Photograph by Jamie Betts
Photograph by Jamie Betts

Three factors, when combined, double students’ chances of being engaged in their careers, according to a 2015 pilot study by Access Lex and Gallup: having professors who care about you as a person, having professors who make you excited about learning, and having a mentor who encourages you to pursue your goals and dreams.

Effective, caring professors and mentors are at the heart of a strong legal education. And Richmond Law has no short supply of such educators. Known for their careful balance of academic rigor and individualized support, faculty lay the groundwork for the Richmond Law experience.

To celebrate the role that these professors have played in shaping generations of Richmond Law lawyers, we reached out to a handful of alumni and asked them one question: What professor had the greatest impact on you?

Rachel Lugay, L’19
The most important question that Rachel Lugay remembers answering in law school had nothing to do with case law: “Are you sleeping?”

Professor Doron Samuel-Siegel, L’01, always asked the question whenever they met.

“That was something I really needed in law school,” Lugay said. Amidst the stresses and pressures of law school, Samuel-Siegel provided a safe haven.

“She was someone that I could just confide in about how difficult law school was. She always left her door open for me to come and connect with her.”

Part of that connection centered on offering advice that was at once candid and supportive. “Any ideas I brought to her, she invested time in really reviewing them and giving thoughtful feedback,” Lugay said.

For the first two years of law school, Samuel-Siegel was something of a personal mentor for Lugay. It wasn’t until her third year that she experienced her mentor as a classroom professor, when she enrolled in Samuel-Siegel’s restorative justice course. “In her role as the leader, she made it a space where people felt comfortable because we were going to be talking about difficult subjects,” Lugay explained. “She made it a safe place for us to express our views.”

Their connection has continued after law school. Samuel-Siegel served as adviser to Lugay during bar exam studies. And when Lugay passed the bar and secured her first job at Richardson Bloom & Lines in Atlanta, Samuel-Siegel was on her list of people to call. “It’s nice to always have somebody checking in, especially with my legal career,” Lugay said. “Somebody to be there and support you and genuinely invest their time into your growth.”

Jackie Kraeutler, L’83
There’s one professor who gets an invite to every Class of 1983 reunion — and he always shows. Jackie Kraeutler says that it’s no surprise that Dan Murphy has stayed so connected with members of her class. It’s a relationship with strong foundations.

Murphy joined the law school as an associate professor of law in 1976 and went on to become associate dean in 1981. It was in this role that Murphy made the biggest impact on Kraeutler and her class. When he wasn’t in class or in his office, Murphy could be found out and about in the halls, interacting with students. “He knew every student,” Kraeutler said. “Every student’s strengths, weaknesses, concerns.”

That approachable nature earned him an affectionate nickname from the Class of ’83: Dean Dan.
“He had a tremendous impact in that role, not just on me, but I would say on our class as a whole,” said Kraeutler. “He was good at mentoring. He had a sense of humor. He would always show up for our social functions.”

Murphy helped counsel Kraeutler as she explored job options. She eventually landed at Morgan Lewis in Philadelphia, a large law firm with one of the best labor and employment practices in the country. She went on to build a successful career in that field — and throughout those years kept in contact and built a friendship with Murphy and his wife, Joan. Kraeutler said she’s not the only one from the Class of ’83 who has stayed close to Murphy.

“It’s an unusually close class, and we have all stayed in touch,” she said. “I think Dean Dan was a part of facilitating that. I think we were very fortunate.”

In her role as the leader, she made it a space where people felt comfortable because we were going to be talking about difficult subjects. She made it a safe place for us to express our views.

Russell Williams, L’84
The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) of 1974 is “a bit abstruse, even for lawyers,” said Russell Williams. But a class that covered it, taught by Janice Moore, L’81, proved transformational for him.

“Janice treated us like we were associates at her law firm,” Williams said.

Moore was senior counsel for Mobil Oil before going on to positions at Enron, McGuireWoods, and Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal. She also served on the University of Richmond Board of Trustees and still serves on the Richmond Law Advisory Board. But before all that, she served for three years as an assistant professor at Richmond Law.

Williams said Moore’s practical experience enhanced her classroom approach. “We could go at a problem with the code and our own nascent mental processes, tease out the applicable principles, and feel somewhat at home with ERISA problems,” he explained.

Funnily enough, “I never practiced one lick of tax or ERISA,” said Williams, who is now president and CEO of Hanover Shoe Farms Inc. in Hanover, Pennsylvania. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t play a role in his career.
“After I’d gone from law practice into business, I detected an ERISA problem in a company that I think could have been catastrophic,” he said. “After wrangling with two separate law firms that took two quite different approaches, I was able to involve the firm that worked up the better solution.”

