A fond farewell
Three longtime professors retire
Shelly Frankel and Bill Oltman remember the earliest days of Seattle University School of Law - teaching at a South Tacoma business park and attending contentious faculty meetings marked by founding Dean Joe Sinclitico storming out and threatening to quit.
Both joined the law school in 1974, just the second year of the school's operation. Just seven years later Dave Boerner joined the law school, then located in downtown Tacoma and well on its way to success.
"I didn't think of it as a young law school," Boerner said. "I had the sense when I came here it was a pretty good school."
All three have seen the law school through several transformations, as it grew in size and stature and moved to Seattle. The trio- with nearly 100 years of teaching among them - retire at the end of this academic year.
"These three talented professors have had an enormous impact on the development of our educational program as one that values academic excellence," Dean Kellye Testy said. "It has been an honor to have worked with them for many years. I admire their dedication to teaching, to their students and to helping create a first-class law school. They have left an indelible mark on the law school and in the lives of the thousands of students who were privileged to have them as teachers."
Professor Susan McClellan, under whose guidance the Externship Program has flourished, also will retire later this year.
During a chat over coffe, Boerner, Frankel and Oltman traded stories about how the law school, teaching and students have changed - and how much has stayed the same. As they rattled off the names of former students who are now successful graduates, the subject turned to their favorite parts of teaching.
"You're hearing it," Frankel said. "We're talking about the students and their success."
All three said the most rewarding part of their careers is working with students and seeing how well they have done and what they have become.
"These three talented professors have had an enormous impact on the development of our educational program as one that values academic excellence. They have left an indelible mark on the law school and in the lives of the thousands of students who were privileged to have them as teachers."
During the years there have been changes. Students now attend classes in a beautiful, high-tech facility. There are institutes, programs and clinics. The faculty and the student body are the most diverse in the state. In the classroom, students all type on laptops, looking at computer screens rather than at the teacher. Still, those undeniable moments when the professors realize they have grabbed the attention of the class - when the typing stops as ears perk up - are magical.
Frankel, who practiced law in Boston and was an associate professor at Ohio Northern University College of Law before joining the law school, specializes in taxation. He has served as tax editor of Trial magazine; is a member of the Estate Planning Council of Seattle; and participates in CLE and CPA programs in tax, business, charitable organizations and family law. An active member of the Section on Taxation of the Washington State Bar Association, he was the editor of its newsletter and a member of the State Bar's Tax Council. He is the annual reviser for Martindale Hubbell's Digest of Washington Law and author of the chapter on state and local taxation in the Washington Practitioner's Handbook. He has taught business entities, charitable organizations and federal taxation.
He is most proud of the number of his students who have been accepted for graduate tax programs "Our students get into very competitive programs at topschools, including as NYU, Florida, and Columbia. It is a source of pleasure for me."
One of those success stories is Judd Marten '77, who practices at Lesourd and Patten in Seattle and credits Frankel with inspiring his interest in tax law.
"When I started law school, the last thing on my mind was the tax law. I had no financial or accounting background, and I did not emphasize math or science as an undergraduate - I was an English major. But there was something about Professor Frankel, and his demeanor, that intrigued me," Marten said.
"He would come into the classroom and we would start discussing some aspect of the tax law, and he would stand totally silent at the podium, leafing through those tissue-thin pages of the Internal Revenue Code. Everything would slow down, and we wondered ‘what is he doing, and what is he thinking?' But it all started to make sense. I perceived that ‘there really is an answer in there somewhere,' which was such a relief, compared to other classes in the law school curriculum that resembled a debating club, to me. So, Professor Frankel drew me in, as he did many others."
Marten took every tax course that was offered in law school and went on to get the LL.M. in taxation from Boston University with the help of Frankel's recommendation.
"During law school, and even after graduation, Professor Frankel always seemed available, and supportive," he said.
Dean Kellye Testy said that Frankel, in addition to being a recognized expert in tax, is also an extremely creative thinker. "He always has a million ideas to advance the School of Law." He is also an accomplished musician. It is not unusual to see him playing his bass fiddle with his band in coffee shops and pubs, and at festivals and jam sessions, on Vashon, Tacoma and Seattle. He has even played at Fiddlefest and Bumbershoot.
After a few years in the classroom, Frankel began to realize that he didn't always have to have the answer to every question a student may have. "I found the phrase, 'that's an interesting question, I hadn't thought of that' to be invaluable," he chukles.
His colleagues agree they learned a lot about teaching from their students.
Students in those early classes were scared. "We were flunking out about 35 percent of the class," remarked Oltman, "There was a lot of pressure to ease up, but we knew we had a responsibility to the legal community to have tough standards. I was proud of the faculty for sticking by the standards."
"In my first class I was scared to death," admitted Oltman. "Then I realized that the students were scared, too. I learned over time that people are threatened under pressure by being asked to talk. No matter how you do it they are sweating. It has allowed me to be a lot more loose than I was in the early days. I like it better," said Oltman. "Still, I enjoy bringing up something debatable and engaging the student in socratic discussion."
