Launch Week 2016

August 24, 2016| By Alexa Brown —Last week, over 200 new students participated in Pepperdine School of Law’s third annual Launch Week. As in past years, the intensive program — part of Pepperdine Law’s Parris Institute — featured speakers, exercises, and social activities establishing the first moments of law school as the launch of a professional career and the honing of the core values, discipline, and goals required for success.

Relive Launch Week 2016 below!

Monday August 15, 2016

Launch Week 2016 began with Dean Deanell Tacha and students gathering over coffee and a light breakfast. Students then gathered in the Caruso Auditorium to hear Dean Emeritus Ron Phillips — the law school’s founding dean, who served for over 27 years — speak on how to “support each other even while competing with each other,” an allusion to Pepperdine Law’s renowned sense of campus community. After a prayer by Dean Phillips, Dean of Students Steve Schultz offered some facts on the entering class: 53% of students represented are women, 39% are people of color, 36% are out-of-state students, 11 are veterans, and there are over 105 universities represented. He then spoke to how welcoming Pepperdine is to diversity and encouraged the students to be themselves. Schultz, who is Jewish, shared his own story, and said in regards to serving as Dean of Students at this Christian law school, he has “never felt more welcome or included.” Listing some of the organizations that promote respectful and civil conversations on political, social, and religious issues, he concluded his talk by assuring students that Pepperdine faculty have genuine concern, care, and attention for each and every one of them and quoted a former student: “Our value is not determined by the grades we make.”

Dean Tacha then introduced guest speaker The Honorable Andre Birotte (JD ’91), who described his journey to becoming a federal district court judge in the Central District of California. He credited Pepperdine as providing a key foundation for making that happen.

Judge Andre Birotte Pepperdine Law“I credit this university for this path. They were behind me, beside me, reached out to people, and were always rallying support. They were always there for me, and if you utilize these resources, you can enjoy a similar experience. They gave me the tools I need and I can’t thank them enough.”

He encouraged students to “feel the fear, and do it anyway,” a testament to how even though he was unsure of his path at many times, he put his best foot forward and strove to do well. He detailed his story of working as a public defender, including during the 1992 riots in Los Angeles, to working in the U.S. District Attorney’s office, then private practice, investigator for LAPD, assistant inspection general, to U.S. District Attorney and finally to his appointment as a federal judge.

A Q&A followed, in which Birotte replied to students’ inquires on how to handle specific aspects of law school. He advised them to maintain perspective while navigating through work/life balances, encouraged taking externships to delve deeper into specific types of law, to cultivate mentors, and “in times of struggle, reach out. The worst thing you can do is be paralyzed by fear. Law school is a different mindset, and with that comes growing pains. That’s normal. Just reach out.”

After a break, students attended an introductory session on the Parris Institute for Professional Formation. Rex Parris, whose gift established the institute, spoke on confidence and how to achieve it. When discussing mindsets for beating nerves, he said, “Do not be worried about three years from now; do not be concerned about the end of the day; be concerned about right now.”

Associate Dean Danny DeWalt’s talk incorporated videos, including this one serving as a metaphor for the mindset with which many students approach law school:

DeWalt compared that to the inspiration for the Parris Institute: “Who you are is as important as what you know.” He debunked common myths surrounding law school, such as grades being the most important thing in your law school career, when in fact, relationships are. He also urged students to consider themselves a “lawyer in training” rather than a student and to be aware of “who you are and how you act as well as what you know.”Launch Week Danny Dewalt

The first day ended with ice cream sandwiches and mingling with the deans on Pepperdine Law’s ocean-facing terrace. Later, a married and engaged couples dinner was hosted by Danny and Amy DeWalt.


Tuesday August 16

Dean of Graduate Programs Al Sturgeon and Sukhsimranjit Singh, Associate Director of the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution, spoke after students had had a light breakfast with the deans. Sturgeon dug into the “true function of a lawyer,” as well as of a law school, listening to student’s thoughts and suggestions while they discussed in small groups. He told the story of a recent Olympics runner who described the mentality required to win a race despite being in the notorious “eighth lane,” from which other runners can’t be viewed. Sturgeon urged students to “do law school in the eighth lane.” Singh then discussed communication, instructing students through a “silence” exercise demonstrating the effect of specific body language amongst other key communication factors.

