The Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University College of Law is a recently re-established law school that has enjoyed tremendous growth and success since it was re-established in 2002. Florida A&M University College of Law is recognized as a tremendous value in legal education, with one of the lowest in-state and out-of-state tuition rates in Florida. But lower cost tuition does not equal value without the significant offerings the law school provides. The diversity efforts of the Florida A&M College of Law are recognized by . including U.S. News & World Report, National Jurist and On Being A Black Lawyer. The school offers both full-time and part-time scheduling, and prospective students may apply for either or both programs.
The College of Law provides traditional curriculum that integrates intellectual and practical skills training and clinical and practical experiences.
Angela Felecia Epps guides the law school faculty, students, and programs as dean of Florida A&M College of Law. Prior to joining Florida A&M, Dean Epps was a law professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law.
Before entering legal academia, Dean Epps spent 10 years on active duty with the United States Marine Corps, holding such positions as Defense Counsel, Trial Counsel, Chief Military Justice Officer, Chief Civil Law Officer and Chief Legal Assistance Officer. During this time, she was awarded the Naval Achievement Medal and the Navy Commendation Medal.
After leaving the USMC, she served as Managing Attorney for the Georgia Legal Services Program (GLSP) offices in Albany before joining the
UALR Bowen School of Law, where she held positions including supervising attorney in the Mental Health Law Clinic; professor of law teaching Trial Advocacy, Legal Interviewing and Counseling, Criminal Law, and Pre-Trial Criminal Procedure; and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs.
Her scholarship focuses on the areas of social and criminal justice.
We are grateful to Dean Epps for taking the time to answer our questions about the evolving legal field, from education to legal practice to the future of the legal profession.
What is the biggest challenge facing new law students?
The biggest challenge is to focus on their legal studies despite the variety of things competing for their attention. The study of law requires students to read, digest, and apply challenging materials. It requires a special level of discipline. There have always been activities competing for students’ attention. However social media of all types adds a new dimension to this concern. It competes for their attention– even in the classroom.
What is the single biggest challenge that you face as Dean?
Improving the image of legal education and of lawyers. Legal education has been subject to attacks over the past few years. Concerns about the cost of education, declining bar pass rates, and a perceived shortage of employment for lawyers have become the subject of publicity. Law schools need to address these concerns by providing students with education that equips them to pass the bar and to practice law. A juris doctor degree is a type of liberal arts degree. It enables a holder to take the bar and practice law but also improves their breadth of knowledge. It can be used to enhance a variety of other careers. Law schools must clearly articulate the values of a JD.
Which areas of the law do you think will experience the biggest growth over the next few years?
Intellectual Property Law/ Patents and Trademarks – Creative people are developing new products and new technology every day. These clients will need help protecting their property interests in what they create.
There will also be a renewed interest in Civil Rights law. The rise in concerns about police shootings of unarmed citizens is likely to increase interest in this area of the law. Lawyers driven by social justice concerns will seek to reform the criminal justice system.
Is teaching law now different compared to when you were a law student?
I graduated from Creighton University School of Law in 1983. The exclusive methods of instruction were the Socratic Method and lecture. Students were expected to master materials primarily by reading them. The professor’s questions and/or lecture were helpful guides. Students received one exam at the end of the semester. The student’s grade rested on this single opportunity. There were no clinics available to students. Only those students who found jobs clerking were able to get practical experience.
The current ABA Standards require that students receive both formative and summative assessments as part of the program of legal education. This means that some classes must involve an assessment other than the final exam. Students will have a quiz or a midterm or some other form of evaluation before the final exam in many courses. In addition, many faculty use other techniques to help students learn. Group projects, interim assignments, practical exercises are used by faculty.
Law schools are now required to provide experiential learning opportunities to students. This includes clinics, field placements, and a variety of other experiences that allow students to practice doing what lawyers do.
How do you think technology will impact criminal defense?
More jurisdictions will require that all police interactions be recorded (video/audio) from beginning to end. This will include not only dash cameras and body cameras, it will include recordings of all police interrogations of citizens. Both sides, defense and prosecution, will then have a good picture of what issues are raised by an encounter between a law enforcement officers and a citizen. Recordings will add clarity to whether police coercion was a factor in interrogations
What do you think are the biggest legal challenges facing the Supreme Court?
I teach Criminal Procedure which addresses the rights citizens have in the context of Criminal investigations. As technology advances the Court will have to address and perhaps limit the degree to which law enforcement can use technology to investigate crime. Devices exist that can monitor the activity (location, cell phone, computer usage) of citizens. Deciding these issues requires that the Court balance personal privacy against law enforcement’s need to investigate crime and protect the public. I predict that the Court will continue to grapple with these issues.
Are there any aspects of practicing law you miss due to being in education?
I miss actually having my own clients and helping them to resolve a legal issue. It gives me a great feeling to assist a person who can’t afford legal help.
If you could invite any three legal or governmental identities (living or dead; real or fictitious) to a meal, whom would you invite?
President Barack Obama and Mrs. Obama – they are both lawyers and have been successful. I admire them for using their law degrees to service the public rather than for personal gain.
Nelson Mandela – His ability to survive unjust imprisonment for 27 years and emerge with a spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation inspires me.
Johnnie Cochran – An awesome and committed trial attorney.
What is your favorite legal movie?
My Cousin Vinny – in addition to be absolutely hilarious it demonstrates several actual trial techniques. I taught Trial Advocacy for 10 years. I used this movie to illustrate those techniques for cross-examination. The central character was successful with cross-examinations without being hostile to the witness. Media depictions of successful cross-examinations often involve aggression and hostility (A Few Good Men). Hostility is normally not effective and has the danger of offending the jury.