects—to better measures, which are predicated upon outputs—what competencies do you have?”

Ogene said, “While many law schools will likely remain committed to the more traditional model of legal education, administrators and faculty Coastal Law anticipate ever fortifying their focus on skills development in the years ahead.

“What it means to be professionally prepared for the legal profession is changing dramatically as a result of pressures clients are bringing to bear on law firms and other purveyors of legal services. We have to prepare our students to compete in that environment.

“Don’t tell me you took a class in securities regulation; show me you can draft an offering statement for an IPO. Don’t tell me that you took a class in family law; show me that you can prosecute, from start to finish, a no-contest or even a contested divorce.”

Revamped externship program

In order to increase opportunities for students, both President Stone and Dean Ogene have focused attention on the school’s internship and externship programs.

“In the past few months we have revamped the way we manage the development of externships,” said Stone, “how we place students in them, and how we manage the placements over time to ensure they are win-win situations—great learning experiences for the students and productive opportunities for the agencies or law firms employing them.”

“Internships and externships are absolutely critical,” adds Ogene. “Medical students can’t graduate as doctors without dealing with real patients. There is no substitute for training in a live environment. Our internship and externship programs, which we are in the process of expanding, provide that real-life experience.”

Will these innovations differentiate Coastal Law? Stone and Ogene are confident they will.

“If we execute them as well as I know that we can,” Ogene said. “If we construct all of our systems in that outcome-centered way—the curriculum, the pedagogy, the supporting systems, the competency measures, all of that—there is no question that our graduates will be much better positioned to enter the job market than their peers at other law schools.”