Pepperdine Law Launch Week Steve Schultz In-n-OutStudents were (re)introduced to more of the Southern California lifestyle at lunch, enjoying In-N-Out burgers from the franchise’s food trucks and learning more about various groups on campus at a student organizations fair. Another highlight of the afternoon was a Palazzolo’s gelato truck during an optional social hour. The students participated in more Academic Success Programs on varying subjects as well as a “bonus session” from the top-ranked Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution.


Wednesday August 17

Students enjoyed breakfast with the deans, Academic Success Program sessions, and an introduction to the Honor Code via Vice Dean Shelley Saxer. An important session of the day included a student panel of 2Ls and 3Ls who described their experience of Pepperdine Law so far, what they had learned, advice they had to offer, and answers to questions posed by the audience. Food from iconic Sharky’s Mexican Grill was served for lunch, then SusieCakes during an optional social hour. Two optional bonus sessions included an introduction to public interest programs, hosted by director Jeff Baker, and the Global Justice Program,  led by director Jim Gash. That was followed by a preview screening of the final cut of the documentary “Remand,” featuring students from the Global Justice Program and narrated by Golden Globe Award winner Angela Bassett.


Thursday August 18

Students spent the day with 1L professors, starting with a faculty mentor breakfast. Dean Saxer then spent time introducing each faculty member and what courses they teach. For the fourth Parris Institute session, Brittany Stringfellow-Otey, Director of the Legal Aid Clinic, spoke on personal care and what steps students could take to remain healthy and happy during their law school career. Students then had lunch with 1L professors. The day also included more Academic Success Program sessions and a Haagen-Dazs ice cream break.


Friday August 19

Friday morning began with breakfast with the Pepperdine Law staff. Dean Tacha then mentioned that the Class of 2019 had already earned a reputation with the staff and faculty: “generous, gracious, energetic, bright, joyful, and respectful.”

Afterward, the president of Pepperdine University, Andrew K. Benton, addressed the 1Ls and posed the question, “For what will you be remembered?” Discussing how to build a good reputation and uphold integrity, he said, “You start today. Be prepared to make a difference in the most positive way possible.”

The Honorable Jennifer Dorsey (JD ’97), District Court of Nevada, took the stage to speak on her own journey and time at Pepperdine Law: “From day one here at Pepperdine, my professors and mentors instilled in me the importance and integrity of my personal reputation.” Dorsey gave students advice on how to maintain their professional reputation, including how to present themselves as well as address the ever-present social media platforms that plague the current generation. “Even frivolous decisions can have a lasting impact,” she testified, leading to a story about getting a nickel-sized tattoo on her foot, with unforeseen and hilarious results.

Students were then instructed to break into groups and draft a “Professional Oath,” attempting to address each aspect of their law career and the professionalism that it entails. The “winning” oathPepperdine Law was created by the students of Table 28. The entire class then stood and recited the pledge, as follows:

“As I begin my journey in the legal profession, I resolve to be diligent in the pursuit of knowledge. I will reflect Pepperdine’s mission of purpose, service, and leadership, first as a lifelong student of the law and as a professional. I pledge to be careful in the creation and protection of my reputation, ever remembering to follow and uphold the Pepperdine School of Law’s Honor Code. I pledge to treat my colleagues and community members with the highest standards of the profession, including, but not limited to, honesty, integrity, civility, justice, and service. I will strive to be humble, confident, and the best version of myself as an advocate for justice. I will stand firm in my values and continue to establish and build relationships based on generosity and equality.

I, _________________, pledge freely and upon my honor to balance the aforementioned principles to guide my legal training and practice.”

After taking the oath, students headed to Malibu Bluffs Park for a BBQ, shaved ice truck, and softball, volleyball, corn hole, ultimate Frisbee, and soccer with staff and faculty.

Approached at the end of the week, many students mentioned that Launch Week had held invaluable information for which they were extremely grateful. “The first day of classes would have been so unknown and Pepperdine Lawintimidating has we not had this week,” said 1L Sarah Parker.

Judge Andre Birotte (JD ’91) described Launch Week as a “testament to what this school is about: invested in your success,” and Dean Schultz called the program “a part of our DNA and a part of who we are.” Launch Week 2016 has been a great success.

–by Alexa Brown

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