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At the Round Table with Accessibility and Gender Equity Expert, Dr. Russell Froman

May 16, 2023

In this episode… 

Our guest, Dr. Froman states, “You have to say in front of the legislation and be aware of pending legislation.” We talked about the difficulties of, and solutions to, maintaining a current understanding of rapidly changing regulations. Additionally, he offers guidance on cross, “It’s not about winning, it’s about just communicating.”

We discussed the different styles of engaging attorneys, the importance of research and the confidence that comes with adequate preparation. Dr. Froman advises, “As long as you stay in your lane of knowledge and don’t try to get outside . . . because you’re intimidated, it really helps you stay grounded.” 

Episode Transcript: 

Note: Transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.    

Host:Noah Bolmer, Round Table Group    

Guest: Dr. Russell Froman, Assistant Vice President for Accessibility and Gender Equity at The University of Florida  

Noah Bolmer: Welcome to Discussions at the Round Table today. I am excited to speak with Dr. Russell Froman. He is the Assistant Vice President for Accessibility and Gender Equity for the University of Florida. He holds a J.D. and a Ph.D. in Education and is a leading expert on Title 9, the Americans with Disabilities Act, an accessibility-focused federal and state regulation. Dr. Furman, it is great to have you on the show. Thanks for joining me.  

Dr. Russell Froman: Thank you, Noah. I am excited to be here today.  

Noah Bolmer: You have been in education for over three decades now. How did you first get started with that? 

Dr. Russell Froman: I have been in higher ed in some capacity for 30-plus years. I got started because I wanted to make a difference. I thought I was going to become a teacher, so I went the education route in undergraduate school, and then I decided to get a master’s degree in counseling so that I could be a counselor in a school system setting, which I did for some time.  That led to an opportunity to get a doctorate in higher ed administration. The work experience followed logically behind the educational experience. I have been in higher education in some capacity for over thirty-five years.  

Noah Bolmer: That is amazing. I take it this has been a passion and a calling for you since the beginning even though there is a JD somewhere.  

Dr. Russell Froman: That was where I started. I wanted to be an attorney more than anything. It was later in my career path that opportunity presented itself. I started law school when I was 50.   

Noah Bolmer: I feel there is a story there. What made you decide to go to law school at 50? 

Dr. Russell Froman: There is an amazing story there. I was a Deputy Title 9 Coordinator for the University of Florida and a principal at a K12 lab school at the University of Florida. My focus was K12 Law. We were reaching out to the general counsel regularly for advice. They would refer us to county attorneys for that advice because they had not navigated K12 Law enough to be comfortable giving advice. I decided I would go to law school for my professional benefit so that I could answer my questions. Four days a week after the students left campus, I would pack up my car and drive the 2 1/2 hours for my evening courses 4 days a week at Stetson Law School in Saint Petersburg, Florida. When my classes ended, I would hop back in the car, go home, and study until I fell asleep. I would return to campus the next day at 7:30 a.m. with the kids. I did that for 3 1/2 years of law school. 

Noah Bolmer: As a former attorney myself, I cannot fathom trying to juggle those two things.  

Dr. Russell Froman: It was hard to remember the details, but I made it through.  

Noah Bolmer: Let’s get into the expert work. Tell me about the first time that you were called on to be an expert. What was your first expert work opportunity? How did it happen? 

Dr. Russell Froman: A colleague reached out to me. They knew my work as a K12 principal, and they knew I had transitioned into the role of Assistant Vice President and Title 9 coordinator at the University of Florida. There was a case from another higher-education institution that my colleague thought might be a good fit. She reached out and asked if I would be interested. Ironically, I was in the process of moving in that direction. I had a mentor who was a professor when I was getting my doctorate in higher ed, who had his firm in that regard, and he had reached out to me to say I would be excellent at this work. He was retiring and said, “If I have any clients come my way. Do you mind if I refer them to you? I said, “No. That sounds great.”  I started doing the research and discovered my fit was compliance, K12 education, and higher education law. It worked out for this particular case and the interview went well. They liked what I had to say, my background, and the rest, they say, is history.   

Noah Bolmer: Let’s talk about that interfacing for the first time. What were the struggles? What were the things that you wish were more explicit or different or that you could have done differently during that first relationship between expert and the attorney? What advice do you have to share with both aspiring attorneys and experts?   

Dr. Russell Froman: That is a great question. There are many things I wish I had known. Navigating those initial conversations, I tried to be myself but did not know what they wanted. I thought I would be real about my background and knowledge, but I wished I had learned how to prepare an anticipated contract for my services. How much time I anticipated it would take to do the research for the case, and then how much time I expected it would take to write my report. I had no idea. I underestimated drastically in both regards. I would recommend that anyone getting into expert witness work has access to either Westlaw or Nexus for their research. They are legitimate research opportunities. The Internet is not enough. It will not get you where you need to go, so that is one recommendation I have. I underestimated the amount of time by many hours. Give yourself some freedom to figure out how long things take because everyone is different and individualized in what makes them comfortable in an expert witness situation. How much time will they need to determine a case’s complexity? The writing part also takes longer than you think. I have written quite a bit. I have published and written a dissertation and a thesis. It is a different type of writing, and I would anticipate it taking longer than you might think it might take.  

Noah Bolmer: When you are an expert, how do you stay an expert in a broad field like yours? How do you stay abreast of all the different accessibility regulations and all the things that come with them? Not only when you are in Florida, which is your forum, but how do you stay abreast of national and international laws?  

