Duke Law welcomes entering students

August 27, 2008Duke Law News

Aug. 27, 2008 — In his welcoming remarks to the members of the Class of 2011, transfer students who have joined the Class of 2010, and the newly arrived LLM Class of 2009 and SJD candidates on Aug. 18, Dean David Levi emphasized beginnings, changes, and fundamental values that create a professional identity and culture.

Levi told the students that their beginning at the school was embodied by the building around them. The newly completed Star Commons and fully renovated Goodson Law Library, new spaces intended to promote scholarship and collegiality, “are as new to you as you are to them,” said Levi. “You will make them your own. But they will have their effect on you as well. As Churchill said, ‘We shape our buildings: thereafter they shape us.’

“When many of you were here for admitted students weekend, I told you that the friendships and connections you will make with your classmates will endure throughout your life in the law and become an important part of your professional and personal development,” he said. “I suspect that many years from now when you think back on your time in Law School, some of your most intense and favorable memories will be the time you spent with friends working in the Library or relaxing in the Commons. … At Duke you will and you should build relationships that will carry forward and that will carry you forward.”

Levi also discussed change, namely the inevitable mental metamorphosis that students will undergo. “Learning to think like a lawyer” was a theme in many of the orientation “LEAD Week” presentations attended by the new students.

“But we want you to do more,” Levi told the students. “We want you to think like a Duke lawyer, and this is why we have developed the [Duke Law Blueprint for Lawyer Education and Development] and why we take this time with you this week to emphasize certain values such as integrity and service and generosity of spirit.”

The incoming students learned about the values extolled in the Blueprint by participating in activities like the semi-annual Dedicated to Durham afternoon of volunteering in the community — a tradition now in its 12th year — and by hearing the experiences of attorneys in a variety of practice areas.

In her keynote address, Letty Tanchum ’73 talked about starting out as an attorney with ABC after her graduation from Duke, her subsequent work as vice president and general counsel for Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions, where she remains special counsel, and her current job as vice president and general counsel for the philanthropic Oprah Winfrey Foundations.

Tanchum described working with celebrities, helping establish Winfrey’s Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa, and attending Duke during the Nixon administration.

Though her legal career has included a variety of experiences, Tanchum says there has been at least one constant. “People just want to be treated fairly,” she said.

“Letty Tanchum was personally very interesting,” said Halerie Mahan, a first-year student from Nyack, N.Y. “It was cool to hear that there are aspects of corporate law that are engaging and that have repercussions outside the corporate world.”

Like many of her classmates, Mahan said she also found a powerful message in a screening of the award-winning documentary “The Trials of Darryl Hunt,” and the subsequent presentation by attorney Mark Rabil.

Rabil represented Hunt, who was released from prison in 2003 after serving 18 years for the brutal rape and murder of a white journalist in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Hunt, an African-American, was convicted despite the lack of any physical evidence and dubious witness testimony. Rabil and other attorneys persevered through two decades, finally proving Hunt’s innocence and winning his release.

“The documentary was so good, and when it was over and Mark Rabil walked up to the podium, I wanted to stand up and clap,” said Jonathan Knight ’11 from Silver Springs, Md.

Rabil, both soft-spoken and blunt, was a refreshing speaker, according to Knight.

“I thought he was really honest,” Knight said. “He even said he didn’t trust the legal system, which was not what you expect to hear during law school orientation. You could tell he believed everything he said.”

Rabil advised students that bad judgment can result from getting too caught up in the often adversarial nature of the legal system.

“Whether it’s criminal defense, corporate law, securities, whatever, you are dealing with human nature,” he said. “It’s all about trying to see things from a different point of view.” - Forrest Norman

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