Our Stories

VLC Feature Image

“Redemption” for a Wake Forest Law Veterans Legal Clinic Client

Due to the efforts of Veterans Legal Clinic students Allison Spears and Walker Helms, under the supervision of Clinic Director Eleanor Morales, a clinic client now has an Honorable discharge and veteran status under the law. Continue reading »

ABA Employment Feature Image (2)

American Bar Association survey shows over 96% employment rate for Wake Forest Law in 2021

The American Bar Association (ABA) recently released the law school employment results for 2021 graduates from law schools across the country. Wake Forest Law ranked No. 3 out of 196 law schools in the number of graduates employed in full-time, long-term positions requiring a bar license or for which the JD is an advantage. As of March 15, 2022, 96.53% of Wake Forest Law’s 2021 graduates have employment in these “gold standard” jobs.

The class of 2021 has made its mark at the Wake Forest University School of Law. Graduates play an integral part in the institution’s future. When students come to law school, they have the reasonable expectation that they will pass the bar, get a meaningful job and not have enormous debt. Wake Forest Law is meeting those expectations. Being ranked No. 3 further confirms that a Wake Forest Law education propels students forward.

“These positive outcomes certainly reflect the quality of our students and the education they receive, but it is also a result of the investment of the law school in working with students from their first year of law school on the formation of a professional identity: understanding the career options available, internalizing the character qualities of a lawyer, and having the right tools to seek out and obtain the opportunities they want” said Francie Scott, Assistant Dean for Career & Professional Development. “We have a highly professional staff that provides key industry knowledge, maintains strong relationships with alumni and other stakeholders, and is deeply committed to seeing each student succeed.”

The ABA employment ranking is just the latest news involving Wake Forest Law’s outstanding reputation. On March 29, 2022, U.S. News & World Report ranked Wake Forest Law No. 37 out of the top 50 law schools in the country, tying with Boston College (MA), Fordham University (NY), University of California–Davis, University of California–Irvine, and University of Utah (Quinney). While the school consistently ranks among the top-tier law schools, this is the second rise in the rankings in the last two years.

“It doesn’t surprise me that Wake Forest Students are getting wonderful jobs. They are smart, strategic, collaborative and, despite all their talent, do not act as if they are entitled,” said Dean Jane Aiken. “The class of 2021 shows that what we are doing at Wake Forest Law is working!”

Angelia Duncan Feature Image

Alumni Spotlight: Angelia Duncan (JD ’10)

For Rose Council Chair Angelia Duncan (JD ‘10), Accepted Students Day of 2007 solidified her choice to become a Legal Deac. She remembers sitting down for lunch with her father, looking around at the other accepted students, and taking in the moment. Since then, Duncan has taken on the legal world and its challenges head-on.

Duncan currently resides in Charlotte, NC, and practices with Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner. She focuses on commercial litigation. She says that every day is a chance for her to learn something new and have a unique experience.

“No two days are the same,” said Duncan, “No matter how long I practice, there is always something to learn.”

Duncan was on the Wake Forest Law campus for the Spring Board and Council meetings held on March 31 and April 1. Being back on campus, even though it had changed quite a bit, felt like home. Her experiences with faculty and staff stay at the forefront of her memories.

“I think the fundamentals that I learned shaped who I am as a lawyer. We had such good Legal Writing Training. When I got to the firm, I already had these fundamental basics that would make my first year practicing easier.”

Along with her service on the Rose Council, the young alumni council, Duncan has some advice to share with the Class of 2022:

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” urges Duncan to the graduating class, “Odds are that someone else has gone through a similar case and people are around to help you.”

0-1

Wake Forest Law Students argued in-person before the NC Court of Appeals since 2019

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, courts across the country were forced to pause hearings in person and move into virtual courtrooms. This change impacted many in the legal world, but clinics at Wake Forest University School of Law were impacted greatly. Students who entered their first year of school in 2019 were unable to practice in courtroom settings at all. But for the Appellate Advocacy Clinic, which had not had a case in-person since September 2019, was finally able to have students argue in person on March 8, 2022.

Third-year law students Chelsey Phelps and Jacqueline Winters, overseen by Professor John Korzen, argued before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, VA in a case where the court-appointed the Appellate Advocacy Clinic. Leading up to the in-person arguments, Phelps and Winters had arguments over Zoom in January, May, and September of 2021, and again in January 2022.

