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High Fives All 'Round

High Fives All 'Round

Dean Emeritus Jim Rosenblatt looks back on 11 years leading MC Law

When students at MC Law pass Dean Emeritus Jim Rosenblatt strolling on the Law School's downtown campus, they automatically lift a hand for the enthusiastic high five they know is coming.

“That’s my trademark,” Rosenblatt says. “The high five is my way of acknowledging the energy I get from our students.” Rosenblatt left his post as dean of MC Law in August of 2014, ending an 11-year tenure that saw incredible growth in virtually every facet of the law school, from enrollment to donor support to facilities improvement. But while Rosenblatt stepped down as dean, he hasn’t stepped away from MC Law. Instead he returned to the classroom as a law professor, beginning yet another chapter in a dynamic life story that includes farming, the U.S. Army JAG corps, and a well-worn MC Law nametag.

Jim Rosenblatt, MC Law Dean Emeritus

Raised on his family’s farm in Wilkinson County, Mississippi, Jim Rosenblatt, like many little boys, wanted only to follow in his farmer father’s footsteps.

“As a child, all I knew about my father’s occupation was that he was a farmer,” Rosenblatt says. “Then, when I was 11, I served as a page in the Mississippi Senate, where my father was a senator and served on the Judiciary Committee. As a page, I learned that lawyers served on this committee and that my own father was, in fact, a lawyer. I was mystified as to why someone with a law degree would farm.

“But as I grew older, I observed my father negotiate hunting and mineral leases, deal with the state on right of way questions, prepare timber management contracts, borrow money, and buy or sell land. In all of these transactions, my father extolled the value of his legal training. I watched with pride as he dealt with the big-city attorneys with their fancy shoes and shiny cars who sat with him on our front porch. Those attorneys likely thought they were going to overwhelm him with their thick contracts and their legal phrases, but I knew they would be in for a surprise. One reason I attended law school was because of my father’s consistent comment that law training was helpful no matter what vocation one chose.”

Instead of following his father into farming, Rosenblatt followed him into legal work, graduating cum laude from Vanderbilt University and then from Cornell Law School in Ithaca, New York. Rosenblatt worked for the Small Business Administration in New York, resigning his position in 1973 when he reported for active duty in the U.S. Army’s Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps. His 30-year military career included posts in Virginia, at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., in Hawaii, and in Germany, where he was stationed in 1989 and had a front row seat to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Rosenblatt retired in 2003 as a Colonel after earning the Distinguished Service Medal and three awards of the Legion of Merit.

“I had the opportunity to see the Army transform itself into one of the most respected professions in the United States,” Rosenblatt says. “Around the Vietnam years, morale was low and the Army was dealing with issues from race relations to drug problems. But over those 30 years I served, I saw the Army gain professionalism and true devotion from its members. I saw the opportunities the Army gave people to learn new skills, to travel, and to develop professionally. Being a part of that made me so proud.”

In 2003, with his retirement date from the military approaching, Rosenblatt and his wife, Lauren, were contemplating their life after the Army. When Rosenblatt’s brother, Steve, an attorney with Butler Snow in Jackson, Mississippi, told him that the Mississippi College School of Law was looking for a new dean, the news proved providential.

“I sent a resume, and four weeks later, I was offered the job,” Rosenblatt says. “I don’t claim to be a scholar or a deep thinker, but that’s not what MC Law needed at that time. Organizations have different needs at different times, and the timing was right for what I brought to the law school.”

What MC Law needed was a dynamic leader who would aggressively move the law school forward, and Rosenblatt proved to be the man for the job. His many successes as dean included injecting fresh energy into an already-underway, multi-million dollar capital campaign. The successful fundraising drive led to a debt-free transformation of the MC Law campus.

Under Rosenblatt’s leadership, MC Law broadened its scope to include foreign study programs in China, Korea, Germany, France, Mexico, and Cuba; added a new LL.M. in American Legal Studies; created renowned centers for bioethics and health law, litigation and dispute resolution, family and children’s law, business and tax law, public interest law, and international law; and launched legal clinics, including the MC Law Adoption Legal Clinic, which has helped create hundreds of new families, and the Mission First Legal Clinic, which provides low or no-cost legal services to the poor.

Rosenblatt is also credited with raising the law school’s profile, not only in Mississippi, but also nationwide. The dean worked to attract noted speakers and signature events to campus, as well as recruiting top faculty and staff members from around the world. MC Law hosted high-profile political debates in elections for mayor, governor, and the U.S. Senate, and earned a national reputation as a formidable moot court competitor.

