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Accountable Prosecutor Project Releases National Report on State Absolute Immunity Law

In 2021, Wake Forest Law launched its Accountable Prosecutor Project, a research arm of the Foundation for Prosecutorial Accountability. The Project’s purpose is to research the current landscape of prosecutor accountability mechanisms as well as ways to improve prosecutor transparency and connection with communities. Since then, 13 research assistants and 4 attorney volunteers have worked with Project Director Eileen Prescott to assemble the Accountable Prosecutor Project’s first major report on absolute immunity law.

This report is a survey of the case law in each state’s courts (not federal courts) regarding lawsuits against prosecutors. In most states, prosecutors are protected by “absolute immunity,” which is even more protective than the qualified immunity that protects law enforcement officers. Typically, absolute immunity means that people cannot sue prosecutors even for malicious misconduct, as long as the prosecutor’s action was related to their job. But there are always exceptions: legislators and courts in each state must decide what behavior is outside of a prosecutor’s role and if there are any circumstances where the immunity should be abridged. This report compiles the unique approach of each state in one place so that academics and practitioners can analyze them in the aggregate.

Key takeaways from this national report on state absolute immunity law include:

  • Several states do not apply absolute immunity to prosecutors, relying on sovereign immunity or qualified immunity when prosecutors are sued.
  • Most states act in the shadow of federal law on the matter, reacting to federal Supreme Court cases that carve out exceptions for non-judicial prosecutor duties such as press conferences or on-scene investigation.
  • The question of absolute immunity for prosecutors has never reached the highest court of 11 states, and 62% of states had five or fewer relevant cases in their history.

The full report is available here.

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Sager Speaker Series Hosts Marilyn T. McClure-Demers, Vice President and Associate General Counsel at Nationwide

On November 3, Wake Forest Law students gathered for the second Sager Speaker Series honored guest: Marilyn T. McClure-Demers.

The Sager Speaker Series is named for Wake Forest alumnus Thomas Sager (JD ’76), former vice president and general counsel for DuPont Co. and current partner at Ballard Spahr LLP. Sager was a strong and early proponent of diversity in the legal profession and helped pioneer the DuPont Convergence and Law Firm Partnering Program, or DuPont Legal Model. This industry benchmark has received national acclaim for its innovative approach to practicing law. Continue reading »

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Wake Forest Law Appellate Advocacy Clinic Students Write Their Way To The United States Supreme Court

In May 2022, Wake Forest Law students Sophia Sulzer (JD ’23), Maryclaire Farrington (JD ’23), and Jacob Winton (JD ’23) were preparing for their last Summer Recess before the start of their 3L year. All three students were enrolled in the Appellate Advocacy Clinic, led by Clinic Director Professor John Korzen, and assumed that their clinic work would begin at the start of the Fall 2022 Semester. They never imagined that they would be making a trip to Washington, D.C. for an experience law students dream about. Sulzer, Farrington, and Winton spent their summers not only working at full-time internships, but also virtually collaborating to write an amicus brief that would be filed in the United States Supreme Court. Continue reading »

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“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 »

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!”

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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.”


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.

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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.