From the Dean: Persevering together

Last year, I wrote about how the pandemic forced us all to draw on and to hone our grit and resilience. We learned new ways of working, learning, meeting and mourning. Like you, our students had to learn those same lessons and, in doing so, became stronger professionals and stronger people. They learned the power of perseverance. Together.

Despite all the challenges over the past year, students, faculty and staff pulled together and shined in unimaginable ways. Just consider:

  • Law students logged approximately 94,000 uncompensated service hours through clinical and field placements over the past year.
  • 96.4% of our school’s first-time takers passed the Georgia bar exam in fall 2020.
  • Student advocates in our Appellate Litigation Clinic argued before four federal appellate courts and tallied five wins.
  • Our heralded moot court program was ranked the #2 program in the country following a great moot court/mock trial season that included two national titles and three regional/state trophies.
  • Faculty achieved international recognition, including the election of Woodruff Chair Diane Marie Amann to the Council on Foreign Relations.
  • Other faculty continued to publish in the nation’s premier law journals, including two forthcoming articles in the Yale Law Journal by Stembler Family Distinguished Professor Christopher Bruner and Assistant Professor Lindsey Simon.
  • Associate Dean Jason Cade and Clinical Assistant Professor Clare Norins received the Clinical Legal Education Association’s Award for Excellence in a Public Interest Case or Project.
  • The Office of Admissions recruited the most academically talented class in history and the most diverse class in roughly a decade, markers that the office looks to eclipse again this fall.
  • The Career Development Office again posted one of the nation’s top employment rates and the #8 national ranking for federal clerkship placements.
  • We now have the capacity to award more than 20 Distinguished Law Fellowships and a portfolio of more than one dozen endowed funds supporting first-generation college graduates.

All of this, and so much more, occurred during a global pandemic, and it speaks volumes about the power of our community.

As we persevered together, we also mourned together. While our community did not lose any students, faculty or staff directly to COVID-19, we were not unaffected. Many of us lost loved ones in addition to members of our extended law school family, including custodian Carolyn Bradford Hubbard, Judge Horace Johnson (J.D.’82), Judge Gary Andrews (J.D.’71) and Justice George Carley (LL.B.’62) as well as legendary Professor Perry Sentell (LL.B.’58) and former Dean Ned Spurgeon, among countless others.

Those moments of tragedy provided occasions where our community showed the utmost care and compassion. During the first few days of the fall 2020 semester, a first-year student lost two grandparents within the span of 24 hours. His classmates, though they had only met him on Zoom, spontaneously created a GoFundMe page to help defray some of the costs attendant to their passing. Similarly, when beloved law school custodian Carolyn passed away, many voluntarily contributed to a fund to aid her family. Also, when a student was diagnosed with COVID-19, Student Bar Association leaders organized the delivery of care packages.

That spirit inspired our 2021 graduates as well. As many of you know, in August 2020, the School of Law lost one of its most inspiring figures when Chester Davenport (LL.B.’66), our first Black graduate, suddenly passed away. After President Jere W. Morehead (J.D.’80) and I created the Chester C. Davenport Memorial Endowment Fund, members of the Class of 2021 chose to dedicate their class gift to that effort. This endowed scholarship will support law students who graduate from Georgia’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and I would like to personally thank the 2021 graduates for that most thoughtful and touching way to honor, together, Chester and his great legacy.

You, our alumni/alumnae and friends, have been an essential part of our community’s perseverance. You spoke to our students in virtual Zooms. You applauded your fellow alums during virtual celebrations. Even in a period of economic uncertainty, you contributed generously to support students on matters like professional attire, bar preparations, emergency funds and true leaps of faith. All of that support helped the law school – for an unprecedented third straight year – to be named the nation’s #1 Best Value Law School, to become Georgia’s highest ranked law school in U.S. News and to achieve its second highest U.S. News ranking in history.

Amid all that has happened in the last year, pre-pandemic life seems like a distant past. However, as I write these words, promising signs for new days ahead are on the horizon and all of us are cautiously hopeful about the prospect of a more “normal” upcoming academic year.

Yet the lessons from and the bonds formed during the pandemic will endure. Among the strongest is the power of a community that perseveres together. That persistence defined this community long before the pandemic, and it enabled us to achieve tremendous accomplishments despite incredible challenges. May those qualities continue long after this global health crisis joins the last one in the archives of history.

Peter B. “Bo” Rutledge
Dean and Herman E. Talmadge Chair of Law