Rosenblatt became a well-known figure in the legal and business communities, serving on the Access to Justice Commission and as president of the Mississippi chapter of the Federal Bar Association, as well as a director of the Jackson Rotary Club. No matter where his work or volunteerism took him, Rosenblatt was sure to share the MC Law story.

“There’s a longstanding joke that whenever two or more lawyers are present, you can count on me to show up wearing my MC Law nametag,” he says with a chuckle. Rosenblatt spent as much time working in the trenches as he did in the public eye. He and his wife spent many weekends cleaning up the MC Law campus, applying fresh coats of paint to the buildings, picking up litter, and even cutting the grass. Twice the winner of the Chief Justice Award presented by the Mississippi Supreme Court and among the nation’s longest-serving law school deans, Rosenblatt leaves an impressive legacy of progress and growth at MC Law.

But while he’s earned a reputation for leadership in legal circles, among MC Law students, Rosenblatt is better known for the genuine interest he took in every student. Every individual admitted to MC Law received a letter of acceptance that included a handwritten, personal note from Dean Rosenblatt penned with just that student in mind.

“I always felt that personal attention and focus on the student were emblematic of our law school,” Rosenblatt says. “It was our belief that if we could get a prospective student to visit our campus, he or she would see a special school with a wonderful culture. That culture and personal attention are what allow us to be competitive in the recruiting process.”

At MC Law, Rosenblatt witnessed student transformations that reminded him of those he had seen in the Army.

“Army recruits report for basic training, and nine weeks later, they’re crisp, full of vigor, and working seamlessly together. During my time in the service, I heard so many parents say, ‘I’m amazed by what the Army has done for my son or my daughter.’ We do the same thing at MC Law. The first year of law school is a lot like basic training. I’ve seen the transformation in students who go from not speaking confidently to shining as polished professionals in moot court. I’ve seen that same pride in parents whose sons and daughters grow and acquire confidence, and go on to become successful attorneys.”

Typical of Rosenblatt’s generous nature and genuine concern for students, his most treasured memories from his time as dean aren’t a celebration of his own accomplishments, but of his students’ successes.

“My most memorable moments as dean were the 11 graduation ceremonies I attended in First Baptist Church Jackson,” Rosenblatt says. “The majestic setting, the stirring music, and the proud families and friends, along with the opportunity to ‘hood’ the graduates, are things I won’t ever forget.”

Today Dean Rosenblatt has made the transition to Professor Rosenblatt, teaching courses including financial compliance, military law, and government contracts.

“I enjoy the opportunity to interact more with the students,” Rosenblatt says. “I also enjoy the increased flexibility I have as a professor and the greater control I have over my schedule. And I have to say that the greatest proponent of this change was my wife, Lauren. She has been so supportive because she knew how much I loved being the dean, but she’s enjoying the fact that we have more time together these days.”

When he announced he was stepping down as dean, Rosenblatt received bags filled with notes and cards, expressions of gratitude from dozens of students, their parents, alumni, members of the legal community, and others whose lives he has touched.

“You have live a sacrificial and service-filled life, always putting others before yourself. I think that is what the Master asks each of us to do, but you answered His call beautifully. Service to our country, service to our profession, service to our community.”

Excerpt from a letter to Dean Emeritus Jim Rosenblatt from York Craig

“You have been an enormous blessing in both my and my family’s lives,” wrote MC Law student John Brooks Griffin. “It has been a personal honor to have met you and have received your guidance over the past year…I am convinced that I will love being an attorney one day. That alone tells me that this is what the Lord has planned for my life. I am absolutely convinced of this, though, when the Lord provides people like you to help His plan for my life come to fruition.”

First year law student Darby Phelps wrote a heartfelt note of thanks when she learned that Jim Rosenblatt had personally recommended her for an MC Law scholarship.
“I see you often at school and have even had the chance to give you a couple of really great high fives, but until recently I didn’t know the extent to which you have personally helped me,” Phelps wrote. “You changed my life. Less than a year ago, I was a 28-year-old cocktail waitress with an infant child and no idea what was to come for me. I had always dreamed of going to law school, but it didn’t seem feasible for me. You have made my dream a reality.”

Perhaps a note from York Craig, an attorney with Craig Law Group in Jackson and a past president of the Mississippi Bar, best summarizes Jim Rosenblatt’s tenure, not only as dean of MC Law, but as an outstanding example of humble service.

“You have lived a sacrificial and service-filled life, always putting others before yourself,” Craig wrote. “I think that is what the Master asks each of us to do, but you answered His call beautifully. Service to our country, service to our profession, service to our community. You have done a marvelous job and I am grateful to you. When the time comes, there will be a resounding voice in Heaven when He looks at you and says, ‘Jim, well done my good and faithful servant.’”