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Clinic students serve real-world clients

Our clinics integrate study, practice and hands-on experience, and they help develop great lawyers. Keep reading to find out what’s new at each one.

Appellate Advocacy Clinic
Now in its fourth full year, the clinic handles appeals in a variety of courts, including the Fourth Circuit, the Seventh Circuit, and the North Carolina Court of Appeals. The clinic has also been assisting the Delaware Department of Justice’s Appellate Section in two matters: an appeal to the Delaware Supreme Court and a petition for certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court. Students generally work in pairs on one appeal from start to finish, while assisting with others. Students make the argument when oral argument is allowed. Clients include indigent criminal defendants and habeas petitioners, and others of limited means. The clinic has faced a variety of interesting issues this year, including the prosecution’s withholding of Brady material, ineffective assistance of trial counsel due to failure to investigate a crime scene, waiver of Miranda rights, search and seizure issues related to a search of computers, ineffective assistance of trial counsel due to failure to appeal, and applicability of a restrictive covenant prohibiting a “commercial enterprise” to a church parking lot. In two published opinions, following oral arguments by clinic students, the clinic recently won an appeal in the Fourth Circuit and lost an appeal in the Seventh Circuit, though in that case a petition for rehearing will be filed and if necessary a petition for certiorari. Students also recently observed oral arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court, in the case of American Needle, Inc. v. NFL, toured the courthouse, and met privately with Clerk of Court General William Suter.

Community Law & Business Clinic
Launched in January 2009, the clinic’s primary goals were to provide students with practical experience and to provide public engagement by bringing university resources to the community. The clinic provides legal and business consulting services to area small businesses as well as nonprofit corporations including low-income housing developers. In its first year, the clinic served 207 clients, 30 percent nonprofit organizations and 70 percent small businesses. Fifty students from the law school and the Schools of Business, both graduate and undergraduate, participated in the clinic during its first year, while 14 law students are practicing in the clinic during the Spring 2010 semester. During its first year, the clinic delivered more than 10,000 hours of pro bono service to its clients, representing more than $1 million worth of professional services. In October 2009, the clinic launched the Low Bono Program, which supports recent graduates as they start their career by providing office spaces, administrative support and other professional supports. In exchange, the lawyer agrees to accept reduced fee referrals from the clinic. Three recent Wake Forest law graduates are participating in the program representing clients in family law, real estate and other civil law matters. The Arts Law project provides targeted legal services to artists in Winston Salem and surrounding communities and has served more than 15 artists and arts based nonprofit organizations. The clinic also regularly conducts public outreach and education programming on topics including Business Formation and Entity Selection, Value Added Agriculture Business Development and Nonprofit management and governance.

Elder Law Clinic
The third-year law students leave the clinic with a better understanding of how to advise clients and their own families. They have grown in their confidence and ability to handle a range of legal matters. From the initial greeting of the client, to the closing letter that summarizes their work, the students have provided top quality legal assistance. They see the ethical traps ahead of them, translate jargon into English, and tease out the tangles in complex laws. Director Kate Mewhinney has been invited to join the research faculty of the J. Paul Sticht Center on Aging, which is part of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center. During the fall 2009 semester, third-year law students Katrina Schaffhouser and Tiffani Otey organized an impressive program called “Empowered Aging: Community Resources You Should Know About.” Some of the speakers were from programs the clinic partners with including the Memory Assessment Clinic, the Geriatric Outreach Program, CareNet Counseling, and Club Independence. Third-year law student Dionne Carr shadowed geriatrician Hal Atkinson, M.D. in the Sticht Center on Aging several times, learning about medical issues our clients face. Carr explained to patients what the clinic offers and talked about some legal steps to consider as we age. Third-year law student Brandon Ramsey gave a public talk to senior citizens about debtors’ rights. He was invited to speak at a program where numerous service organizations were represented. And finally, congratulations to clinic alumni Mark Edwards and Caroline Knox who passed the national elder law exam and became N.C. State Bar-certified elder law attorneys.

Innocence and Justice Clinic
Since it began January 2009, the clinic has focused on studying the causes of wrongful convictions and implementing reforms that can prevent such miscarriages of justice. Students have an opportunity to put their substantive knowledge to use by investigating cases where inmates are claiming actual innocence and pursuing them in court, when appropriate. During an investigation, students discovered a sentence miscalculation issue. They were able to obtain documentation from two different clerks of courts that proved the clinic’s client had been subjected to an excessive sentence. The led to a meeting with the District Attorney of Forsyth County, where students proffered the documentation which supported their argument. The D.A. agreed with the analysis and filed a motion with the court asking that the client be resentenced. After a brief hearing, the court agreed that the nine years the client served for the crime was sufficient punishment and ordered his release. The fall semester was also marked by a panel discussion that focused on deconstructing actual innocence cases, reforms and remedies. Kirk Bloodsworth, the first U.S. death row inmate who was exonerated because of DNA testing, was the key note speaker and he provided a riveting look at the causes of wrongful conviction that led to his nine years of wrongful incarceration, two of which were on death row. The panel discussion was moderated by Carol Turowski, clinic co-director, and included Clinic Co-Director Mark Rabil, Assistant Capital Defender; Darryl Hunt, twice wrongfully convicted exoneree who spent 19 years in prison; and Professor Angela Hattery, WFU Sociology Department.

Litigation Clinic
The current students are extremely engaged and enthusiastic about both their civil and criminal law placements. Student activities with their supervising attorneys include representing clients in administrative hearings, state district court, and state Superior Court; trying cases before juries on behalf of the state; representing the U.S. in federal court hearings; flying out of state with corporate counsel for high-level political meetings; and preparing for deposition, mediations, arbitration and motion hearings. There are two new supervising attorneys this semester: Charles E. Rawlings, M.D., J.D., and Peter J. Juran of Blanco Tackabery & Matamoros. Brian K. Johnson, a nationally known communications consultant, presented “The Articulate Advocate,” to advanced and trial practice students, who also received individual instruction. Johnson also presented “The Articulate Attorney,” as part of the first-year students professionalism series. Fall semester classroom highlights included Chief Judge Bill Reingold (’83) presiding over clinic district court simulations at the Forsyth County Hall of Justice and the law firm of Comerford & Britt hosting a jury focus group in which the entire class served in a real case. Clinic Director Carol Anderson dedicated two of her classes to a look at the future of the federal justices system in memory and honor of the late Judge William L. Osteen Sr. And WFUBMC Pathology Department’s forensic specialist Dr. Donald Jason and his pathology students were directed and cross-examined by clinic students about a criminal case.