The case of the appellant raised an ex post facto claim after 23 years of previously earned good time credit was added to the appellant’s sentence after they violated a condition of their parole. Phelps argued three procedural issues, while Winters argued the ex post facto issue.

“Professor Korzen was incredibly helpful in preparing us for the experience,” said Phelps when asked about the hands-on, experiential education of the Appellate Advocacy Clinic, “I found that oral arguments outside of the classroom are much more of a conversation and a little less formulaic than what you may do for your LAWR class or a competition.”

“Through a combination of readings and class discussions, our team was well-equipped to write an effective brief that articulated the complicated issues in this case,” said Winters.

In addition to Phelps and Winters arguing before the United States Court of Appeals, students Ali Meyer and Rachel Ormand assisted in the research and wrote two briefs for the case.

The case is estimated to have a decision in June 2022, but some cases have taken longer to receive a decision from the court. Professor John Korzen is the Director of the Appellate Advocacy Clinic and an Associate Professor of Legal Writing. Business North Carolina named Professor Korzen among its 20th class of “Legal Elite” in appellate law in North Carolina, placing him among the three percent of the state’s lawyers who were selected by their peers for this recognition in their respective fields.

Worrell Professional Building

Wake Forest Law once again ranked among top law schools by U.S. News

Wake Forest University School of Law has been placed once again among the top 50 law schools in the U.S. News & World Report’s national rankings released March 29, 2022.

Up four spots from last year, the law school ranked No. 37 tied with Boston College (MA), Fordham University (NY), University of California–Davis, University of California–Irvine, and University of Utah (Quinney). While the school consistently ranks among the top-tier law schools, this is the second rise in the rankings in the last two years.

The Legal Writing Program at Wake Forest Law was also ranked No. 6 tied with Georgetown University (D.C.), Seattle University (WA), and University of Denver–Strum (CO).

The rankings from U.S. News & World Report weigh student metrics such as GPA and LSAT scores of an incoming class, as well as employment, bar passage rate, and student debt after graduation for graduating students. In addition to Wake Forest Law’s rigorous academic program, small class sizes, and a focus on providing a personalized education, the school also works hard to prepare students to achieve the best possible career outcomes upon graduation. This approach to educating the whole individual in a manner that is consistent with the University’s motto of pro humanitate is what sets the law school apart.

“I want to thank you all for everything that you do, and I look forward to continuing to build on our impressive reputation,” said Wake Forest School of Law Dean Jane Aiken in a message to the Wake Forest Law community about the new ranking.

Wake Forest Law students (from left to right) Sophie Barry-Hinton (JD ’22), Katie Merlin (JD ’22), Olivia Osburn (JD ’22), and Mary Virginia Long (JD ’22) at an on-site workshop offered by the Medical-Legal Partnership Clinic at the Downtown Health Plaza in Winston-Salem.

White House convening recognizes collaboration between Wake Forest’s law and medical schools to address the eviction crisis in the wake of COVID-19

In the wake of the housing and eviction crisis precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a call to action to the legal profession to address access to justice and increase housing stability in communities across the nation.

Nearly five months later, at a virtual event on Jan. 28, Wake Forest Law student Katie Merlin (JD ’22) spoke to senior administration officials about Wake Forest Law’s efforts to swiftly answer that call by partnering with Wake Forest School of Medicine and others across the University and local community to respond to the crisis and provide legal services to Winston-Salem residents at risk of eviction.

The virtual event convened and recognized the 99 law schools who answered the call to action, and included remarks from Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff, Attorney General Merrick Garland, Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo, and Senior Advisor to the President and American Rescue Plan Coordinator Gene Sperling, among others.

“You have assisted your clients and your communities at a time when they needed it the most, when our country needed it the most,” said Garland, addressing the law school deans, students, and clinical professors in attendance. “I thank you for the work you have already done, but I know I do not need to tell you that there is so much more to do.”

It was a point also underscored by Gupta, who said she was inspired by the impact that attendees had made on their communities.

“The infrastructure you have built to respond to the attorney general’s call will prove critical as the Justice Department continues to work to increase access to justice for all Americans,” said Gupta.

As a third-year law student who helped organize Wake Forest Law’s response, Merlin recounted how Wake Forest Law Dean Jane Aiken quickly mobilized the law school’s Medical-Legal Partnership Clinic and Pro Bono Program to implement eviction prevention efforts in partnership with Wake Forest School of Medicine, Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist, and Legal Aid of North Carolina.