Dr. Russell Froman: That is another excellent question. You must be in front of the legislation and be aware of pending legislation. They drop regulation proposals on the front end before something becomes law. You have access to that before they become federal and state law. I stay in touch with what is proposed, and upcoming changes. They drop the regulation proposals on the front end before something becomes law and so, you have access to all that before it becomes law, and that is both state and federal. Then, you follow up on the back end because they publish dates it became law or will become law. Then, I follow them to see if what is in the proposal is correct and what did not become law. That is the only way to do it. You have to stay actively engaged in the legislation. It is a shifting landscape and incredibly shifting in my area of work. I know with each administration, either federal or state, things will change. Knowing that and staying actively engaged is the key to maintaining the knowledge.  

Noah Bolmer: Have you done any international work as an expert?  

Dr. Russell Froman: No, most of what is under my umbrella and what guides areas of law I navigate are almost all federal or state regulations. Internationally it has less of an impact. My international work has been around study abroad programs from the United States and basically, the constituents or affiliates were visiting other countries. Their laws had little impact in my knowledge or my need to know.  

Noah Bolmer: We talked about state, international, and local, but when you are in a case, and someone cross-examines you, how do you prepare for that? What is it like the first time you have the luxury of the JD experience? It may differ because you know what to expect, but many experts have never been in court. What types of preparation help, and what is it like to be on the stand as a witness?  

Dr. Russell Froman: It is intimidating. Preparation and confidence help, but it is still rough because you do not know what angle a person is approaching you. Some people are friendly when conversing and interacting with an expert. Others are intentionally intimidating and antagonistic. Not knowing that is intimidating, and you have to settle in and take deep breaths. Take a pause in what you have to say and take comfort in knowing it is not about winning, it’s about communicating what is being asked. If you stay in your lane of knowledge because you are intimidated. It helps you stay grounded in that process. It lessens the impact of intimidation, but it is a very intimidating interaction initially.  

Noah Bolmer: Right.  

Noah Bolmer: Not just with testifying but with depositions and anything else. Do you have other strategies to offer for potential expert witnesses who are not necessarily on the stand but face difficult and hostile situations? You are focusing on the problematic areas of law with Title 9 and the Americans with Disabilities Act. What are the techniques you utilize that you might recommend to other people to keep things light, moving, and productive?  

Dr. Russell Froman: Always be yourself but also do your homework. One of the cases took place in another state and it was a state where I was not familiar with their state laws. It took a lot of preparation for me to learn the state law of the state in regard to the nexus between the state law and federal rules and regulations that I was serving as an expert witness. Their counsel went directly to that and focused on the state law. If I had not done that it would not only have been embarrassing but would have been bad for the case in such a way that I would have been unhappy with how I had presented myself. My recommendation would be to do your homework on the states in which your case is sitting because it makes a difference.  

Noah Bolmer: If you go back and consider the various attorneys you have worked with, what are their good qualities? What helps improve your performance, makes your job easier, and increases your understanding of their expectations?  

Dr. Russell Froman: I love a good sense of humor going into a situation because it is tense. I like it when somebody engages in a conversation with me at the human level, not a formal professional interaction. I welcome humor and realness in a conversation. I love knowing the background of the attorneys with which we communicate. It helps to know not necessarily personal information but information that allows me to communicate with them. Are they the type of attorney who comes after me aggressively, or are they the type of attorney who will be fair and reasonable in our interaction? It helps if I have that information going into a situation.  

Noah Bolmer: Do you get a fair amount of repeat work?  

Dr. Russell Froman: Fortunately for everyone involved, there is not much repeat need for the situation I am navigating, which you could consider a win. Or you could look at it as these situations do not necessarily go to a place in the process where they need an expert twice. For it to get to a place where I am called in as an expert a lot of water has come under the bridge behind that situations and luckily that does not happen all the time for higher education institutions when do they know where to turn and I appreciate that. I hope that makes sense, but since it has not happened so far, it is because it is just good fortune that these kinds of situations rarely arise for a particular client.  

Noah Bolmer: That is interesting. Part of me thinks some people are professional expert witnesses. It is where they derive most of their income, so it is interesting to hear that you are not getting too much repeat business. I guess that is for the best. It means that these issues do not crop up as often as they might. 

Dr. Russell Froman: Many things happen before they bring me in as an expert; luckily, that does not always happen. When higher education institutions do, they know where to turn to, which I appreciate.  

Noah Bolmer: It has been a pleasure. You have been informative, and I appreciate you taking the time to be with us on Discussions at the Round Table.  

Dr. Russell Froman: My pleasure, Noah. If you would like to reach out and talk, I would be happy to do that.  

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After a quarter century helping litigators find the right expert witnesses, Round Table Group’s network contains some of the world’s greatest experts. On the Discussions at the Round Table podcast, we talk to some of them about what’s new in their field of study and their experience as expert witnesses.

At the Round Table with Accessibility and Gender Equity Expert, Dr. Russell Froman

Dr. Russell Froman, Esq., Ed.D.

Our guest, Dr. Russell Froman, Esq. is the Assistant Vice President for Accessibility and Gender Equity at The University of Florida. He is the Title IX coordinator for the university and is a leading expert on accessibility-focused regulations and regulating bodies. Dr. Froman holds both a JD and an Ed D.