The School of Law established a professorship in Oltman's name to honor excellence in teaching. The professorship recognizes that the strength of the faculty depends on both scholarship and on classroom teaching. The first William C. Oltman Professor of Teaching Excellence is Professor Mark Chinen, an outstanding teacher in contracts and international law.
"Professor Oltman has an unwavering commitment to excellence that has been a driving force in making this law school the success it is today," Testy said. "He expects the best of himself, of each of us individually, and all of us collectively in our teaching. Generations of our students admire him for inspiring them to learn more than they might have thought possible."
Before joining the law school, Oltman taught at Indianapolis Law School in the areas of legal writing, advocacy, corporations, property, and criminal law. Later, he taught contracts and legal systems at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand. On his return to the U.S., he practiced law with Ashley, Foster, Pepper & Riviera, Seattle. He has taught community property, trusts and estates and community property, He is co-author, with Professor Emeritus Mark Reutlinger, of the leading treatise on wills and trusts under Washington law.
"One of the greatest compliments I have heard from a student is ‘I worked harder in your class than any class in my life,"Oltman said.
He truly did inspire students to do their best, said Caroline R. Suissa Edmiston ‘00, now in private practice in Seattle.
"Professor Oltman taught me to think like a lawyer. He taught us to continue to research until we completely understood the issues, the ramifications and the possible pitfalls. He insistence on precision is a terrific benchmark I use for all my work," she said. "But most of all he taught me to love the law - not just the job of lawyer, not just the role of advocate, but to love the law for what it was, a breathing, moldable, thinking thing."
Professor Boerner's relationship with students instilled a constant desire to teach better. "Students are always challenging me on the best way to reach them. We are responsible for showing them how to become members of the profession. It is a socialization process in some ways," Boerner noted. "My favorite part of it all is graduation. I enjoy watching confident, competent students being recognized for their hard work."
Boerner practiced law for 18 years and was chief of the King County Prosecutor's Office before joining the law school.
"I first got to know the school during hiring of graduates for the prosecutor's office." He remembers seeing amazing applicants from those first classes. "We interviewed a lot of the first grads in the prosecutors office back then, and they were all great," he said.
"I found the academic life to be very different from that of a prosecutor," he said. "As a prosecutor there were very strict rules about how I had to write. As a professor, I could write whatever I wanted about a legal topic."
Dean Fred Tausend brought him in to help manage the business side of the law school and Boerner admired Tausend's committment to quality. Boerner jumpstarted a program to admit students with academic promise that has become the successful Access Admission Program and Academic Resource Center.
At ARC's 20th anniversary celebration last year, graduate after graduate remarked about the impact Boerner had on their lives and careers. Pierce County Superior Court Judge Frank Cuthbertson said Boerner's practical experience made him an excellent professor.
"Through Professor Boerner you can get a feel for the Bar here in Washington, what it means to be a lawyer in Washington - he epitomizes that," Cuthbertson said. "When I was sworn in, he was one of the people I asked to speak because he was such a big influence."
He remains very active in the state bar. He currently serves as chair of the Board for Court Education, chair of the Washington Supreme Court's Time for Trial Task Force, as well as serving as a member of the Washington Supreme Court's Jury Instruction Committee. He has also chaired the Rules of Professional Conduct Committee of the Washington State Bar Association. In addition, he lectures frequently for groups such as the Washington Criminal Justice Institute, Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, and the Federal Bar Association. He has taught administrative law, criminal law and professional responsibility.
He will continue to teach the summer criminal law class after retirement to maintain his commitment to the Access Admission Program.
"Dave is a legend in the legal community," Testy said. "His dedication to improving the bar, to ethics and professionalism, and to promoting access to the profession and diversity within it stand out."
All three admit they won't miss faculty meetings and the administrative parts of their jobs, but they will miss the intellectual atmosphere and their colleagues.
"You're dealing with very bright students and very bright people," Oltman said.
During the course of the conversation with the three professors, there was much laughter about shared moments and continued hearty dicussion about teaching styles and people they have worked with over the years. They are all proud of the law school they helped build.
"Look what we became," offered Professor Oltman. "We became a really good multifaceted law school with a clinic, renowned legal writing program, institutes, a highly credentialed faculty and a student body with highly competitive admissions criteria. From scratch, we created a small company that was so successful, Seattle University wanted to buy us. We worked hard, and it was not always easy. I am proud of what we built and excited about the future of the school."
While all that is true, Boerner says there is also a simpler reason he stayed at the law school so long.
"Teaching was just plain fun," he said.
"It's a great gig," echoed Frankel.
The professors downplayed the effect of their absences on the law school they leave to the next generation of law professors.
"Institutions evolve," Boerner said. "Twenty years from now it will be a different institution."