“I am incredibly proud of the efforts of our law students, faculty members, and University and community partners and their dedication to serving those at risk of eviction in our community,” said Aiken following the event. “At its core, our role as lawyers is to use our skills, knowledge, and talents to deliver effective and equitable legal services and respond to the call for justice, especially in times of crisis. All those at Wake Forest Law and the numerous other law schools that have contributed to eviction prevention efforts are a testament to the meaningful impact we can make, especially when we come together to provide much-needed support.”

Ahead of her remarks, Merlin was introduced by Emily Benfer, a Senior Policy Advisor to the White House and the American Rescue Plan Implementation Team who is currently on a leave of absence from her position as a visiting professor of law and public health at Wake Forest. Benfer began laying the foundation for the Medical-Legal Partnership Clinic in 2020, working with Dr. Kimberly Montez, assistant professor of pediatrics at Wake Forest School of Medicine, who co-directs the Health Equity Certificate Program and directs the Health Justice Advocacy Certificate Program in conjunction with Wake Forest Law.

“As health care providers, we increasingly recognize that unmet legal needs negatively affect patient and family health, including housing instability and eviction,” said Dr. Montez. “Lawyers are important members of our health care team. The Medical-Legal Partnership has expanded our toolbox to not only provide more effective health care to all children and families, but better equip medical students, residents, and faculty with the knowledge and skills to address health-harming legal needs.”

Over the past five months, 64 law students collaborated with Wake Forest University undergraduate and medical students, as well as local medical providers, to provide more than 820 hours of direct outreach and representation serving 110 households.

“Our collaboration with frontline health care providers enabled us to reach those high-risk families and create a holistic, community-wide approach to the housing crisis,” Merlin told attendees. “Together, we ensured the families had the foundational rock and security of a home at a time when the risk of homelessness was at its height.”

For Associate Clinical Professor Allyson Gold, who directs the law school’s Medical-Legal Partnership Clinic — a collaboration with Wake Forest School of Medicine, Wake Forest Baptist’s Downtown Health Plaza clinic, and Legal Aid of North Carolina — it was clear that connecting individuals in need with Emergency Rental Assistance was the most direct and timely way to protect tenants from the imminent threat of eviction.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the affordable housing and access to justice crises, placing millions of people across the country at risk of homelessness and displacement. When I joined the Wake Forest Law faculty in July 2021, it became clear that the Medical-Legal Partnership Clinic could respond to the attorney general’s call to action by helping clients exercise their rights to Emergency Rental Assistance,” said Gold. “I have been so impressed by our law students. They immediately heeded the call, collaborating with community partners and students from the School of Medicine and College of Arts and Sciences to implement a holistic approach to tenant advocacy, while working to achieve housing justice and health equity.”

Implementing a multi-faceted approach, clinic students partnered with Forsyth County’s ERA program to create dual-language flyers and posters, educate the community, and — with medical and undergraduate students — host application assistance workshops in an effort to increase the program’s visibility and accessibility for tenants in need. The clinic also trained more than 50 Wake Forest Baptist medical providers at the Downtown Health Plaza clinic, a community health center whose patient population is predominantly low-income individuals and families, many of whom are best served in Spanish, to screen patients for eviction risk and refer them to the law school’s clinic for help with ERA applications and other legal assistance.

For Monica Brown, associate director of operations for the Downtown Health Plaza, having law students on-site that could directly assist patients with their applications was essential.

“Because of our longstanding and positive efforts with the Medical-Legal Partnership, it was an easy ‘yes’ to offer a legal clinic specifically aimed at helping our patients remain in their homes during the pandemic,” said Brown. “Our patients face enormous stressors on a daily basis, so any time we can make resources available and remove barriers to fully utilizing that resource, it is a win-win for everyone involved.”

Students participating in Wake Forest Law’s Pro Bono Project also collaborated with Legal Aid of North Carolina to develop know-your-rights flyers and a housing law manual for tenants and pro bono attorneys.

Merlin described how working to provide legal assistance to those at risk of eviction has been transformational for her, sharing the story of one client who she helped to avoid eviction in November 2021.

“I know I will never forget the relief in his voice when I called to tell him that his application had been approved, and that he and his family would be able to spend the holidays at home without fear of displacement,” said Merlin.

It’s among the experiences that contributed to Merlin’s decision to dedicate her career “to the pursuit of housing and health justice and equity, and ending the cycle of trauma associated with eviction.”

