Welcome Class of 2015: Dean Phil Weiser's Class of 2015 Orientation Speech

August 27, 2012

Welcome, Class of 2015. My name is Phil Weiser and I have the honor and privilege of being the dean at Colorado Law. You are 153 strong and a great group of individuals, coming from a set of diverse backgrounds and life experiences. Collectively, Colorado Law is a collaborative, diverse, and inclusive community of outstanding students, faculty, staff, and alums.  You are now part of this great tradition.

I am not going to spend much time talking about how amazing you all are. But let me start by emphasizing that you are all amazing. Please don’t ever forget that and what got you here is going to be a big part of what enables you to succeed going forward.

In my role as dean, there’s nothing better than getting to know you all and support you all as you develop your careers. Over our time together this week at orientation, we are going to start that process that will continue throughout your time here at Colorado and, after graduation, once you are an alum. One great benefit of your legal training will be that it is a platform for lifelong learning, professional growth, and continuing career development.

To facilitate your thinking about how your careers can and will develop over time, we are bringing a wonderful series of guests into the conversation over the weeks ahead, as part of our Career Perspectives series. I will host many of these discussions myself, giving you all a chance to get to know me better and vice versa. For some of you, I will have the pleasure to get to know you quite well in your first year, as I am teaching two optional one credit classes this spring, one on “Framing and Legal Narrative,” and another on “The Philosophy of Entrepreneurship.”

For the orientation week, you are going to have lots to think about. I would suggest three frames of reference that can help you make sense of most of what we will be discussing: service; entrepreneurship; and having fun. Let me say a bit about each and we can visit more on all of these topics as part of the next panel on “Adjusting to Law School.”

The concept of service has multiple meanings. For lawyers, one core concept is serving your clients. How many of you worked in restaurants or other service businesses while in high school or college? For you all, the concept of serving someone else—being, client-centric in other words—is not a new one. For lawyers, listening to and understanding their clients’ objectives, challenges, and problems is one of those important skills that comes from having an understanding of what it means to serve someone else.

The concept of service has a broader meaning, too. It implies a lawyer’s obligation toward public service. The empowerment of a law degree, and the inculcation into a great profession, comes with obligations as well as opportunities. At Colorado Law, you will all be given the opportunity to perform pro bono work while in law school. I strongly encourage you to take advantage of that opportunity.

The concept of being an entrepreneur is not one that traditionally was associated with law school. But we now live in an era where all lawyers must be entrepreneurs, to a greater or lesser extent depending on how our careers develop. In the sense that Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha wrote about in “The Startup of You,” and I hope that you all had a chance to read that book, you all need to recognize that you are entrepreneurs in yourselves. 

For me, I learned the lesson of thinking of myself as a franchise after I clerked for federal judges and looked for my first job. I choose to turn down more lucrative offers to accept and take a lower paying job in the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, enabling me to develop an expertise in telecommunications and technology law. That experience, which a friend called “investing in the franchise,” has paid great dividends.

Thinking about yourself as a franchise means being purposeful about how one’s choices can pay great rewards, even if it means passing up “what you are supposed to do.” As we watch and discuss the movie “Moneyball” later today, this lesson should come through loud and clear.

Another lesson, which I cannot emphasize enough, is the importance of having fun while you are here. Law school is a time to learn and enjoy the pursuit of ideas—as well as develop your career. And Colorado is a place to enjoy the outdoors, as well as our terrific law school building. 

Finally, and core to having fun, please don’t forget your friends, family, and priorities. Your studies, your professional network, and your internships will all be important over the next three years. But your friends and family, both as a source of support to you and as your top priority, should not be ignored.

On behalf of our collaborative, diverse, and inclusive community of outstanding students, faculty, staff, and alums, we are all delighted you have decided to join us and look forward to getting to know you over the years ahead. In my case, and on behalf of the entire Colorado Law community, please know that we are here for you and don’t hesitate to ask for help in whatever you are doing—choosing classes, writing a paper, applying for judicial clerkships for after graduation, or looking for a summer job.