Julie Nice, Professor, School of Law

Making it Personal

Julie Nice connects her own experiences to the classroom, and asks her law students to do the same. The results are transformational.

Professor Julie Nice taught at four law schools before finding a home at USF in 2009.

"I really had no intention of moving," Julie says of her prior position at the Sturm College of Law at University of Denver. "I'd been in Denver 18 years. But that's what happens when you fall in love."

Seven years later, Julie is still smitten with USF. "The faculty is top-notch and the students are so diverse that they bring the full tapestry of life into the classroom. Unlike law students elsewhere, they take their work seriously without taking themselves seriously."

She is a three-time winner of the school’s Distinguished Professor Award (voted on by graduating students) and is among an elite group of educators included in Harvard University Press’ What the Best Law Teachers Do. Julie teaches Constitutional Law, Poverty Law, and Sexuality Law, and is an expert on same-sex marriage issues.

"Media reports are fodder for the classroom," Julie says. "Students talk about things happening in society in real time. I don't do the same syllabus twice."

She has worked hard to change how law is taught, incorporating, for example, personal life experiences into classroom discussions. "What's different about me is that I bring myself to the classroom, and I encourage my students to do that too. Those are the magical moments that are really transformative for all of us."

USF understands the synergy between teaching, scholarship, and service. That sense of integration is quite palpable here."

Her approach breaks down the disconnect that law students across the country report feeling between the real-world problems they enrolled in law school to solve and their classroom experience, Julie says. "I'm modeling that there's no disconnect. I'm very comfortable telling them how something has affected me personally, and I want them to feel like they can do the same."

After college, the Illinois native worked the overnight shift at a domestic violence shelter in inner-city Chicago. The ivory-tower mentality is alien to her, and she says USF provides a perfect fit between her ideals and the institution's mission.

"I feel more free and more supported in working toward social justice," she says. "It's not something I have to defend here at USF. That hasn't been true in other academic settings."

Whether USF law students join a law firm, work for a nonprofit, or guide public policy, they’re  all taught the tools they need to be successful, she says. "We prepare students across the spectrum for the wide array of things lawyers actually do," Julie says. "And the cutthroat culture that's legendary in law school is just not the norm here. Here it's humane and highly collaborative."