“I think for all of us here today, this work and the lived experiences of our clients will continue to guide us in the unyielding effort to achieve housing security and equal justice,” said Merlin.

In his remarks addressing the law school attendees, Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff underscored their role in amplifying the importance of expanding access to justice.

“Your work is just so vital right now, because right now as we speak, for so many people representation is literally the difference between keeping a roof over their family or being pushed out into the streets,” said Emhoff.

View the White House fact sheet on law schools’ responses to the Attorney General’s Call to Action to the Legal Profession.

View a recording of the virtual event.


The mission of Wake Forest Law is to advance the cause of justice by creating knowledge and educating students to meet the legal needs of the world with confidence, character, and creativity. We instill in students a respect for the law, a devotion to the ideal of service, and a commitment to professional values. We educate students from around the world in a richly diverse, equitable, and inclusive community. Learn more at law.wfu.edu, and stay up to date on what’s happening in the Wake Forest Law community by following us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Associate Clinical Professor Zaneta Robinson (JD ’03) launched Wake Forest Law's Intellectual Property Law Clinic in fall 2021 and serves as its founding director.

U.S. Patent and Trademark Office accepts Intellectual Property Law Clinic into program offering students the opportunity to practice trademark law at the federal level

Beginning this semester, Wake Forest Law students will have the opportunity to practice trademark law before the United States Patent and Trademark Office following the Intellectual Property Law Clinic’s recent acceptance into the Law School Clinic Certification Program. The program will grant limited recognition for Wake Forest Law students enrolled in the Intellectual Property Law Clinic to provide pro bono representation to inventors, entrepreneurs, and small businesses in filing trademark applications before the USPTO.

Under the supervision of Associate Clinical Professor Zaneta Robinson (JD ’03), who launched the clinic in Fall 2021 and serves as its founding director, students assist clients with the clearance, protection, and management of copyright, trademark, and related intellectual property rights. The clinic offers Wake Forest Law students an opportunity to bridge the gap between their doctrinal courses and real-world intellectual property law practice. Its inclusion in the USPTO program means that clinic students will now have the unique chance to gain experience drafting and filing trademark applications at a federal level, communicating with Trademark Examining Attorneys about those applications, and drafting briefs in response to Office Actions or initial refusals to register.

“Since we launched the Intellectual Property Law Clinic, Wake Forest Law students have provided legal assistance to a number of entrepreneurs and small businesses in North Carolina who otherwise would not have been able to access or afford legal counsel,” said Robinson. “The clinic will continue to assist these types of clients in our state, but through our participation in the USPTO program, we’re now positioned to also serve trademark applicants throughout the country. This is transformational in terms of expanding both the scope of our students’ experiences and of the impact they’re able to make for those who need legal services.”

The ability to practice before the USPTO under Robinson’s supervision will also offer many students one of their first opportunities to see their names on a federal legal filing to which they’ve contributed. And since clinic students can be named on the filings, they receive the same communications from the USPTO as Robinson, who serves as the attorney of record, and are able to observe firsthand how the trademark application process unfolds. Students also have the benefit of the USPTO granting their filings expedited review — versus the typical 12- to 18-month review process for practicing attorneys and pro se applicants — to increase the likelihood that they will be able to work on most, if not all, of an application process.

“Because the Intellectual Property Law Clinic is a part of this program, our students will now have direct exposure to Trademark Examining Attorneys and other USPTO staff. This kind of experience helps them develop the practice-ready skills they’ll use in whatever path they choose to pursue after graduation,” said Robinson. “The USPTO also offers other formative opportunities for students throughout the year, like the chance to observe an appeal board hearing before a panel of administrative law judges, as well as networking events with trademark and patent examining attorneys, USPTO officials, and members of the human resources team.”

For Megan Cobb (JD ’22), the chance to hone her skills and deepen her understanding by working with real clients facing real legal challenges is what drew her to apply for the clinic as soon as she heard that it would be launching.

“A lot of things in law school are theoretical or hypothetical, so it’s helpful to have concrete experiences,” said Cobb, whose interest in intellectual property began during her career in theater and the arts prior to attending law school.

But Cobb says it was ultimately her experience serving on the jury for a murder trial in 2018 that led her to apply to law school, and underscored for her the value of real-world exposure to working in the law.

