Shaka Mitchell finds lasting meaning in law school motto “Pro Iustitia”

Shaka Mitchell (’04) was attracted to the Wake Forest University School of Law for many reasons, not the least of which were the small classes and the relationships students develop with professors.

He wasn’t completely sold, but two words, inscribed in Latin on the floor of the law school’s entrance to the Worrell Professional Building, helped him to decide.

“Pro Iustitia.”

A lot of mottos, says Mitchell, are nothing more than a collection of words, which neither excite nor motivate. These, meaning “in service of justice,” made an impression.

Mitchell, a Georgia native, graduated from the law school in 2004. He is an alumnus of Belmont University in Nashville and has worked for the Institute for Justice in Arlington, Va. He served as the associate director of policy at the Center for Education Reform before arriving at the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, where he is executive vice president.

“I was interested in law because laws, in the micro sense, like licensing requirements, or in the macro sense, like the Commerce Clause, touch everyone and often this is to the detriment of individual freedom. I wanted to be involved in the processes that allow people to live as freely as possible. Law was the perfect fit.”

I really love conveying our message to regular people, going out and talking to parents and kind of pulling the veil off so they can see it doesn’t have to be this way.

Before Mitchell joined the TCPR full-time, he served on its Board of Scholars, and his work has appeared in the American Bar Association Journal and the Palm Beach Post in Florida.

The center is grounded in libertarian values and, says Mitchell, “dedicated to the idea that individuals prosper as their civil liberties increase.”

Mitchell and his staff fight for things such as education reform — including access to schools that meet the needs of the individual child — and against unnecessary regulation.

“We serve as a voice, both a research voice and as a legislative advocate, for people who sometimes don’t know their rights are being infringed.”

An advocate of education reform, Mitchell cites public high school graduation rates of 55 percent to 60 percent. “It makes no sense to continue to dump more money and do the same old thing we’ve done for 100-plus years.”

He promotes the center’s values to lawmakers and residents alike.

“I really love conveying our message to regular people, going out and talking to parents and kind of pulling the veil off so they can see it doesn’t have to be this way.”

Everything the center does is pro bono and, as a lawyer, Mitchell has never worked for an organization that charged clients. “Our goal is to affect laws in ways that last for years. The best case is one you take to the Supreme Court … then you’ve really done something.”

That idea, that people matter, is engrained in the culture at Wake Forest, says Mitchell, whose wife, Stephanie (Jolley) Mitchell — a Winston-Salem native and also a Wake Forest alum — received her master’s of arts in experimental psychology in 2004. Both Stephanie’s father and grandfather are former Demon Deacons.

“In public-interest work,” Shaka Mitchell says, “you have to interact with people and you have to listen to their stories. It’s not contracts, it’s not black-letter law … It’s real people with real interests who are being affected.”