Alumni, attorneys participate in new Professional Development Course’s Career Panels Week
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Office of Communications and Public Relations
October 14, 2013
Approximately 40 attorneys, including a number of Wake Forest Law alumni, are visiting campus for Career Panels Week as part of the first-year Professional Development Course. The course is led by Associate Law Professor Tanya Marsh and Associate Director of Career and Professional Development Francie Scott (’04).
The panels kicked off Monday, Oct. 14, with “Criminal Prosecution.” Phil Berger, Jr. (’99), Jennifer Martin (’96) and Rob Lang (’84) discussed their jobs and gave advice to aspiring prosecutors.
Berger is the Rockingham County district attorney and director of the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys. He is the former chairman of the Rockingham Country Republican Party, and former director of the Rockingham Country Juvenile Crime Prevention Council.
“I spend a great deal of time in the courtroom,” he said. “I get to make decisions about how cases are tried and who gets the resources they need based on the crimes they’ve committed. The relationships formed in law school certainly carry over into the job circle. The way to get started in law is to be an intern and to get started early.”
Berger stressed the importance of ethics in a career in prosecution. “Prosecutors are held to a higher level of ethics, the level of responsibility is much higher,” he said. “You are in a direct relationship with the Constitution of the United States because you have the ability to take away someone’s right to liberty, and it is important to hold yourself to a higher standard.”
Forsyth County Chief Assistant District Attorney Martin is a former Forsyth County assistant public defender. She currently specializes in complex murder cases and death penalty cases.
Martin gave the students advice on what employers look for in prospective employees.
“We want people who are self-starters, people who go above and beyond the regular summer internships,” she said. “We look for people who are invested in their communities and are well-rounded.”
Martin said that prosecutors’ obligation is to seek the truth. “Defense attorneys have a stricter loyalty to their client and their client’s best interest, but our job is to find justice. You need to be able to evaluate cases and know what is important. You need to know how to relate to different kinds of people, and treat them like important human beings.”
Lang is the assistant U.S. attorney for the Middle District of North Carolina. He has been practicing law for nearly 30 years, and was part of the District Attorney’s office for more than seven years. Lang has worked in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for 16 years.
Lang discussed the importance of equality in prosecution. “The most important job of a prosecutor is consistency. It’s so important, whether someone is black, white, old, or young—no matter what, you need to feed everyone with the same spoon and treat people equally.”
Lang added: “Being a trial lawyer, there is nothing like the ability to gather the truth, and to know that you’re right. It is so important to have the opportunity to be a voice for the disadvantaged. In this profession you can always get better and better, it is important to not get complacent, but to always keep moving forward.”
On Tuesday, Oct. 15, Monica Guy (’03), Bell Davis & Pitt, and Jon Kurtz, Tash & Kurtz, talked to students at noon about family law. Both are certified family law specialists in North Carolina and both discussed the ups and downs of what can be an emotionally challenging practice.
Guy and Kurtz said family law can also be very rewarding. “You have days where you feel like you have really made a difference in someone’s life,” Kurtz said.
Guy added Executive Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Suzanne Reynolds (’77) encouraged her to pursue family law when Guy was studying at Wake Forest Law because Reynolds thought it would be a good fit for her personality. Guy said it turns out Reynolds was right.
“I would probably be a social worker in another life,” she said. “In family law, you have to be able to connect with people so they trust you. You also have to be a good writer in plain language that your clients can understand.”
Kurtz advised students that it would be helpful for law students to have a business or accounting background if they want to pursue family law, especially for cases dealing with equitable distribution. “If you have an understanding of business issues in general you can use it to market yourself,” he said.
The Career Panels will continue through Thursday, Oct. 17, with the following schedule:
5-6 p.m. Criminal defense Room 1301
Panelists: Seth Johnson, Crosswhite, Crosswhite, Ashley & Johnson; Mireille Clough (’02); and Chris Clifton (’95), Grace Tisdale & Clifton
5-6 p.m. Sports law Room 1107
Panelists: Erik Albright, Smith Moore Leatherwood; Todd Hairston, WFU NCAA compliance office, and Richard Thigpen, Carolina Panthers General Counsel
12-1 p.m. International Law Room 1301
Panelists: Mark Thomas (’78), Williams Mullen; James Phillips (’77), Womble Carlyle; and Chip Hagan (’77), Hagan, Davis, Mangum, Barrett & Langley
3-4 p.m. “General practice” Room 1108
Panelists: Richard Gabriel (’75), Gabriel Berry Weston Wells; Lea Keller (’06), Mike Lewis Associates; and Fred Adams (’00)
4-5 p.m. Business Litigation Room 1302
Panelists: Bill McMahon (’05), Constangy Brooks & Smith; Colleen Byers, Bell Davis & Pitt; Austin Oyler, Strauch Fitzgerald & Green; and Dan Taylor (’76), Kilpatrick Townsend
12-1 p.m. Healthcare Room 1301
Panelists: Rob Zawrotny (’11), Assistant GC, Novant Health; Jim Wall, Wall Esleeck Babcock; Sarah Crotts (’05), Womble Carlyle; and Meggan Bushee (’11), McGuire Woods
3-4 p.m. IP, copyrights/trademarks Room 1302
Panelists: Erin M. Sommers, Finnegan; Alton Absher (’07), Kilpatrick Townsend; Harris Henderson, Kilpatrick Townsend; and Tiffani Otey (’10), Womble Carlyle
3-4 p.m. Trusts & Estates/Elder Law Room 1107
Panelists: Aimee Smith (’02), Craige Brawley; David McLean (’99); and Angela Kreinbrink (’06), McAllister Law Firm
4-5 p.m. Corporate transactional Room 1117
Panelists: Chris Gyves (’04), Womble Carlyle; Leigh Bagley (’04), Bell Davis & Pitt; Todd Stillerman, Bank of America; and Sue Young (’04), Brooks Pierce