“It’s important during law school to get actual experience talking to clients, because many things are somewhat removed in law school and often theoretical,” said Cobb. “It’s hard to recreate circumstances as opposed to actually experiencing them. I do think it’s really wonderful that Professor Robinson puts the student teams at the front, and makes sure that even though we are practicing under her supervision, that the clients know we are there to represent them.”

While the clinic’s primary aim is to provide an environment where students can engage in rigorous, hands-on legal practice that develops their skills and confidence, it also provides a firsthand experience of how they can make a positive difference in the lives of others.

“The goal is to strike a meaningful balance for the students,” said Robinson. “Many clinic students are 3Ls, and they are getting ready to go out into the community. We want to remind them that they not only have a very valuable tool in their legal education, but that they are also here to serve those who may not be able to access or afford legal counsel.”

The USPTO’s acceptance of Wake Forest Law’s clinic into its program brings the total number of participating clinics across the country to 59. While any ABA-accredited law school can apply to the program, applications are assessed based on a law school’s intellectual property curriculum, as well as the ability of its faculty to seamlessly represent clients as cases transition between students and academic semesters.

Wake Forest Law’s historically strong experiential learning offerings, paired with its longstanding expertise in intellectual property and technology — which was bolstered further this year with the addition of Robinson and Professor Keith Robinson to the faculty — put the law school in a strong position to be accepted into the program. It was also the result of a clear vision from long-time faculty members and law school leadership to continue to grow Wake Forest Law’s commitment to innovation and entrepreneurship.

“Professor Simone Rose has long advocated for an intellectual property-focused clinic at Wake Forest Law, and Dean Jane Aiken, a clinician herself, was extremely supportive of the idea,” said Robinson, who led the application process with assistance from Clinical Administration Manager Sonya Casstevens and Clinic Coordinator Iris Still. “Without their vision, we would not have been able to provide this opportunity for our students.”


The mission of Wake Forest Law is to advance the cause of justice by creating knowledge and educating students to meet the legal needs of the world with confidence, character, and creativity. We instill in students a respect for the law, a devotion to the ideal of service, and a commitment to professional values. We educate students from around the world in a richly diverse, equitable, and inclusive community. Learn more at law.wfu.edu, and stay up to date on what’s happening in the Wake Forest Law community by following us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Worrell Professional Center

Wake Forest Law to expand courses & programming focused on leadership & character with investment from the Kern Family Foundation

Nearly $1 million of a generous grant from the Kern Family Foundation will directly expand Wake Forest University School of Law’s collaboration with the University’s Program for Leadership and Character, bolstering the law school’s efforts to grow instruction and programming for law students to develop their character and professional identity.

The grant is part of an $8.6 million investment from the Kern Family Foundation to support the Program for Leadership and Character’s work in the University’s professional schools, including the School of Law, School of Medicine, and pre-professional undergraduate programs. It builds upon the Foundation’s previous support for the Program for Leadership and Character, which was launched in 2017 to inspire, educate, and empower leaders of character to serve humanity.

“This investment is transformational for our ability to equip Wake Forest Law students with not only the knowledge and skills, but also the virtues and values, that contribute to a meaningful career beyond graduation,” said Wake Forest Law Dean Jane Aiken. “Too often, legal education separates values from work, yet the most impactful lawyers are those who are as committed to personal integrity and the public good as they are to professional excellence. We’re eager to grow our successful collaboration with the Program for Leadership and Character, and continue to impress upon our law graduates the importance of integrity and purpose in all they do.”

With this investment, the law school will redesign and create new courses and programming opportunities focused on the intersections of leadership, character, professional identity, and professional responsibilities. It will also begin the development of a new “clerkship college” centered around character for law students who will be working for judges upon graduation in positions that have a particularly significant impact on how the law is interpreted and practiced.

In collaboration with the Program for Leadership and Character, Wake Forest Law will also begin exploring steps to bring together law schools across the country who are committed to character-based leadership development in an effort to empower other institutions to undertake similar work.

“This grant from the Kern Family Foundation will allow us to build upon growing energy in Wake Forest’s School of Law and other professional schools to prioritize leadership and character education at this university and other institutions,” said Wake Forest Law Scholar-in-Residence Kenneth Townsend, who leads the Program for Leadership and Character in the professional schools. “We want to act as a model and translator for others interested in integrating leadership and character into professional education and practice.”

