Vanderbilt launches interdisciplinary continuing education program

Kelly Lise Murray

When members of Vanderbilt Law School's Board of Advisors recommended that the law school start a professional and community education initiative, Dean Chris Guthrie and Associate Dean Don Welch began searching for an attorney/educator capable of launching such a program. "We had discussed our desire to share our faculty expertise beyond the four walls of the law school," Dean Guthrie said. "When our Board of Advisors recommended that we develop an educational outreach program that would provide both continuing professional and community education, that was just the impetus we needed to get started."

Last July, the law school hired Harvard-trained lawyer Kelly Lise Murray to develop and launch the program. Welch describes Murray, who has taught Legal Writing at the law school for the past five years and has an extensive background in professional education, as "a dynamo." In December, Murray will deliver the law school's first accredited webinar, a two-hour course on professional ethics entitled "The Rambo-Tactics Redemption: Enhancing Ethics, Professionalism and Civility in Legal Representation," to attorneys nationwide. She has also started a program, the Vanderbilt Collaboration Project (VCP), designed to draw on the law school's legal expertise and resources to offer a broad array of professional education and community outreach programs to legal and other professionals. "She is six months ahead of where I thought she'd be by this time," Welch said.

No one who has worked with Murray before is surprised at her ability to get the law school's first comprehensive continuing professional education program up and running so quickly. Murray was already a successful entrepreneur, licensed attorney, mediator and REALTOR®. After discovering "an alarming gap between real estate law and divorce law, which often leaves one or both parties disadvantaged financially, legally, economically and emotionally" in the course of her practice, Murray developed a unique course designed to appeal not only to attorneys, but also to real estate, financial planning, accounting and other professionals, and to anyone who is going through a divorce. "If there's any joint ownership after divorce, such as the house, or joint debt, such as a mortgage or credit cards, the couple is not 'financially divorced,' and each side risks continued liability for the other's financial missteps," she said. "When one person feels the pressure to keep the house because of the kids or the economy, and doesn't obtain full due diligence for true house valuation, this uninformed, often emotional decision can lead to legal mistakes that are very expensive and difficult to fix after the divorce is final." In 2007, Murray's concern about the negative impact these issues can have on clients' personal finances became the motivation for Divorce This House™, a business venture she cofounded while she was teaching legal writing part-time at Vanderbilt.

"Timing is everything," Guthrie says. "Just as we were looking at different approaches to offering continuing professional education, Kelly brought us a terrific proposal, and she has a proven track record. I liked the fact that she recognizes that many courses designed for legal professionals can be adapted to meet the continuing education needs of other professionals who need to know how legal requirements affect their work and their clients' needs."

In addition to developing continuing professional education courses that allow alumni to earn the specialty credits, including ethics, professionalism and elimination of bias, they need for license renewal, Murray has worked with the law school's Information Technology staff to set up a customized, multi-faceted information technology system through which she and other instructors will accredit and deliver live webinars and on-line courses. "Our technology is a significant asset that expands our capacity to deliver accredited continuing education courses to attorneys and other professionals anywhere in the country," she said. "In addition to offering live events, we will offer live webinars and on-demand online courses." In the months ahead, the VCP will roll out courses directed to lawyers, with a particular focus on Vanderbilt alumni, as well as continuing judicial education for judges, courses on legal topics for non-legal professionals, and community education for the public.

Divorce This House, a first-of-its-kind continuing education program designed to teach divorcing homeowners as well as to offer accredited education for the different professionals who should be involved in the divorce real estate process, will serve as a model for future courses. Since its launch in 2008, the course has attracted national recognition. Murray has delivered Divorce This House to hundreds of professionals in multiple states, and recently adapted it for continuing judicial education; she will deliver a two-hour course to Georgia family judges at a live event at the University of Georgia Center for Continuing Education on January 21.

During 2010, Murray was invited to deliver a Plenary Session on divorce real estate at the American Bar Association Family Law Section's Spring Meeting April 16 in New Orleans and to teach a five-hour workshop on the topic at the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals national forum in Washington, D.C., on October 29. She is currently finishing a book, Reforming Property Due Diligence: An Interdisciplinary Guide for Family Professionals Regarding House Valuation and Disposition, which will be published by the American Bar Association in 2011. Articles about Divorce This House featuring Murray have appeared in the New York Times' Consumer Finance Blog, the Los Angeles Times, Forbes, the Chicago Tribune, and numerous trade publications.

You'll find more information about the Vanderbilt Collaboration Project and the 2011 CLE course schedule at vls-vcp.com.

Murray has leveraged an accomplished academic background for a remarkably entrepreneurial approach to continuing professional education. She earned her undergraduate degree at Stanford with distinction in 1988, having been admitted to Phi Beta Kappa in 1987. As an undergraduate, she spent two academic terms in tutorials at the University of Oxford and served as a research assistant for a member of Parliament in Britain's House of Commons during the 1987 General Election in the United Kingdom. She was a Teaching Fellow at Harvard College during her law studies and graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1991. "Divorce This House is just the beginning," she said. "I'm truly excited about working with Vanderbilt Law School to develop effective professional education and community outreach programs that equip attorneys and other professionals with more knowledge and better tools. The VCP is Connecting Law with Lives™, and the curriculum will continue to grow in the months and years ahead, with a goal of reaching Vanderbilt alumni and other attorneys and professionals in all 50 states. We hope to collaborate with state and local bar associations to provide meaningful continuing education courses."

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