Learning the law at New College

Editor’s Note:This column originally appeared in SRQ Magazine.com’s Saturday Perspectives Edition on January 14.
By Donal O’Shea
New College of Florida welcomed The Honorable Charles T. Canady, Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court, to campus this week to preside over a moot court session that featured two of our students arguing an appeals case regarding early voting sites on Florida college campuses.
Rhys Shanahan, a political science major and one of the founders of New College’s Law Society and Mock Trial Team, represented the plaintiff, while Evan Hunter, a mathematics major and former high school debate team captain, represented the defendant.
They were participating in this hands-on learning experience as part of our Advocacy and Persuasion class, being taught by our General Counsel and pre law advisor David Fugett. After the moot court session, Chief Justice Canady, along with 12th Circuit Court Judges Kimberly Bonner and Charles Williams and Magistrate Laura Hale spoke with Rhys, Evan and other New College students interested in legal careers.
New College has always been proud of the number of scientists that we produce and, because the National Science Foundation collects data on scientists and engineers, we actually know how many. An astonishing 16% of our graduates go on to receive PhDs in science and engineering, the third highest rate in the nation.
We also know that law is a popular career option for New College graduates. Over the past six years students have been accepted to 16 of the nation’s Top 30 law schools. But in contrast to the case of scientists, we don’t actually know precisely how many graduates pursue a legal career. We do know that it is a lot and that some of them are very distinguished.
The recent movie “Dark Waters” features actor Mark Ruffalo playing New College alumnus Rob Bilott, the lawyer who prevailed in a two decade long legal battle against Dupont over the health risks and environmental damage caused by chemicals used in the manufacture of Teflon and like products. Bilott will speak to graduates and receive an honorary degree from New College at graduation this May. A few years earlier the same honor was conferred on another New College lawyer, Jennifer Granick, who helped create Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society. Granick pioneered the field of internet law, and has fought tirelessly for privacy and civil liberties in an age of ubiquitous surveillance. Currently, she is surveillance and cybersecurity counsel with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology project.
What underlies this success producing scientists and lawyers? There are at least three reasons. We encourage students to think independently and advocate for their ideas– great preparation for law school and the legal profession, as well as the sciences. Students conceive of and carry out at least three independent study projects during their undergraduate education. And to graduate, every student must complete a senior thesis project and defend it in a public baccalaureate exam before a committee of faculty. As New College graduate and Sarasota lawyer Jennifer Maglio told a reporter in 2018: “Ultimately an appellate case is a kind of a baccalaureate. I have to know every fact of every case. They can ask you a question on anything you’ve ever done.”
— Donal O’Shea is president of New College of Florida.