More law faculty have participated in leadership and character course development and redesign workshops than any other department or school at the University, resulting in new courses, the most recent of which are “Practical Wisdom and the Law,” “Women, Leadership, and the Law,” and “Health Justice: Theory and Practice.” Additionally, new leadership- and character-oriented modules have been introduced in existing courses including “Criminal Law,” “Essential Business Concepts,” and “Race, Social Science, and the Law.” Law faculty have also been the most active of any department or school in the Program for Leadership and Character’s departmental grant program, receiving support for initiatives such as “Lawyers as Leaders,” “Ethics of Software Development,” and “Leadership and Character in Bioethics.”

This past academic year, the law school also launched an inaugural Leadership and Character in the Law Scholars cohort, made up of two law students from each class. Students in the cohort have the opportunity to collaborate with cohort groups in other professional schools, engage in personalized discussions, workshops, and modules organized by the Program for Leadership and Character, participate in networking events with lawyer-leaders from various sectors and backgrounds, and interact with senior University leaders, including Dean Aiken.

Since Wake Forest Law and the Program for Leadership and Character began working together in 2019, more than 300 law students have participated in the range of courses, leadership workshops, retreats, and other programming led by law faculty in partnership with the Program.

In addition to growing the law school’s efforts focused on leadership and character development, the larger grant will also fund the creation of a Center for Personal and Professional Development at the School of Medicine, among other initiatives. With this support, the University also plans to expand character-based initiatives already underway in the department of engineering; integrate larger questions of character, purpose, and professional identity into advising for pre-law and pre-med undergraduate students; and foster interdisciplinary learning opportunities for professional school students and faculty outside of the classroom.


The mission of Wake Forest Law is to advance the cause of justice by creating knowledge and educating students to meet the legal needs of the world with confidence, character, and creativity. We instill in students a respect for the law, a devotion to the ideal of service, and a commitment to professional values. We educate students from around the world in a richly diverse, equitable, and inclusive community. Learn more at law.wfu.edu, and stay up to date on what’s happening in the Wake Forest Law community by following us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

work

Post-pandemic practice: When students graduate into a post-COVID world, some pandemic-induced changes will remain

After 18 months of lockdown, isolation, and seemingly perilous encounters with people outside our bubble, life is beginning to look a bit like it once did. People are traveling, dining out, and socializing in ways that look very much like 2019 — while wondering how that might end up. As the legal profession emerges into this near-post-COVID world, it is a good time to consider what changes Wake Forest Law students may face as they start their careers.

But before touching on what changes may endure post-COVID, it is important to note what will remain steadfast for our current students: The adherence to a vision of our profession as one of service to others is core to Wake Forest Law. Students will continue to serve their clients and communities in meaningful ways and with impact. They will continue to help clients exercise judgment in ways that are aligned with their values, whether during a conflict or in a boardroom. They will continue to build value in transactions between parties, adding creativity and insight in ways that make the sum of a relationship greater than its parts. They will continue to help clients form relationships between parties that will endure over time, and when they don’t, still allow their clients to anticipate an acceptable outcome.

In all of this, Wake Forest Law students will display the highest level of professionalism and skill. These values are deeply ingrained into a Wake Forest Law education, reflected in the faculty and enhanced with each year’s class. How students do this, however, will almost certainly be different in the future.

Looking to the future, it should not be understated how transformational COVID-19 has been. Generally, society adopted and refined tools for this rapid change, and many of these work exceedingly well. Today’s law students will hopefully step into a practice that will retain the best parts of this change.

A “great decentralization” of the workplace

The centralized workspaces and hierarchies that have been part of work life for decades quickly eroded in the wake of COVID-19, replaced by physically dispersed workforces where individuals are responsible for accomplishing tasks from wherever they may be. The pandemic showed us that large, and expensive, offices containing hundreds of lawyers and support positions aren’t necessarily needed on a day-to-day basis. Moving forward, firms may continue to shift lawyers to remote workplaces, reducing overhead, and rely on smaller offices that are used for limited activities, such as closings, depositions, and important client meetings.

This decentralization of workspaces will open up wonderful opportunities for lawyers. They will have flexibility that can allow for a better balance of life with work and more time for other pursuits.

Lawyers will also find expanded opportunities as they are able to join firms in other cities, states, or regions — working remotely from places that offer the quality of life they desire. Wake Forest Law students can expect to step into a much more engaging practice and life balance than what was possible a few decades ago.

