Year in Review: 10 Ways Stetson College of Law Shined in 2023

Scenic exterior of the College of Law

Over the past year, the Stetson Law community has had so many incredible moments, from national recognition to amazing pro bono work. Students, faculty, alumni, staff and friends have won championships, been thought leaders in emerging areas of law, and taken pivotal steps in their career journeys — but not without a little self-care.

In no particular order, here are 10 highlights from Stetson Law in 2023.

1. Welcoming Dean Ben Barros.

Dean D. Benjamin Barros

In July, Dean D. Benjamin Barros embarked on his new role at the helm of the College of Law. He quickly became a warm, visible presence on campus whose enthusiasm for Stetson Law’s mission is contagious.

Barros came to Stetson from University of Toledo School of Law, where he also served as dean. He looks forward to spending his first full year fostering growth and student success — and even doing some teaching. Learn more about Dean Barros.

2. The Advocacy Institute Opened.

The Advocacy Institute had its ribbon-cutting on Oct. 28.

After years of planning and hard work, Stetson Law’s Advocacy Institute began welcoming the community in the fall 2023 semester. The breathtaking new facility features 16,000 square feet of space, including new conference and office space, six new courtrooms, two new jury deliberation rooms, a stunning trophy area, and more. The addition of so many new courtrooms brings the total number to 12, which means Stetson Law has the highest number of practice courtrooms of any U.S. law school.

3. Student Wellness Took Center Stage.

New meditation rooms feature adjustable lighting, aromatherapy, yoga mats and more.

Recognizing the toll that the rigors of law school can have on one’s mental and physical health, Stetson’s Student Bar Association, with support from the Student Affairs Department and others, launched several initiatives around student health and wellness in 2023. In April, two student meditation rooms opened on campusStudent Health & Wellness Week created a sense of community around cultivating healthy habits and mindful practices to combat stress. Campus even hosted a pair of miniature therapy horses to help students take a break from their studies and make adorable new friends.

4. New Heights in Student Achievement.

Despite the rigors of law school life, Stetson Law’s students were driven to excel in their scholarly pursuits and experiential endeavors in 2023. From recent grads being two of the top bar exam scorers in the state (one of whom was Stetson Law’s spring 2023 valedictorian, Sam Ciulla) to winning a prestigious public service award from a national nonprofit, Stetson Law students shined in 2023.

5. Reclaiming the Top Spot in Advocacy.

Stetson Law once again displayed championship excellence.

In May, Stetson Law regained its status as U.S. News & World Report’s No. 1 law school for trial advocacy, plus maintained its No. 3 rank in legal writing. These triumphs are the result of deep commitment among students, faculty, staff and alumni.

Through forward-thinking scholarship, championship-sweeping competition performance, innovative teaching methods and more, the College of Law remains a national leader in these critical areas of legal education and practice. The advocacy and legal writing communities look forward to more success in 2024.

6. Leading Conversations About AI.

In 2023, artificial intelligence took workplaces by storm. As AI stood poised to transform many industries, including the legal profession, Stetson Law faculty and others seized on opportunities to share insights on how this evolving tech will transform what lawyers do. In October, Law Professor Mason Clark spoke to legal professionals at Stetson Law’s annual National Conference on Special Needs Planning and Special Needs Trusts about why they shouldn’t be afraid of AI and should instead harness it.

A month later, Law Professor Luz Nagle hosted LexisNexis Executive Vice President and General Counsel Ian McDougall for a lecture and discussion about how closed A.I. databases will impact legal work, and why lawyers will still be needed in the future. And in December, Law Professor Kirsten Davis, PhD, was recognized by the American Association of Law Schools for her “significant strides integrating technology into legal education particularly with respect to use of Generative AI,” according to a statement from the AALS Section on Technology, Law and Legal Education.

7. Remaining a Champion of Diversity.

The campus remained proudly committed to diversity.

At a challenging time for diversity initiatives at many universities, Stetson bolstered its commitment to fostering a welcoming, inclusive campus community. Students collaborated and conversed during Diversity Week, held important discussions around culture and heritage, and marched in St. Pete Pride. In November, Lambda, Stetson Law’s LGBTQ+ student organization, hosted a fundraising event exploring Florida Law and Drag, which culminated in a series of dazzling drag performances.

These initiatives aren’t going unrecognized. The college won its fourth Insight Into Diversity HEED Award in a row, and was given the AALS Section on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Issues (SOGII) LGBTQ+ Inclusive Excellence Award.

8. Major Milestones for Signature Programs.

Stetson Law’s 2023 National Conference on Special Needs Planning and Special Needs Trusts

In 2023, two key Stetson Law programs celebrated major anniversaries. December marked a decade of success within Social Justice Advocacy Concentration, which began graduating students in 2013. The concentration empowers students to advocate for vulnerable and underrepresented communities through experiential learning and mentorship. Program graduates have gone on to achieve things like serving on a White House board promoting accessibility and developing an app to help children in the foster care system understand their rights.

The year also marked the 25th edition of Stetson Law’s National Conference on Special Needs Planning and Special Needs Trusts, a major event organized by the college’s Center for Elder Justice. Taking place each year in St. Petersburg, the conference attracts professionals from around the country to participate in conversations about everything from regulatory changes to the role of self-care for those working people suffering from loss and trauma.

9. Serving Others Through Pro Bono Work.

Inaugural members of the AALS Pro Bono Honor Roll

For years, Stetson Law has been committed to helping overlooked and underserved populations through a robust, pioneering program requiring students and faculty to perform pro bono work. This results in thousands of hours of legal and non-legal pro bono work performed throughout the community each year through initiatives such as Wills for Warriors, an event in which students and volunteer attorneys prepare free simple wills and advance directives for elderly veterans.

In January 2023, the AALS inducted three individuals — a faculty member, a staff member and a student — into its inaugural Pro Bono Honor Roll: Law Professor Judith Scully, alumna and Veterans Law Institute Staff Attorney Morgan MacIsaac-Bykowski, and then-student Phillip J. Faires, who graduated in 2023.

10. Alumni Achievement: From SCOTUS to SLAA.

In June, Anisha Patel ’15 was sworn into office as 2023-2024 president of the Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division.

It was also a huge year for Stetson Law alumni. Double-Hatter Viviana Vasiu, who received her JD in 2018, was selected for a prestigious fellowship with the U.S. Supreme Court, a yearlong term she began in September. Over the summer, 2015 alumna Anisha Patel was sworn in as president of the Florida Bar Association Young Lawyers Division. And as mentioned above, 2018 alumna Taylor Sartor launched an app to help youth in foster care navigate the system’s legal landscape and advocate for themselves. The concept stems from her time in Stetson Law’s Social Justice Advocacy Concentration; Professor Judith Scully, who mentored Sartor at the time, won a national award for her role in the project.