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Professor Miki Felsenburg (’91) remains involved in LAWR instruction research despite retiring

Professor Miki Felsenburg

Miki Felsenburg is not only a long-time professor of Legal Research and Writing, she also teaches law in the Wake Forest Babcock Graduate School of Management MBA program in the Executive Program. In addition, she continues to practice law, is a certified mediator and consults with business organizations to educate their executives and managers on legal subjects pertinent to their success.

When Professor Miki Felsenburg (’91) first got the call to teach at Wake Forest law school, she turned it down.

Seventeen years later, in the fall of 2011, she welcomed her 18th class of first-year law students to her Legal Analysis, Writing, and Research (LAWR) section.

“I initially said no because I had never taught and I thought I would want to continue to practice law full time,” she explained.  “But then a couple of weeks later I got to thinking, I made a wrong choice.  So I called back and they still had the opening, so I took it.”

That was fall 1994. For the first dozen years or so that Felsenburg taught, she continued to practice law for the Forsyth County Public Defender’s Office. She had promised Jim Taylor, who was associate dean of students when she was a law student, that she would stay on the appointed list when she graduated and she kept that promise.

“I was on the appointed list for criminal defense and did many appointed criminal defense cases, mostly misdemeanors and district court but I did a few superior court cases and stuff like that with tons of juvenile court,” she said.  “I took the occasional personal injury or worker’s comp case over time and kept active in that but then eventually I got tired and I got much more involved in the law school.”

Felsenburg retired in July 2012 as one of the longest serving members of the Wake Forest faculty Legal Analysis, Writing, and Research (LAWR) group. But she remains actively involved in a long-term research project concentrating on the earliest portion of LAWR instruction. In 2007, Felsenburg along with Professor Laura P. Graham (’94) began an empirical study of the incoming first-year classes at two schools to learn more about their struggles during this vital and especially difficult instructional period.

The early draft of the duo’s first article about the research was considered “groundbreaking,” and was a “Top 10 download” on the Social Sciences Research Network (SSRN) for more than three months. That article appeared in the Fall 2010 edition of the Journal of the Legal Writing Institute and on lwionline.org. Felsenburg and Graham have presented their findings at several important venues, including the June 2010, national biennial conference of the LWI. The pair’s newest book, “The Pre-Writing Handbook : A Step-by-Step Guide,” will be available for purchase from Carolina Academic Press in Spring 2013.

In addition to legal writing, Felsenburg taught Appellate Advocacy and for many years, she taught business law-related courses in the Wake Forest Schools of Business, as she graduated with an MBA from Wake Forest in 1978 and a JD degree in 1991. She was recognized upon graduation as the Outstanding Woman Law Graduate. In addition, she was a Wake Forest Law Faculty Scholar, a member of Law Review and a member of the Moot Court Board.

After graduation she worked for worked for Elliot, Pishko, Gelbin, and Morgan, a local law firm.

“It was a very high volume, high pressure but a small litigation firm with four partners and me,” she explained.  “I loved it and I loved the people and they are the best lawyers in town. But it was probably not where I wanted to be for the rest of my life.”

Felsenburg chose to study law and become a professor in what many would consider a “second act.” She was 44 when she graduated from Wake Forest law school.

When she graduated from the University of Denver in 1969 with her journalism degree, the Colorado native went to work in public relations for Western Electric, which was owned by AT&T.

“At that time AT&T had over a million employees, it was a huge company,” she said.  “I had an offer to transfer to New York City, which I took.  I lived in New York for about three years and then Western Electric was moving people from New York to North Carolina while it was firing people in North Carolina.  They needed a PR person who could speak to the press and my last job in New York had been national spokesperson for AT&T and Western Electric.  I wrote the speeches for AT&T’s president which was a cool job.  So I initially said no but then the guy that was going to run the PR department down here asked me if I would just come down and spend one day.  I said what do I have to lose? I came in May and everything was in bloom and it was absolutely gorgeous.  So I took a look around and I said yes and that was in 1975.  I have actually lived here longer than anywhere.”

After a stint doing freelance photography and PR, Felsenburg decided she might want to follow in her grandfather’s footsteps and become a lawyer.

“I had never met him, my grandparents died in the Holocaust,” she said.  “I just got to thinking ‘what if’ and took the LSAT and the law school offered me a full scholarship so it seemed like the right decision. Melanie Nutt, bless her heart, lured me to the law school.”

Felsenburg enjoys traveling and playing and watching sports. She and her partner can usually be found at Wake Forest’s basketball and football games, playing golf, or wherever there’s an auction, antique show, or flea market going on.

In addition to traveling, Felsenburg plans to do a lot of volunteering and pick up the piano again. “I learned it as a child. I had no talent, but I did enjoy it so I might go back to it, just for my own pleasure.”

While Felsenburg is looking forward to the free time retirement will allow,  she is going to miss her law students.

“Since it’s Wake Forest, one of our niches is that we have close relationships with the students, and especially the professors in legal writing,” she explained. “We have 20 students that we meet on day one that become your kids. And I mean the relationships we have with these students are really important to them and important to me personally, and the kind of rich relationships you have with these students is not going to be easy for me to replace.”