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Jurist in Residence Andre Davis believes lawyers play key role in social justice

Professor Gregory Parks and the Honorable Andre Davis

The Honorable Andre M. Davis of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond is in love with the law.  He thinks law students need to be as well. “Pursue your legal studies as an act of love because it will empower you to achieve just incredible, incredible things,” he told Wake Forest Law students on Wednesday, Feb. 26, in a conversation-style lecture with Professor Gregory Parks.

Davis participated in Wake Forest Law’s Jurist-in-Residence program from Feb. 24-27. The program was launched in 2009 with E. Norman Veasey, the former Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court, who taught a course on “Corporate Governance and Professional Responsibility.” While serving as Wake Forest Law’s Jurist-in-Residence, Davis taught a class on Criminal Procedures, Civil Procedures and Federal Courts in addition to meeting with select law students over tea, and attending other events for faculty and alumni.

During Wednesday’s presentation, Davis talked about the importance of mentors, a need for empathy, and the meaning of race in the American justice system. When talking about his career, he admitted that it wasn’t until his sophomore year at the University of Pennsylvania that he realized he wanted to be a lawyer.

“I understood for the first time the role that lawyers played in achieving social justice,” he said. “I knew from that moment in Philadelphia that I had to be a lawyer.”

When Parks asked about what lessons he could give to law students, Davis emphasized the importance of mentors. He said there was no alternative to someone with experience who could teach students about the culture of the law and point them in the right direction. Davis said the magic number was three — each law school graduate should have at least three lawyers from whom they can seek guidance.

Chris Dorismond (’16) was among students who stayed after the lecture to continue talking with Davis, who announced he will be taking senior status from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit on Feb. 28, 2014.

“Cases are not just as you see in the book, black words on white pages. They deal with real people and it’s about being cognizant of that,” Dorismond said in response to Davis’ comments on the need for empathy in the court room.

Davis discussed race in the court room and remembered the most influential moments of social justice throughout his career. Growing up in the midst of Brown v. Board of Education, he shared the  “absolute joy” he felt as a law student when Harry Cole was the first African-American to be elected to the Maryland Court of Appeals.

Bahati Mutisya (’15)  was also among those influenced by Davis’ remarks.

“Just as Judge Davis found inspiration from the African-Americans who made history on the Maryland courts before him, he too is an inspiration to me,” she said following the judge’s presentation.