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Alyssa A. DiRusso

We asked Alyssa A. DiRusso, Whelan W. and Rosalie T. Palmer Professor of Law at Cumberland School of Law, Samford University, what has inspired and motivated her throughout her career. This author spotlight gives a glimpse into her passions and what brought her to where she is today.

What or who motivated you to study law?

[AAD] I know I should have a grand and inspiring story here, but I honestly don’t.  I love to read and I love to write.  I was a double-major in English and Psychology and it wasn’t until graduation neared that I realized how those map onto law (and teaching law).  My parents had remarked from time to time that I would make a good lawyer, but I think that’s just what parents say when their child is too argumentative.

Did you have a favorite professor in law school?  If so, who was the person and what made them stand out?

[AAD] I had two favorite professors: Professor Stanley Johanson and Professor Elizabeth Chambliss.  Professor Johanson taught me to love trusts and estates and Professor Chambliss inspired me to teach.  They both taught their classes with such energy and commitment that it was infectious.

What law school course did you enjoy the most?

[AAD] Estate Planning was my favorite; I enjoy the riddles of applying tax law to individual planning goals.

What are your primary areas of writing and teaching? What fascinates you about these areas of law?

[AAD] My primary areas of writing and teaching are trusts and estates and tax.  Death and taxes go together like peanut butter and jelly.  I love the psychology aspects of both of them – how tax can be used to encourage or discourage behavior and how trusts and estates satisfies the deep human desire to have a sense of control over death.

Do (or did) you have a mentor or someone that has inspired or encouraged you in your writing or teaching?

[AAD] When I was in college, I was fortunate to take several psychology classes with Dr. Martha Alibali.  She oversaw my senior thesis and helped me publish it as a co-author.  She was the one who made me realize I could live the academic life.

What motivated you to write a casebook?

[AAD] I love teaching trusts and estates and want to serve all of my students well.  It’s hard to find the right balance between teaching to the students who will specialize and practice in this area and acknowledging the needs of students who know they want to be litigators (or something else entirely unrelated) and want more of a general exposure combined with confidence they can pass the bar exam.  This was an opportunity to create something that balances those needs.  I was also eager to work with Naomi Cahn and Susan Gary.

What has been the most influential or pivotal moment in your career?

[AAD] The big jump was from practice to teaching.  It was a real leap of faith to go from a job where I had a good amount of confidence in my background – I was trained to be a lawyer – to a job where I had to learn by doing – I was not trained to teach.  It also required relocating our young family from Boston to Birmingham, which was a pretty big shift.  I don’t regret it, but it was scary at the time, and I’m grateful for my husband’s support in taking that risk to uproot and do something entirely different.

What changes in legal education excite you?

[AAD] Online learning.  I love the classroom experience, but having a blend of online and face-to-face experiences allows students more flexibility and control over their time.  I think work-life balance is important and law school is a good place to start learning how to manage it as well as you can.  My opinion is informed by my practice experience, when I worked from home two days a week advising the bank.  It saved four hours a week in commuting time without sacrificing the quality or quantity of my work.  That made being a working mother more manageable.

What advice do you have for today’s law students? 

[AAD] Learning is messy and having to try hard and get things wrong is part of the process.  Also, there are many ways you can use your legal education and there is no one path that is right for everyone.

How do you hope to be remembered by your students or law school?

[AAD] I hope my students think of me as someone who made class fun and engaging, and that they came out knowing how to help others in a way they didn’t before they took the class.

What are your interests outside of law? 

[AAD] I was a drama kid in high school and still enjoy theater.  I adore my husband and three kids and spend a lot of time supporting them in their activities.  I love to read (with a particular weakness for teen fiction) and hang out with my fat cat.  I also love traveling, except the unpacking part.


Alyssa A. DiRusso is the Whelan W. and Rosalie T. Palmer Professor of Law at Cumberland School of Law, Samford University and is the author of the new textbook, Wills, Trusts, and Estates in Focus

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