And he had Moore’s class to thank for it.

“Janice’s guidance back in my law school days made achieving a good result possible a long time afterward.”

Christina Parrish, L’09
Christina Parrish, like everyone else in her class, knew Professor Peter Swisher’s name. But for her and the rest of her class, he was Tort Man, vanquisher of ambiguity in legal doctrines about harm.

“He was like the tort superhero,” Parrish said. As Tort Man, Swisher would act out cases to give students a better understanding of the different types of wrongful acts that might end up in civil court — and in doing so brought a dense legal topic to life.

“It was his big personality that stole the show,” said Parrish, who remembers Swisher’s lessons to this day in her role as a legal operations analyst for the Virginia Department of Transportation. “Torts are applicable in everyday life. You never escape them.”

Swisher’s engaging and accessible manner helped facilitate learning for Parrish. “He made learning easy,” she said. Plus, his approach “made law school less intimidating.”

A mainstay at Richmond Law for 42 years, Swisher specialized in family law and insurance law. Although he died in 2016, his legacy lives on — and not just as Tort Man.

“Pete literally wrote the book when it comes to both torts and family law in Virginia, authoring dozens of casebooks, articles, and chapters,” Corinna Lain, his faculty colleague, said not long after he died. “He’s also one of the most beloved professors I have seen in my 15 years at Richmond Law.”

Parrish agrees. “Professor Swisher resonated with my learning style,” she said, “and I am a better lawyer for the confidence that his approach built in me."

Each of these professors, individually and as a unit, helped me put more focus on myself and what my life would look like when I graduate.

Vidal Torres, L’03
Chasing a little blue ball wasn’t part of the curriculum, but it was key to how Vidal Torres got to know the three professors who are still shaping his legal career today. “There were a few different professors who formed a unit for me, a base for asking questions and advice,” explained Torres. That unit included Wade Berryhill, John Paul “JP” Jones, and Rod Smolla.

“They had a racquetball group, the three of them together,” Torres said. “And if you were a student and you were there at the time, you could jump in with them. They needed a fourth.”

That type of engagement with his professors helped Torres “really understand that there was more to law school than just studying,” he explained. As a dual J.D./MBA student who also held a job and served as an editor for the Journal of Law and Technology, finding downtime was an important priority.

That’s not to say it was all fun and games. Torres took classes with each of the three professors, and each brought something different to the table. From Berryhill, he learned to explore more deeply the real-life impact and implications of regulatory laws. Torres described Jones’ approach as “much more black-letter law” — but, he added, “there was a skill to learn there, to be precise, to get through the details.” And with Smolla, Torres learned to value thinking outside of the box.

And, it turns out, “a little bit of each of them has rubbed off in my current role” as associate general counsel at Genworth Financial, whether it was Jones’ lessons in contracts, Smolla’s experience in property and intellectual rights, or Berryhill’s regulatory lessons in environmental law.

“Each of these professors, individually and as a unit, helped me put more focus on myself and what my life would look like when I graduate,” Torres said.

John Nowak, L’00
“I tell my kids to do what you love,” John Nowak said. That lesson in pursuing passion is one that Nowak said Professor Azizah al-Hibri reinforced in her law students.

In his pre-law life at an investment management company in Boston, “the president of that company took me under her wing and guided me in terms of my career path.” There, he became interested in the Securities and Exchange Commission and set his mind on law school as the entry point to that field.

From the start, al-Hibri understood Nowak’s career passion, and she shared it. “She really understood what I was trying to do, to work for the SEC, to get to New York, to work in the securities industry,” said Nowak. “I appreciated her passion for the subject matter and how she taught and engaged the students in her class.”

That passion showed through in topics as seemingly mundane as due diligence, for example. “She thought that was a critical piece because that’s the client’s opportunity to learn as much as it can about an entity to uncover any potential issues,” Nowak said.

Plus, he added, she brought a level of energy to the topic. “It had a real impact on me,” he said.

Al-Hibri retired from Richmond Law with the title professor emerita in 2012 and has continued her work as founder and chair of Karamah: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights. Nowak, meanwhile, received an offer right out of law school to work at the SEC, where he served as branch chief of the enforcement division before moving on to a role as deputy chief of the business and securities fraud section for the Eastern District of New York U.S. Attorney’s Office. Today, he’s a partner in the litigation department of Paul Hastings in New York.

Emily Cherry is assistant dean for communications and strategic initiatives at Richmond Law.