Please note: Grace M. Giesel is the Bernard Flexner Professor of Law – not Professor Leibson – as the article states.
Professor David J. Leibson wanted to pursue a teaching career from a young age. But even he could not have envisioned what was to follow and what he would accomplish during a 40-plus-year distinguished tenure at the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law—the law school from which he graduated first in his class in 1969.
“If someone would’ve told me in law school that I would end up being a so-called expert on the Uniform Commercial Code, I would’ve told them that they were crazy,” Leibson said. “That’s why I tell my students to never rule out anything as an opportunity.”
After Leibson was encouraged to become a teacher by his mentor and professor Bob Birkby while an undergraduate at Vanderbilt University, Leibson’s opportunity to finally enter academia arrived in 1971. Former Dean of UofL’s law school James Merritt unexpectedly called Leibson, then an associate handling mostly personal injury cases at Leibson & Franklin, PSC, to become a part-time professor; however, rather than teaching a subject for which he already had a strong interest, like Torts or Evidence, he would be teaching a Secured Transactions class.
As it turned out, Leibson enjoyed teaching the class and eventually parlayed his part-time position into a full-time teaching position for the 1972–73 academic year. Within ten years, Leibson, previously unmoved by the wonders of the UCC, was approached by a publisher to author what would later become the first edition of The Uniform Commercial Code of Kentucky. The project was too massive for one person to handle so he recruited a rookie law professor at the time, Richard Nowka—the current Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs Professor of Law—to help pen the work.
“We wrote that book more than 30 years ago and that’s way too long for my recollection of highlights,” said Nowka, one of Leibson’s friends and colleagues on the faculty. “But I do recall how grateful I was that he asked me, a first-year teacher, to be a co-author with him on a book.”
The book was well-received by the bench, bar, and Leibson’s students, who represent the part of his job that Leibson will miss the most.
“I will definitely miss the intellectual challenge of the classroom because I know our students here are as intelligent and creative as anywhere else.” said Leibson, whose oft-quoted saying “What would your mother say?” reminded his students and challenged them to focus not only on the subtleties of precise statutory language, but also to look at the common sense behind Code provisions.
Leibson’s dedication to his students prompted, in part, his decision to retire. He did not want to transform, as he witnessed with some of his peers, into a shell of his former self, unable to muster the same level of passion and enthusiasm that he expects to bring to the classroom.
Aside from the Code classes he teaches, Leibson, an avid reader, is extremely passionate and enthusiastic about his Law & Literature Seminar, which he said would now be the one class that could sway him into getting that itch to return from retirement.
Third-year law student Michael Atkinson, enrolled in Leibson’s Negotiable Instruments and Law & Literature classes this semester, spoke particularly highly of the seminar: “There was one class where [Professor Leibson] made a suggestion based on one of our readings, and I disagreed with the merits of his suggestion, but he didn't shoot me down; rather, he respected my opinion and contributions to the discussion. The class, and the way he conducted it, was truly a model for civil discourse.”
Leibson said that his teaching methodology is driven by the way students are responding in the class and that he learned, over time, not to judge students too quickly, as each person thrives and learns differently depending on the circumstances. Despite the progressive integration of technology and distance learning in higher education, Leibson prefers face-to-face discussions with his students—whether to assist in understanding the material or simply getting to find out a little bit more about who they are.
Now, one topic of discussion is what Leibson will do in his retirement. Expecting to be unable to decide exactly what to do for at least the first six months, Leibson and his wife, Phyllis, will likely devote some time to their love of traveling; with Leibson having previously served as a visiting Professor of Law at the University of Western Sydney, Australia is one of the couple’s favorite destinations.
Restoring his (once-impressive) handicap on the links to respectability and finally being able to delve into the stack of books by his bed are also on the to-do list for the professor when he leaves his post at the law school after finals (and his celebratory roast and retirement party!) are over.
For as much knowledge as Leibson has imparted upon his pupils throughout the years, he maintains that they returned the favor on a daily basis.
“After all this time, you learn a lot about life and your work, not only because of yourself, but from the students themselves,” Leibson said.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, if enacted by Congress, would prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. ENDA was approved by the United States Senate on November 7 and is currently being considered in the House of Representatives.
On Monday, November 25 at 8 PM, Professor Enid Trucios-Haynes, who is currently the president of the ACLU of Kentucky will be one of several individuals discussing its impact. Other guests will be Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst for The Family Foundation of Kentucky; Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign; and Richard Nelson, executive director of the Commonwealth Policy Center.
