Adding Validation and the Pursuit of Happiness to the Curriculum Is What Many Will Remember Most
Some titles are formal; others are not. Professor Roy Sobelson has gained several since joining Georgia State Law in 1985. Official positions he has served in include professor of law, associate dean for academic affairs, and director of the LL.M. program. In addition, students have given him nicknames like Sobe-Wan Kenobi and The Law School’s Dad to describe the roles he has played in their law-school experiences and lives.
Sobelson, who will retire May 31, always wanted to teach in some capacity, but first worked in the Peace Corps teaching English. After leaving the program, he went to law school and got his first job with the Georgia Legal Services office in Brunswick. Later, he went back to law school and earned his LL.M. at Temple University. When he learned about a professorship position at Georgia State Law, he knew it would be a great way to blend his areas of interest.
“I will never forget that first class in law school,” said Elizabeth Ames (J.D. ’05), compliance counsel for Oldcastle Inc. “With his soft, calm voice, Professor Sobelson confused us all as he riddled his way through Pennoyer v. Neff.”
In addition to dissecting cases, Carolyn Altman (J.D. ’07), who was Sobelson’s GRA, said he has a gift for helping students examine their career paths and aspirations.
“Before meeting Professor Sobelson, I had been told that if I wanted to become successful, I should pursue big-firm practice. However, he validated and encouraged my desire to work in public interest law,” said Altman, a solo practitioner in juvenile law. “I probably would have chosen the same career path anyway, but I would have wondered if I’d settled for a lesser choice. Professor Sobelson was very clear that we need good attorneys in this field, that the work is important, and worth doing well.”
Sobelson continues to advise Altman, Ames and others. He said his most memorable moments are seeing how much students grow.
“We’ve discussed each stage of my career and how to reach my next goals,” Ames said. “Most importantly, he always asks me if I’m happy. He is one of the few lawyers who includes happiness as part of the analysis of a successful legal career.”
All of Georgia State’s law students are smart and talented, Sobelson explained, but if they don’t pursue their true calling, their careers won’t be fulfilling in the long run. He understands why it happens though.
“The natural thing for high-achieving, intelligent, energetic students is to gravitate toward high-paying jobs; however, those positions come with a lot of stress,” he said. “It takes a toll on them as well as their families.”
He appreciates that Georgia State Law offers students a high-quality education without a price tag that requires them to pursue the highest-paying types of jobs, whether they want to or not.
Kerew said Sobelson is a valuable sounding board for colleagues too. “Roy is supportive not only professionally, but personally. He has a way of making the person he is addressing feel like the most important person in the room. The way he approaches teaching and his commitment to students is inspiring. It’s an example for all of us to follow.”
Ames said the most valuable thing she learned from Professor Sobelson was to believe in herself and maintain the highest standard of ethical conduct. “He always had faith in me, and that faith gave me the confidence I needed to succeed in law school and throughout my career. He also made it very clear that no case or client would be more important than maintaining my integrity.”
Sobelson has seen many changes since entering the profession.
“It’s amazing how the faculty, classes, clinics, and our approaches to teaching and assessing success are always evolving,” he said. “For alumni who haven’t been back in a while, many things are different than what they experienced when they were here. Rest assured, however, that Pennoyer vs. Neff is still on the menu.”
Sobelson’s humor – and imprint – will remain too.
“His commitment, high standards, and accessibility to students are infused in others throughout the school,” Altman said. “We’ve all been influenced by him and are better for it. In all of our capacities, we are his legacy – doing difficult work and doing it well.”