Leaders like Prof. Hoeflich make a difference

The third year at the University of Kansas School of Law was no picnic for me.

During that year, my wife gave birth to my second child, I prepared for the bar exam, my family readied for a move to Louisiana, and my mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 Colon Cancer. I am my mother’s only child. As such, I became her caretaker during that time. Cancer is ugly, and as her caretaker, I witnessed the ugliness firsthand. I experienced things that most people only see in horror movies.

My family did what they could to keep me on track, and I particularly must thank my wife for being as solid as a rock despite the dynamic circumstances. However, it takes more than one friend to weather so many competing priorities. Luckily, I had that extra support from a professor at the University of Kansas School of Law, Mike Hoeflich.

Prof. Hoeflich, like many of his peers, has amazing academic qualifications and an outstanding eye for the law. Despite being an accomplished lawyer and academic, he understood the value of a full spectrum of legal support in our society. You see, so many in the academic world focus the teaching of law as though every student would soon stand before the US Supreme Court as appellate advocates. He saw differently. He understood that most of us would want to cultivate a different variety of practice away from appellate advocacy and large firm employment. It is this big-picture perspective that landed him at the University of Kansas as Dean of the School of Law (his second tour as a law school dean, having previously served as the Dean at Syracuse University).

Prof. Hoeflich was the faculty advisor for my writing requirement (as mandated by the wonderful folks at the American Bar Association), so our interaction was more on a personal level rather than a classroom level. Though a tenured member of the faculty with nothing to prove, he didn’t act like it. His efforts were twofold. First, he sought to develop my writing both legally and otherwise. Second, he wanted deeply to assist me in my goals after school. The second priority took much more of his efforts as he inherited a law student whose personal life needed FEMA assistance.

Some might run from such an onerous task. He didn’t. Instead, he adopted me and took an interest in my complete growth as a student, future lawyer, and person. Suffice to say, he and my wife likely prevented me from having a nervous breakdown.

In short, Mike Hoeflich is a leader. Being a professor is secondary.

It never ceases to amaze me how many college professors overlook the opportunity to assert themselves as leaders. Unfortunately, many only do what is necessary to secure a regular paycheck, or they suffer through teaching classes occasionally in order to facilitate their true love, research. This is not to say that they are bad or unworthy. Universities make a name for themselves through research, but I want to highlight that the opportunity is present to do so much more.

The impact Prof. Hoeflich had on my life was thrown into sharp relief a few days ago. I was pointed to an article in the Lawrence Journal-World penned by him, and it cites me as a contributing reason for his decision to not retire this summer.

I feel both honored and humbled.

It is flattering to think that I had any role in his continued leadership at KU. Little did I realize that an act as simple as a “friend” request could have such an impact. I suppose it serves as a reminder that our actions, even the smallest ones, can make a big difference.

In one of the hardest stretches of my life, I needed Prof. Hoeflich’s leadership, and he did not fail me. I find comfort in the fact that he will remain a force at the School of Law for years to come, because our profession needs more leaders like him.