A decade of visionary leadership

Patricia "Trish" White, dean of the University of Miami School of Law.
By Special to UM News

Patricia "Trish" White, dean of the University of Miami School of Law.

A decade of visionary leadership

By Special to UM News
Patricia “Trish” White, dean of the School of Law, is stepping down at the end of the academic year.

When Patricia “Trish” White became dean of the University of Miami School of Law in June 2009, she was faced with an unprecedented challenge. It was the height of the recession, and 843 new students had sent deposits for the incoming class—more than double the anticipated 400 enrollees. Fortunately, the new dean was able to come up with an effective solution that allowed Miami Law to deliver high-quality courses without overly straining the school’s resources.

“The first thing I did was send a congratulatory letter to every student who sent a deposit,” White said. “I reminded them about the tight legal market and suggested that they first do a year of public service, in which case we would accept them in 2010. That brought our enrollment down to 527 students, which we were able to manage by adding extra classrooms and instructors. I wound up teaching an introductory course that fall.”

In the following years, White brought her innovative thinking, intellectual skills and personal compassion to bear on the evolving needs of Miami Law students, faculty, and staff. She launched new programs like Legal Corps, which paid to place new graduates in not-for-profit and public sector organizations, and LawWithoutWalls, which links students and faculty from more than 30 academic institutions around the world to examine and develop new solutions to evolving issues in legal education and practice.

Recognizing the community’s growing need for accessible legal services, White also guided the expansion of Miami Law’s clinics, externships and public interest programs, while supporting interdisciplinary learning throughout the J.D. and LL.M. curricula.

“Trish is a visionary and innovative leader,” said Hilarie Bass, a member of the UM Board of Trustees, founder of the Bass Institute for Diversity and Inclusion, former co-president of Greenberg Traurig, and the 2017-18 president of the American Bar Association (ABA). “Deans throughout the country have looked to Trish for her wise counsel. At Miami Law, she has done a phenomenal job of bringing in new and exciting faculty, and launching innovative programs that will benefit the school for years to come.”

White’s vision for Miami Law’s academic program has emphasized what she calls the “3 Is”—innovative, interdisciplinary and international. Today, Miami Law has 22 joint degree programs that take advantage of the university’s interdisciplinary resources. Students can take elective courses in fields like medicine, architecture and nursing. One example is a Saturday short course called “The Idea of the Hospital,” that brings graduate students from different schools together to work on collaborative projects.

“We also pay close attention to innovations that affect the practice of law, such as artificial intelligence (AI), e-discovery processes and legal informatics,” White said.

Now, after a decade at the helm of Miami Law, White is looking forward to retiring from her administrative responsibilities in June, while continuing to teach on the faculty and to serve as chair of the ABA’s Commission on the Future of Legal Education, which aims to address new challenges facing the legal profession.

“Ten years is about right,” said White in announcing her retirement as dean. “An institution is seldom best served by having the same dean for more than 10 years. Good institutions must avoid becoming complacent and they benefit from the challenge of welcoming and confronting new energy.”

Jeffrey L. Duerk, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost, credited White with having “deftly navigated the challenges facing law schools and higher education across the country. While her expertise is vast, throughout her career she has demonstrated a steadfast focus on four key areas: students, the transformation of legal education, the interdisciplinary role of law, and public service.”

Throughout an academic career that began in 1979 while still a practicing tax attorney, White has been in the forefront of legal education. At Miami Law, she has repeatedly been recognized for her innovative strategies and influential thinking. To take just one example, White was named one the most influential people in legal education in the United States by National Juristmagazinein each of the years the list was published. In 2012, she was named the top woman on that list.

“Miami Law is a different place than it was a decade ago. The School is on solid financial footing and is internationally recognized as a leader in innovative responses to a dramatically changing legal environment. Our faculty is intellectually vibrant and committed. We are consistently admitting a strong 1L class, and providing an unparalleled student support model and team,” White said.