A Gift of Leadership
With a planned gift, the UT College of Law created the Institute for Professional Leadership.
When Larry Wilks included the College of Law in his estate planning, he sparked a legacy of leadership that will benefit every UT law student for years to come.
Wilks passed away in 2011, leaving an undesignated $100,000 gift to the college. The money was used as seed funding for the Lawyers as Leaders course, which later developed into the College of Law's Institute for Professional Leadership, which helps students develop leadership skills and professional values.
Years later, the Institute for Professional Leadership—now led by professor and former College of Law dean Doug Blaze—offers a course for all first-year students, as well as upper-division courses in leadership and professional development. It also provides students with cross-cultural perspectives on leadership and service through "Leading as Lawyers: Trans-Pacific Perspectives," a course taught in partnership with the University of Queensland in Australia.
Students benefit from practical legal education through the Institute's mentoring and pro bono programs. The Institute also co-sponsors symposia on professional leadership education with other law schools, bringing together nationally recognized speakers on leadership development.
"I learned the importance of being honest with myself, knowing who I am and who I want to be," says UT law student Racquel Martin. Her leadership coursework at the College of Law also helped her in "determining how my strengths, weaknesses, and personality traits affect my interactions with others. I learned a lot about myself and my classmates—the future leaders of the American and Australian legal professions."
Wilks, who graduated from UT with a bachelor's degree in agricultural economics in 1977 and a law degree in 1980, practiced law in his hometown of Springfield, Tennessee, for 30 years. He was also an active leader in his county and state bar association and served as president of the Tennessee Bar Association.
One Planned Gift That Sparked Another
Wilks's planned gift also prompted one of his College of Law classmates, Memphis attorney George T. "Buck" Lewis, to make a gift. Like Wilks, Lewis is a former president of the Tennessee Bar Association and has served in many leadership capacities. Lewis, the Larry D. Wilks Distinguished Practitioner in Residence in the College of Law, followed Wilks's lead. He and his wife, Malinda, made a gift to the Institute through their estate.
"Larry imparted his leadership skills to hundreds of young lawyers," Lewis says. "He would be so proud to have left a legacy of training young lawyers to lead. His passion, and my experience working with these fine young people, inspired Malinda and me to make our gift and to work to make the Institute for Professional Leadership the best in the nation."
The Institute has also attracted the generosity of many other donors. Lewis's law firm, Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz P.C. (and the individual alumni who work there), recently made a $200,000 commitment to support the Institute.
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