We can also anticipate that firms will increasingly move away from hierarchical structures. Remote work has proven that organizations can be incredibly efficient without rigid managerial and administrative structures. This will likely be expressed in new employment relationships for lawyers, and will also impact how client relationships are developed and maintained. Today’s students have an incredible opportunity to build and grow their book of clients much earlier in their careers than in the past.

Remote court proceedings will remain

As with offices, the court system will hopefully take advantage of lessons learned during the pandemic and adopt more remote hearings when possible, creating numerous efficiencies and limiting the need to physically “go to court.” Such a change will lower the cost of litigation for everyone and expand opportunities for lawyers to take on pro bono matters or serve clients in other ways. For example, where it may have been difficult for a lawyer to carve out two or three mornings for calendar calls and preliminary motion hearings on a case when they must be in person, remote hearings make this much easier and could expand the pool of lawyers willing to represent clients in family law, landlord tenant, simple consumer law, and immigration matters. Remote practice has the potential to expand access to justice in other ways, as lawyers will also be able to take engagements for clients from wider areas of need.

An enduring shift to remote courtroom proceedings would also allow clients to broaden where they look for lawyers and no longer depend only on local representation. The connection of legal expertise to a place has been diminished for at least a decade, and clients have now seen how easy it is to seek advice from lawyers outside of where they are located. Online meeting platforms have proven themselves apt at facilitating these interactions and, more importantly, clients have gotten very comfortable with having significant conversations with a lawyer who is far removed from where they are sitting. Clients will increasingly look beyond their city, state, region, and perhaps country for their legal needs. This is a good thing for clients who will see expanded access to services and, due to competition, reduced costs. And it will be a good thing for our students as well, who will see expanded opportunities to serve a wider group of individuals.

Increases in specialization

Clients’ ability to access legal advice from remote places will also drive increased competition among lawyers, who may respond in one of a couple ways. There will be some who will compete on price, lowering their fees to attract clients, though such strategies rarely lead to long-term sustainability. The more successful practices will most likely couple a degree of “price” competition with a decision to compete as specialists, offering services in more specific practice areas led by highly skilled lawyers who are located in different places around the country.

An intellectual property firm, for example, may pull in professionals from cities across a wide region to offer their clients highly skilled lawyers in several product areas. Clients will realize a significant benefit from being able to access the best specialized legal representation needed for an engagement. Additionally, more specialized law practices might crop up in midsized cities with lower overhead, while larger firms who have significant real estate footprints in expensive cities may face challenges.

The pandemic undoubtedly leaves its mark on our profession and creates new dynamics for our students to navigate throughout their careers. The boundaries around when lawyers work will be further eroded by remote employment, which eliminates the physical distinctions between where people work and live. Increased connection through technology can also lead to working more. New lawyers, and maybe some experienced ones, will likely feel an increased urgency to specialize, and perhaps an increased sense of competition. All of this sounds challenging, but Wake Forest Law students will meet these new challenges well prepared.

Wake Forest Law is committed to offering an environment that nurtures the habits of mind and practice that will enable our students to thrive in this future, emphasizing for students the importance of personal relationships over short-term transactional gains. These are the types of bonds that allow a student to enter the profession knowing they have not only the skills they need to succeed, but also a depth of human understanding that will allow them to do what lawyers have always done — serve others. This is expressed in friendships that last a lifetime, service that takes many forms over a career, and a deep understanding that the full formation of a lawyer begins in community — one that serves all.

This story originally appeared in the 2021 issue of the Wake Forest Jurist.

Professor Steve Virgil has practiced law for 30 years and is the founding director of the Community Law and Business Clinic at Wake Forest Law. He joined the faculty as a clinical professor of law in 2008 and teaches courses on community economic development, poverty, and the nonprofit sector.

community

Making a local impact: Through a new practicum course, students gained experience in community lawyering by working with Winston-Salem residents

It’s not often that law school curricula allow students who are learning the law to analyze what’s legal and what’s just in our society.

Oftentimes, where a legal remedy ends, justice may demand more. It’s with this in mind that I launched Wake Forest Law’s first-ever Community Lawyering practicum last spring, offering students an opportunity to immerse themselves in how to use their legal skills and knowledge to support community-identified concerns and enhance community power.

Students in the practicum worked directly with residents in historically marginalized communities in Winston-Salem, developing creative legal remedies and approaches to support residents’ participation in local decision-making processes that involve the future of their neighborhoods, city, and history. The practicum not only allows students the opportunity to personally reflect on the intersection of the law and justice in America, but also better understand how they can use their legal knowledge to support communities’ meaningful involvement in conversations around the laws and policies that impact them.