Kentucky Tonight programs are archived online, made available via podcast, and rebroadcast on KET, KET KY, and radio. Archived programs, information about podcasts, and broadcast schedules are available at Kentucky Tonight.
On Friday, November 8th, alumni from the class years ending in 3s and 8s came back to the School of Law for tours of the new renovations and a reception. On Saturday, November 9th alumni joined the Dean for a pre-game party before the UofL Men’s Basketball Team took on the College of Charleston. That evening the party continued at class dinners at area restaurants. Thanks to all who attended the reunion weekend events and we look forward to welcoming back the classes ending in 4s and 9s next fall.
Pictured: Class of 1968
"Did you know that attorneys have the highest rates of depression and suicide of any profession and 40% of law students in their third year of school report experiencing symptoms of depression." The Dave Nee Foundation is sponsoring a program they believe will help save lives. Come hear Katherine Bender of the Dave Nee Foundation and Professor Jim Jones discuss this important topic Thursday, November 14, at 11:50 a.m., in room 275.
KYLAP will be on hand, providing lunch and drinks, along with lawyer volunteers, to answer any questions or provide immediate assistance to anyone in distress.
Jeff R. Hawkins, Sullivan, advanced to the office of president-elect of the Indiana State Bar Association (ISBA) for 2013-14 at the Association’s annual meeting in French Lick on Friday, Oct. 18. His term will expire in October 2014, after which he will become president of the ISBA. As president, he will represent the single largest legal organization in the state.
Hawkins practices law with his wife at Hawkins Law PC, where he and Jennifer are the shareholders, practicing in the areas of estate andbusiness planning, trust and estate administration and elder law. He received his B.S. from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business in 1988 and his J.D. from the University of Louisville’s Louis D. Brandeis School of Law in 1992. He was admitted to practice in Indiana in 1992 and in Illinois in 2012. He became a registered civil mediator in Indiana in 2013.
Hawkins is a member of the Sullivan County, Indiana State (member, Board of Governors; chair, House of Delegates; chair, Young Lawyers Section; chair, Probate, Trust & Real Property Section) and American bar associations. He is also a Fellow of the American College of Trust & Estate Counsel and a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. Hawkins is an active member of the Westside Church of Christ (elder, 2005-present) andSullivan Rotary Club (president, 2012-13), and he volunteers for the WabashValley United Way’s “Real Men Read” program by reading to kindergarten students.
This issue also includes:
- "The Mighty Walk: Selma to Montgomery, 1965" by Stephen T. Porter, 2013 Alumni Fellow (page 24)
- "Dream' Speech Continues to Impact Today's Youth" by Jamitra Fulleord, a Central High School Law and Government Magnet Program student (page 18)
- "A tribute to Lee A. Webb, Class of 1997" (page 23)
- "A Lawyer's Guide to Relaxing" (page 4), which may be of interest to students
Both publications are available in the law library.
Our 2013 Alumni Fellow, Steve Porter, is a native Louisvillian. He received his BA from Duke University and returned to Louisville to earn his JD from the Brandeis School of Law.
The Brandeis School of Law has a strong commitment to public service. In 1992 our school was one of the first in the country to adopt public service as a graduation requirement. Although Steve graduated several years before the school adopted the public service requirement, his life work embodies its values. Even before Steve arrived at the Brandeis School of Law, he took a stand against segregation and racial discrimination. During March of 1965 Steve chose to stand up against bigotry and not let hate have the last word. During that spring Steve joined many young people at sit-ins and marches including taking part in the walk from Selma to Montgomery.
Two years later Steve welcomed Martin Luther King Jr. to the Allen Courtroom in the Brandeis School of Law. Recently he shared these civil rights stories with our students and I hope all of you can get Steve to tell them to you.
Steve continued his civil rights activities when as an attorney he defended the JCPS student assignment plan over many years. As the Director of the Crime Commission in the late 60s and early 70s Steve pushed for a public defender system, a new jail, merger of police departments, full-time prosecutors and a revised court system. Steve is also a tireless advocate for fair housing, historical preservation and neighborhood planning. He makes sure neighbors, neighborhood associations, preservation groups and environmental groups are on a level playing field with developer interests in planning and zoning matters.
Please join me in congratulating Steve on his newest honor, the 2013 Brandeis School of Law Alumni Fellow.