OM: What motivated you to become a lawyer and to pursue legal education?
DDK: My family had encouraged me to become a lawyer since I was a very small child. I remember being as young as three or four in my grandmother’s garden in Key West, peppering her with questions about every little thing and her finally exhorting, “you should be a lawyer when you grow up.” I was 10 years old when my mother earned her bachelor’s degree. She was the first in my family to earn a degree. That inspired me to pursue higher education. After College, I was trying to decide between law school and pursuing a Ph.D. in English literature so I took a job working in a law firm because I really had no idea what lawyers did every day. I worked in law firms for four years, first as a secretary and then as a paralegal. By then, I had a decent handle on what lawyers did and I was the mother of three children. Ultimately, my children are the reason I went to law school. I wanted to make a living that could support them well and I wanted to leave the world better than I found it for them. Pursuing a JD, in my estimation, was the best way to achieve both of those goals.
OM: Why did you choose FAMU College of Law?
DDK: I chose FAMU College of Law because I believe fully in its mission. I believe all lawyers should endeavor to “serve as a transformative force for the public good.” And, the College’s mission, “to serve as a beacon of hope and catalyst for change” is one that I knew I could fully commit to.
OM: What unique skillsets do you bring to the FAMU College of Law to help the institution fulfill its mission and goals?
DDK: My career has provided me with myriad opportunities to develop the skills the Dean of FAMU College of Law needs. I have done every client facing job in a law firm. Those experiences provided me with great problem-solving skills and an ability to manage up. My experiences practicing law in large firms provided great opportunities to build teams and work collaboratively toward shared goals. And, my prior experience in legal education gave me the deep and broad understanding of higher education institutions, generally, and law colleges in particular, that allows me to identify areas where the College is excelling and promote those and areas where the College must improve. My prior experience has also provided an understanding of the kinds of resources that must be brought to bear to build sustained success at an institution committed to the mission of access to the legal profession.
What is your vision for the FAMU College of Law?
My vision for the College is that it will realize its potential of transforming the lives of not just its students, many of whom may not have had access to the legal profession in the College’s absence, but also the lives of those in the communities they will leave here and serve. If we can realize that potential, the College can play an important role in advancing the project of racial and social justice in America.
OM: What will be your focus over the next 12 months?
DDK: Over the next 12 months the College is focused on building sustained success through community. More specifically, we are focused on recruiting and retaining the strongest student body we can while staying true to our mission of access to the legal profession for those underrepresented in it. We are also focused on supporting our students to improved success on the bar exam and enhancing their job opportunities as they graduate. And, last but certainly not least, I am focused on building and strengthening the College’s relationships with all of the communities to which it belongs including the University, the community of other HBCU law schools and of law schools, generally, and the Orlando, Central Florida and broader Florida communities.
OM: How would you like FAMU College of Law to be perceived in five years or 10 years?
DDK: In five or ten years I would like the College to be perceived as the public law school in Central Florida that recruits and attracts highly qualified students committed to using their degrees to have a positive impact in the world, that supports those students to success in their careers and that serves its various communities as an agent for positive change, particularly in the areas of racial and social justice.
OM: What role do you see FAMU College of Law playing in the fight for social justice in our nation and in our region?
DDK: The fight for social justice is in the DNA of this institution. You need look no further than the history of this College to know that. The FAMU College of Law came to be because black residents in Florida fought for the right to a legal education here in Florida and the College was reestablished in 2000, welcoming its first incoming class in over 35 years in 2002, in recognition of the fact that there was still a need for an HBCU College of Law in Florida. I see the College in the years to come utilizing that foundation for the benefit not only of its students but of the communities of which it and they are a part. There is so much work to do, still, in the fight for social justice and I believe that the most important work we do at the College is preparing our students to join that fight as supporters of racial, social, and economic justice, with all the skills and tools necessary to have a positive impact in those areas. One of the ways we are doing that is through the Florida Law School’s Consortium for Racial Justice. Through that project, we are planning to provide support to existing racial justice organizations. The aims of the Consortium include policy reform and strategic advocacy in areas including economic justice and criminal justice reform.
OM: What role do you see FAMU College of Law playing in the post-pandemic, economic recovery in Central Florida?
DDK: Given that the pandemic has had such a devastating impact on black and brown communities, the FAMU College of Law can play a significant role in the post-pandemic, economic recovery in Central Florida. I, along with another member of the faculty, Professor Jeremy Levitt, am currently working on a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion task force assembled by the Orlando Economic Partnership. In addition, the College previously had an Economic Development Clinic and it is considering re-envisioning that initiative as a broader Economic Justice Clinic.