The need for community lawyering

Issues that often arise for Community Lawyering practicum clients include affordable housing, historic preservation, land ownership, zoning laws, health and food equity, and local government policies around economic growth and development. Students view these legal and social problems through a community perspective, and since most of the communities that are challenged by these issues are often communities of color, they also develop an equity lens or a racial justice equity lens in solving legal and non-legal problems.

As our society deals with social challenges involving race, justice, inclusion, and equity, it’s increasingly important for lawyers to have this skill set in order to best serve their clients. Nonprofit and corporate clients alike deal with topics around diversity and inclusion within the employment law context. Corporate clients will have to figure out ways to negotiate deals that expand marketing to more diverse clientele and how to present their corporate social responsibility statements. Investor clients or developers wishing to build in low-wealth communities may want to engage in social impact investing or create equitable strategies around working with the community. Future legal service or nonprofit lawyers may find themselves faced with the realization that the remedies for individual clients’ problems may lie somewhere between what is legal and what is just.

Through experiential opportunities, students gain hands-on experiences that help them to become well-rounded lawyers prepared to work in a society that is becoming more diverse.

Preparing today to serve communities tomorrow

The concept of justice must always involve people, rather than only the law itself: How are people being treated? Are they meaningfully involved in conversations around policies and laws that impact them?

Community lawyering often involves creative lawyering. It encourages students to apply what they are learning in their traditional legal classes, and think critically and unconventionally about the complex challenges faced by marginalized and often under-resourced communities. Instead of examining these issues from their perches as law students, they will view these issues from the community perspective and aid community members in finding their own solutions. Students who enrolled in the practicum read “The Color of the Law” and other assigned readings to learn the history of housing segregation and the concept of justice. The practicum also aimed to help students understand that often lawyers can be professional allies to communities because of the institutional power they can bring in support of their community clients.

For example, a student commented last year that she thought her research had yielded the final advice for her client’s problem, but after I pushed her a little more to “think outside of the box,” she realized she could find a solution that involved the client being a participant in their own destiny. Further, she realized that just because certain divisions within the city were telling the client “no,” it wasn’t a definite “no.” The city simply needed more information, and as a law student, she could help educate the client on the city’s request and help the client formulate a response.

This student realized that her client’s remedy couldn’t be reduced to a cognizable legal claim. This isn’t traditional lawyering, but it uses the skills acquired as a lawyer to research, educate, and advise clients around complex issues that they may not understand — all important lawyering techniques. When students leave the Community Lawyering practicum, they take with them an expanded understanding of the law and how to creatively use their problem solving, research and writing, and oral advocacy skills to advance people more so than the law.

Collaborating with Winston-Salem’s oldest Black community

During the spring 2021 semester, students in the practicum worked directly with Happy Hill Neighborhood Association in Winston-Salem, one of the oldest black communities in the city, and perhaps in North Carolina. The association includes residents who are very energized and involved, which makes for a great practicum client. The residents in Happy Hill were interested in support for their ability to acquire land, influence zoning policy, and build leadership capacity to advocate on their own behalf. These areas could help residents continue to grow its cross-sector partnerships throughout the community, building on those that exist, such as an art grant from the UNC School of the Arts Kenan Institute, and a food collective with other partners who have helped them create a community garden.

Due to COVID-19, students in the spring primarily met virtually. However, they did have the opportunity to take a tour of Happy Hill led by one of the residents who was a member of the association. On the tour, students met up with other residents, saw some of the historic landmarks in Happy Hill, and learned more about the community’s concerns. After that, students were able to speak with the client virtually during almost every class after the first four weeks of the semester. Students worked in groups on topics involving equitable policies, zoning and land use, historical preservation, and community land trusts, analyzing these issues through a legal lens and community perspective. At the end of the semester, students presented their research to the association, and educated the client about each area of concern. The students also co-drafted a letter and talking points on behalf of the association that its members could use as an entry point in deepening relationships and collaboration with other stakeholders in the community, including the city of Winston-Salem.

This story originally appeared in the 2021 issue of the Wake Forest Jurist.

Yolanda Taylor is an adjunct professor of law at Wake Forest University School of Law, a managing attorney at Legal Aid of North Carolina, and a leading economic development attorney. She launched the pilot practicum, Introduction to Community Lawyering, in 2021 to teach Wake Forest Law students how to do impactful legal work on the community level.