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Million Dollar Gift Launches Parris Institute for Professional Formation

"Amid the useful varieties of mission and emphasis among American law schools, the formation of competent and committed professionals deserves and needs to be the common, unifying purpose. A focus on the formation of professionals would give renewed prominence to the ideals and commitments that have historically defined the legal profession in America." William M. Sullivan et al., Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law 13 (2007).

During the 41st Annual School of Law Dinner, Dean Deanell Reece Tacha announced a gift of one million dollars – plus an additional million-dollar pledge in matching funds –R. Rex and Carrol Parris from Carrol and R. Rex Parris. The gift from Ms. Parris, a Seaver College Board of Visitors member, and Mr. Parris, mayor of Lancaster, California, and partner of R. Rex Parris Law Firm, will go toward the formation of the Parris Institute for Professional Formation. The Institute will be dedicated to the professional development of first-year students at Pepperdine Law.

"We are so deeply grateful to Carrol and Rex Parris for their generous gift that will allow Pepperdine Law to serve our students as we prepare them for their legal professional lives in a rapidly changing legal environment," Dean Tacha says. "The Parris gift enables Pepperdine to model the highest ideals of our profession in ways that will inspire and challenge our students to emerge as leaders in the profession."

The Parris Institute will have three major components:

  1. First-years will begin their law school careers with a one-week Introduction to Professionalism Course that will focus on the fundamentals of legal reading, reasoning, writing, and ethics. Sessions will include assessment of writing ability and direct pedagogical experiences with professors. A one-day capstone session will follow one month later.
  2. The Professional Formation Series for 1Ls will be a series of four highly interactive and engaging events throughout the year that complement the professionalism course, connect students with mentors, and encourage professional behavior. The sessions will cover topics such as professional health, professional materials, interviewing, and networking. During this phase, students will work closely with their Preceptors, practicing attorney mentors.
  3. At the end of the school year, the Pepperdine Awards Program will celebrate the accomplishments of students who best exhibit professionalism. Outstanding students will receive "Parris Awards" in recognition of their contributions to professional formation in the law school community, and the "Pepperdine Award" will be given to the 3L who best embodies the values of the Pepperdine University School of Law.

Dean of Students Al Sturgeon will direct the Parris Institute for Professional Formation. He will work closely with both Professor Steve Schultz, who will be managing the Academic Success Program and a new professionalism course for 1Ls, and with Assistant Dean of Career Development Selina Brandt, who is developing a professional formation series for 1Ls in conjunction with the Preceptor Program.

The Parris Institute for Professional Formation unifies and enhances other Pepperdine Law "practice-ready" initiatives like the alumni-mentoring Preceptor Program and Pepperdine's nationally recognized clinical program. The Institute and related programs are a concerted effort to train law students not only to "think like lawyers," but practice as lawyers as well. National Jurist recently ranked Pepperdine Law seventh in the country for experiential learning, the highest ranking by a California law school.

"The Parris Institute will offer our students unique opportunities to examine and refine lawyering skills, focus on ethical decision making, and be exposed to the many ways that lawyers use their legal education," says Dean Tacha. "Our students will be called to envision their lives as lawyers as opportunities to solve problems, shape policy, assist those less fortunate, bring positive change to communities and the world, and model the rule of law at work. Both nationally and globally, great lawyers will be needed far into the future, as they have been in the past, to help clients and the world address the array of personal conflicts, societal challenges, and economic and public policy opportunities that will await them over their careers. The Parris Institute seeks to equip Pepperdine lawyers for these unknown but exciting career paths."