OM: Tell us about FAMU Law’s community involvement.
DDK: I’m very proud of the way our students, faculty and staff embrace our community. Over the years, our new students have been recruited to work at numerous non- profits where they prepare meals for the homeless, and sort clothes, food and toiletry items for community service centers. For more than a decade, Prof. Patricia Broussard has served on the Orlando Mayor’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission, organizing a clean-up Parramore event that draws more than 200 members of the community, including our students, faculty, and staff, along with representatives from governmental agencies, non-profit and civic organizations, and local corporations. Our student organizations also venture out into the community to directly work with programs that improve the lives of children and families. I would also like to mention the generosity of our faculty and staff. During the holidays they collect books or new clothes to provide to the nearby elementary school for deserving children. In addition, the College’s Legal Clinic provides legal services to the community including a Homelessness Clinic and Public Defender Clinic.
OM: You must be proud of your strong alumni—give us some examples of alumni success stories.
DDK: Our Alumni serve in the public and private sector and in communities all throughout Florida. Graduates from the original FAMU College of Law, which was open from 1949 to 1968, include U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, class of 1963, who before joining Congress was the first African American federal judge in Florida; and Former Florida Senator Arthenia Joyner, who was the first black female to lead the Senate Democratic Caucus. Among graduates from the reestablished College are several judges – Kelly Ingraham, class of 2008, serves as a judge in Brevard County. Amy Carter, class of 2008, serves as judge in Orange County. Gabrielle Sanders-Morency, class of 2009, was the first African-American woman judge elected to serve Osceola County. And during the most recent election, two graduates, Mikaela Nix, class of 2009; and Christy Collins, class of 2012, were elected as judges who will serve Orange County. Also working in the public sector is Carlos Woody, class of 2005 who serves as deputy general counsel for the Orlando Utilities Commission. In fact, a large percentage of our graduates work in public service including for Legal Aid, State Attorney Offices, Public Defender Offices and other governmental agencies. Other alumni are making their marks in the private sector at firms such as Morgan & Morgan, and Cole, Scott & Kissane and at corporations, including Verizon and Viacom.
OM: Why should future lawyers attend FAMU Law?
DDK: Future lawyers should consider FAMU College of Law because we are consistently ranked as one of the most diverse law schools in the nation and we’re located in the hub of Orlando, just blocks from courthouses, law firms and corporations. Our tuition is a remarkable value, among the lowest of law schools in the state of Florida. We offer a full-time program for the traditional student and a part-time program for working professionals. And we have an alumni network willing to open doors and provide guidance in the legal industry.
What do you consider to be the target student audience to focus on for the future of FAMU Law?
The College of Law remains committed to its mission of providing access to the legal profession to those underrepresented in it. The National Association for Law Placement publishes a Report on Diversity in U.S. Law Firms every year. The most recent report, released in December of 2019, continues to show that African-Americans are underrepresented in private firm legal practice. The American Bar Association’s most recent statistical analysis demonstrates that Black Americans and Hispanics remain underrepresented in law schools across the country. This underrepresentation is an access to justice issue and it’s one that the FAMU College of Law has always been invested in helping to ameliorate. Our target audience has been and continues to be those who enrich the diversity of the profession. As an HBCU law school, we take our commitment to providing Black students with access to the legal profession very seriously. That commitment resonates so much in this moment in which issues of racial and social justice are front and center in our national conversations. In order for the FAMU College of Law to fulfill its mission of being a beacon of hope and catalyst for transformative change, it must continue to attract students who are themselves committed to being change agents. So, to summarize, the target student audience for the future of FAMU Law are students who are committed to bringing about positive change through their legal degrees and who come from communities that remain underrepresented in law schools and the legal profession.
OM: Are there particular partnerships with business entities important to the FAMU Law growth and visibility?
DDK: The College of Law would welcome the opportunity to partner with individuals, businesses, agencies and organizations with interest in serving the underserved and making a transformative difference in our communities. I am personally open to engaging with anyone who is interested in working with the FAMU College of Law to enhance its students’ success and its connections to the community.
OM: Will there be a focus on expansion with respect to student body and physical structure in the near future?
DDK: Right now, the focus in the College is on quality rather than quantity. We are laser-focused on recruiting and retaining a student body that the College can support to success and on further enhancing the learning environment at FAMU Law to ensure that all of our students are ready for the rigors of the bar exam and the practice of law. Growth will come as we meet and exceed those measures of success.