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Westheimer addresses Cooley Law School graduates

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Cooley Tampa Grads

COOLEY LAW SCHOOL students receive juris doctor degrees and master of laws degrees during the law school’s Tampa Bay commencement ceremony at its Campus Auditorium on December 16.

Graduates of Cooley Law School’s Tampa Bay campus were honored during a commencement ceremony at its campus auditorium on December 16.

Juris doctor and master of laws degrees were presented to members of Cooley Law School’s Distinguished Professor Emeritus Peter M. Kempel and Justice Thomas Douglas classes.

Student speaker remarks were made by Christina Sabella of the Kempel Class and Sydni Rease of the Douglas Class, while Florida Bar President Scott Westheimer delivered the keynote speech.

Westheimer told the graduates they are embarking into the legal profession at a genuinely exciting and transformative time.

Scott Westheimer

Florida Bar President Scott Westheimer delivers the keynote speech during the law school’s Tampa Bay commencement ceremony.

“Technology has transformed the practice of law, and we are now in the world of virtual courtrooms, remote offices, and the daily use of Zoom,” Westheimer said. “Generative artificial intelligence — AI — and daily cybersecurity threats will not just impact the future of the practice of law, they are here right now and will impact every aspect of what we do. The legal landscape is rapidly evolving, and our profession must embrace innovation and technology to enhance how we do business.”

To thrive, Westheimer said lawyers must continue to adapt to meet the needs of their clients and the demands of a digital age.

“Its positive effects on increased access to the courts and lowering the cost of litigation to the public are immense,” he said. “However, in this new hybrid reality, the Bar and the practice of law must strive to find the proper balance between virtual and live interactions to maintain the tenets that are critical to our profession. It is critical that all of us find ways to retain connectivity with our friends and colleagues that can be lost without seeing each other in person on a regular basis. While we pivot and adapt with this technology, we must be diligent to maintain the relationships upon which our profession is built.”

Westheimer said at its core, the profession is about relationships — with other attorneys, clients, judges, and referral sources. And the way to cultivate these relationships is to get involved in our profession.

“Find mentors and friends and build your support system,” he said. “My path to Bar leadership started by joining the Sarasota County Bar Association when I was voluntold to get involved. But there are so many ways you can carve your own path. With 21 sections — plus the Young Lawyers Division — and more than 70 standing committees, there’s a great chance you will find one that relates to your interests or legal expertise. Local voluntary and statewide specialty bars also provide paths to leadership while also encouraging mentoring, networking, and community service. I encourage you to become involved in an area of bar work that you are passionate about because that will propel you forward.”

Each Cooley Law School class is named for a distinguished member of the legal profession. The commencement ceremony for Cooley’s summer and winter graduating classes honor Distinguished Professor Emeritus Peter M. Kempel and Justice Thomas Douglas, respectively.

While earning his law degree, Professor Kempel was the law librarian and instructor in legal research at the University of Detroit School of Law. After he served as a research attorney for the Michigan Court of Appeals, he clerked for former Michigan Associate Supreme Court Justice Michael D. O’Hara, then sitting on the Court of Appeals. In 1973, Professor Kempel joined Cooley Law School and started his career of 40 years as the director of Library and Research Services. He served as chair of the State Bar Libraries, Legal Research and Publications Committee, and as president of Legal Aid of Central Michigan. A member of the Cooley Legal Authors Society, Professor Kempel taught Legal Research, Family Law, Jurisprudence, Legislation, Legislative Drafting, Contracts, Sales & Negotiable Instruments, Evidence, Trial Practice, Professional Responsibility, and Legal Ethics for over 26 years.

Thomas Douglas, the first justice of the court and its first chief justice, was born in 1790 in Wallingford, CT. Douglas’ father was a shoemaker and farmer, but Douglas as a young man tried to find a better life as an attorney for himself and his wife, Hannah Sanford. Douglas began “reading law” to earn his license to practice, and succeeded in being elected a judge in Jefferson County, IN, before he was even licensed to practice. As a result, Florida’s first chief justice began working as a judge before he ever practiced as a lawyer. In 1826, President John Quincy Adams appointed Douglas U.S. District Attorney for East Florida — a post he held until he was named to the Florida Supreme Court in 1845.

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