Commencement each year is special, but this year particularly stands out, because we proudly awarded four graduates their Ph.D.’s in Law and Economics. This brings the number of graduates of our successful Ph.D. in Law and Economics Program to seven, an outstanding result for a program launched only eight years ago. Economists Kip Viscusi and Joni Hersch joined our faculty from Harvard Law School in 2006 to start and co-direct this unique dual-degree program, which allows students to earn both their J.D. and their Ph.D. at Vanderbilt Law or to enter with a J.D. and earn a Ph.D., as 2015 graduate Sam Miller did.
Four additional 2015 graduates received their J.D./M.S. in Finance degrees from Vanderbilt. They were the first class to graduate with our newest dual degree, which we developed to enhance the skills of transactional lawyers. This program has attracted so much interest we are expanding the number of seats available for fall 2016. Four 2015 graduates also earned J.D./M.B.A.’s through our longstanding dual-degree program, which allowed students to earn both degrees in four years.
In fact, Vanderbilt Law School is known for our broad array of formal dual-degree programs. Our J.D./M.D. program has produced three graduates who are influencing policy relating to medical treatment and ethics. Two students are currently pursuing J.D./Ph.D. dual degrees in neuroscience. We also offer dual-degree programs pairing a J.D. with a master’s of public policy or a master’s of divinity. These programs enable students to gain legal skills along with graduate-level expertise in another field of study.
In this edition of Vanderbilt Law, you’ll learn more about these programs, meet several accomplished dual-degree graduates, and see the myriad ways in which a legal education extends the capabilities of professionals who work in very different fields.
Our new Program on Law & Innovation gives our students yet another option to extend their education. J.B. Ruhl, who directs this program, launched the effort in 2013 when he developed a new course, Law Practice 2050. Since then, he has been developing courses to prepare students for the realities of legal practice in a rapidly evolving professional environment. Several Vanderbilt Law graduates who are leaders in the legal profession have delivered talks or participated in panel discussions in J.B.’s class over the past two years; if you are among them, please accept my thanks! I encourage you to check out J.B.’s blog, law2050.com.
This issue also profiles our distinguished alumni award winners, Victor S. (Torry) Johnson III ’74 and Charles W. (Chet) Gerdts III ’78. We honored Torry and Chet at the Founders Circle Dinner, which was a bittersweet occasion, as we honored Chet posthumously. He was represented by his wife, Elizabeth; his children, Charles IV (BA’13) and Emily; and his law school contemporary and lifelong friend, Pat Mulloy ’77 (BA’74). We celebrated Chet’s service to the law school and his distinguished career, culminating in the general counsel position at PricewaterhouseCoopers. We recognized Torry’s 27 years of service to Nashville as district attorney and to the law school as a supporter and friend. His wife, Mary Leyden (BSN’72), and two of his daughters, Anne Lawrence and Caroline (BA’07), joined the celebration.
We celebrated another special occasion January 17—the first Black Law Student Association dinner, hosted at the downtown offices of Baker Donelson. We honored Vanderbilt’s first African American male law graduates, Fred Work ’59 (posthumously) and E. Melvin Porter ’59, and Vanderbilt’s first African American female law graduate, Janie Greenwood Harris ’64, and celebrated BLSA alumni who have served as judges. The dinner was a huge success because of our deserving honorees and their families—and thanks to the efforts of Kendra Key ’15. She had the idea of reconnecting BLSA alumni during her 1L year and helped get the dinner organized while serving as BLSA president in 2013–14. I want to mention that Kendra will be clerking for Judge David Hamilton of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit during 2015–16, having met him when he visited VLS to judge the final Moot Court round in which she and Robin Frazer won the 2014 competition. She is a force of nature and a wonderful example of the ways in which our students begin contributing to the Vanderbilt Law community as soon as they join us.
Dean and John Wade-Kent Syverud Professor of Law