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Federal Judge Russell Engages in Conversation with Law Students

April 11, 2016

The University of Kentucky College of Law hosted Senior District Judge Thomas B. Russell from the Western District of Kentucky on March 23 as part of UK Law’s 2015-2016 Judicial Conversation Series.

Joined by Chief Judge Jennifer B. Coffman in the College of Law Courtroom, Judge Russell began the open forum by sharing a little bit of his story. Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Judge Russell graduated from Western Kentucky University with his bachelor's degree in 1967 and earned his J.D. degree from the University of Kentucky College of Law in 1970. Following graduation, Judge Russell was an attorney in private practice in Paducah, Kentucky. In 1994, President Bill Clinton nominated, and the Senate confirmed, Judge Russell to a seat on the United States District Court, Western District of Kentucky, where he served as chief judge from 2008 until he assumed senior status in 2011.  

After his brief introduction, Judge Russell jumped in with words of wisdom for those students wishing to pursue a career in the legal profession.

“If you want to know the law, you have to study it,” said Judge Russell. “And if you want to practice the law, you have to know it!”

He continued by encouraging those interested in clerking to strive to be in the top percentage of their class, to obtain journal experience, and to apply for positions in the state in which they reside. He emphasized the importance of securing a summer job or internship in the legal field, enlightening students that it not only provides great experience, but they can walk away with some outstanding recommendations.

In March 2015, Judge Russell was appointed to the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, whose purpose is to oversee requests made by the United States Government for approval of electronic surveillance, physical search, and certain other forms of investigative actions for foreign intelligence purposes. Judge Russell is one of ten exclusive judges part of the Court and although he couldn’t elaborate, it was an interesting fact that left a lasting impression on those attending the open forum.

Judge Russell wrapped up the conversation by answering intriguing questions from students in attendance.

In conjunction with his visit for the Judicial Conversation Series, Judge Russell served as guest lecturer earlier in the day in Professor Bill Fortune’s Professional Responsibility class.

The purpose of the Judicial Conversation Series is to provide thoughtful and engaging interactions between distinguished members of the judiciary and law students. Previous speakers have included Kentucky Supreme Court Justices Minton (Chief), Abramson, Cunningham, Noble, Scott, and Venters, U.S. Tax Court Judge Joseph Goeke, U.S. Bankruptcy Court Chief Judge Tracey Wise, Eastern District of Kentucky, and Judge Roger L. Gregory, 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Judge Coffman serves as facilitator for the series.