A newsmaker you should know: Law professor breaks new ground with two awards in one year

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Jan Levine received two honors this year, becoming the first law professor to win the two awards in the same year.

Mr. Levine, director of Duquesne University School of Law Legal Research and Writing Program, received the Thomas F. Blackwell Memorial Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Legal Writing and the Association of American Law Schools Section on Legal Writing, Reasoning and Research Award.

“There have been others who have received both awards but never in the same year. It is wonderful to be honored by my peers like this,” said Mr. Levine, an associate professor.

Mr. Levine, 59, of Cranberry, received his honors in January in New York City. He learned about the Blackwell award when he arrived at work one morning in the fall.

“I walked into my office one morning, and there was the biggest bouquet of yellow roses that I had ever seen — and a note,” he said. That note announced his honor.

“I was touched and thrilled. Then I thought, ‘How am I going to carry all of these home?’” he said of the roses.

He said the honor was bittersweet. It is named for Thomas F. Blackwell, a law professor and friend who was among three people killed in January 2002 in a campus shooting at the Appalachian School of Law in Virginia.

“As I said in my acceptance speech, obviously, I wish the award had never come to be. I wish Tom was still with us,” he said. 

Mr. Levine was instrumental in helping to establish the award, which, he said, is based on "the ability to nurture and motivate students to excellence; the ability to create and integrate new ideas for teaching and motivating legal writing educators and students; and a willingness to help other legal writing educators improve their teaching skills or their legal writing programs."

He learned in December that he was to receive the other award. 

Mr. Levine chose a law career after he finished his undergraduate degree in sociology from the University at Albany, State University of New York.

“Like others who have pursued law, I was told, ‘You can argue really well, you should become a lawyer,’” he said.

After he completed law school in 1978 in Boston, Mr. Levine worked as a lawyer for eight years and also taught as an adjunct professor for two years during that time.

“But it was too demanding to do trial work and teach, so I stopped teaching,” Mr. Levine said.

He served as assistant general counsel and assistant regional counselor for the Department of Social Services and as deputy general counselor for the Office of Children for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He entered the academia world when he became director of legal research and writing at the University of Virginia School of Law. He also directed the writing program at the University of Arkansas School of Law and at Temple University.

Seven years ago, Mr. Levine came to Duquesne to start the school of law’s legal research and writing program and to teach.

“It was a great opportunity. I had started programs like this twice before and was really looking forward to it,” he said.

In addition to his writing and teaching interests, Mr. Levine joked that he has a “human side.” He enjoys reading science fiction and fantasy, and he races slot cars.

“When the students come into my office and see some of my 'Star Wars' things, they realize that I am human, that they can relate to me,” he said.

He developed the slot car hobby when he began buying small cars when his son, Evan, now 25, was a child.

“I had some when I was a kid, so I started buying them for him. Then I started buying them for both of us, and then I realized I was buying them for just me,” he said.

Mr. Levine participates in the Pittsburgh Slotcar Racing League.

“I have lots of Ferraris," he said. "They just happen to be very, very small ones.”

Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.

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