Faculty Profile: John Korzen (’91) has a passion for writing

Photo of Professor John Korzen

John Korzen, who heads the Appellate Advocacy Clinic and teaches Legal Writing and Business Drafting, is an experienced appellate lawyer.

Professor John Korzen (’91) developed a love for writing when he was a teenager, a love that eventually led him to the law and legal writing.  Korzen, who heads the Appellate Advocacy Clinic for 3Ls and teaches Legal Writing to 1Ls and 2Ls, is an experienced appellate lawyer who joined the faculty in 2003.

“I have always liked to write and appeals really turn on good writing,” he explained. “Most appeals these days are decided without oral argument, so a quality brief is crucial.  Appeals are challenging and important.  A successful appeal can create law governing a whole state or even the nation.”

Korzen has been lead counsel in more than seventy appeals over the years, writing briefs and making oral arguments.  Lately, however, he is more frequently “second chair” in appeals, supervising 3Ls in their briefs and oral arguments in federal and state appellate courts.  Since 2007, fourteen Wake Forest 3Ls have argued in a variety of appellate courts.

“I am more proud of the work of our 3Ls in the Appellate Advocacy Clinic than anything else in my legal career,” Korzen said.  He is especially pleased with the “firsts” of the Appellate Advocacy Clinic, including the first law student arguments in the North Carolina Court of Appeals and the North Carolina Industrial Commission.  “I’m a big believer in experiential learning, and that’s a role that law school clinics fill,” he said.

This year the Appellate Advocacy Clinic is handling seven appeals in five different appellate jurisdictions.  Professor George Walker started the law school’s original Appellate Advocacy Clinic in the 1970s, and Korzen revived it in the 2006-07 school year.  He describes working with law students as “a lot of fun. They are full of enthusiasm and energy.”

Recently, Korzen became a Board Certified Specialist in Appellate Practice Law, a distinction recognized by the North Carolina State Bar Board of Legal Specialization in November 2011. The North Carolina State Bar certifies lawyers as specialists in designated practice areas as a service to the public, and 2011 was the first time that specialists were certified in the field of Appellate Practice.  After satisfying the experience and peer review requirements, Korzen had to pass a three-hour live exam with three essay and 30 multiple choice questions, and a one-week take home exam that required the rewriting of one section of a brief and the identification of rules violations and other errors in the rest of the brief.  Korzen joins Clinical Professor Kate Mewhinney, who is a certified specialist in Elder Law, as Wake Forest faculty members who are certified as specialists by the North Carolina State Bar.

Korzen was a teacher and legal writer long before joining the faculty in 2003.  From 1982 through 1988, he taught English and other subjects in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School System, in grades 4 though 7.  Next came Wake Forest, where he was an Executive Editor of the Law Review, was active in Moot Court, and graduated from the law school cum laude in 1991.  He then clerked on the Fourth Circuit for Chief Judge Sam J. Ervin III.  “Clerking honed my research and writing skills,” he explains, “and Judge Ervin was the best mentor imaginable.” 

Following his clerkship, Korzen practiced at Smith Helms Mulliss & Moore, LLP (now Smith Moore Leatherwood) in Greensboro for seven years.  At Smith Helms, Korzen was fortunate to work closely with Jim Exum, a former Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, in the firm’s appellate practice group.  Exum was another great mentor.  Korzen continued to develop an appellate practice at a small firm in Kernersville for the next four years.  Along the way, he was also an adjunct professor of the Appellate Advocacy course for five years.

After his work with students in the Appellate Advocacy Clinic, Korzen is most proud of the fact that he has won reversals of more than twenty summary judgments or directed verdicts over the years.  “During my clerkship days in 1991-92, I became convinced that judges take too many plaintiffs’ cases away from the jury,” he explains.  “I have continued to feel that way during practice.”

With his appellate and clerkship experience, it is no surprise that Korzen currently chairs both the faculty Moot Court advisors committee and the faculty judicial clerkship committee.

Korzen also writes for pleasure in his spare time. He recently won first place in a writing contest by penning a play that a law school student and her husband starred in.  Entitled “The Last First Date,” the play was performed as part of a Text-to-Stage competition sponsored by the Winston-Salem Writers, an organization for area writers.  Korzen asked Katie (’11) and J.D. Serfas, who were theater majors as undergraduates, to be readers when the play was performed on April 30, 2011.  “Katie and J.D. did an amazing job of bringing the characters to life,” Korzen said.  “The audience was enthralled and showered them with praise afterwards.”

Korzen lives in Kernersville with his wife Catherine.  They have three daughters.