Corporate Business & Transactional Law

For alumna Vicki Banks, an MSL degree helped her stand out and step up at The Biltmore Company

It was after nearly two decades of working in human resources at The Biltmore Company that Vicki Banks (MSL ’19), then the Vice President of Human Resources, knew she wanted to expand her knowledge in ways that wouldn’t just propel her to the next phase of her career, but would also help her continue to add unique value to the company.

“I always wanted to get my master’s, but all of my friends, my peers, and my coworkers had MBAs, and that never really rang true to my career and my path,” said Banks, who has now been at The Biltmore Company for 21 years and since been promoted to Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Government Relations. “I was thinking about what I could do with a master’s degree that would differentiate myself from everyone else.”

That’s when Banks found Wake Forest Law’s Master of Studies in Law (MSL) program, which she says spoke to her professional experiences in human resources but also offered the opportunity to broaden her knowledge of how those experiences intersect with the law, compliance, and other business areas in ways that other graduate programs she explored did not.

“I knew I wanted to enhance my legal background, and my knowledge around law,” said Banks. “I knew also that getting a JD, I probably couldn’t do that and work full time, and it wasn’t really required to necessarily be effective at what I did.”

So she enrolled in Wake Forest Law’s MSL program and graduated two years later in 2019. Since then, she says she’s used her expanded knowledge in her role every day, whether she’s dealing with employee situations and guest scenarios that involve legal aspects, or intellectual property, physical assets, and contracting issues, among others.

The fact that Banks’s role pulls her into such a wide range of legal areas is no surprise given the complexity of The Biltmore Company. While it’s often most well-known for its Biltmore House, the largest privately owned home in the United States, the company also includes a portfolio of other operations including food and beverage, retail, hotels, a farm, a vineyard, winemaking, and more. It means that Banks has to be able to navigate the legal, compliance, and regulatory environments for each of those industries — something her MSL has helped her do even more successfully.

“You can’t be a jack of all trades. Vicki has to be a master of all of them,” said Steve Watson, Chief Financial Officer and Executive Officer of The Biltmore Companies. “She has to know a lot about the legal and regulatory area, but she also has to know when to call outside experts in. Her degree has given her just a great depth of knowledge of the legal environment, and it’s allowed her to ask the right questions.”

Those questions and the perspective gained from her MSL degree, according to Watson, have empowered Banks to think creatively, and then execute on those ideas, when it comes to supporting the health and well-being of The Biltmore Company’s more than 2,000 employees.

“It is a program that allows you to navigate the legal system, to understand it, to be proactive with it versus reactive,” said Banks.

Vicki Banks, Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Government Relations for The Biltmore Company, graduated from the human resources track of Wake Forest Law's Master of Studies in Law program in 2019.

Vicki Banks, Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Government Relations for The Biltmore Company, graduated from the human resources track of Wake Forest Law’s Master of Studies in Law program in 2019.

With a stronger understanding of the legal landscape, she has spearheaded efforts to create an affordable housing benefit for employees, collaborated with multiple government agencies to develop the company’s plan to re-open during the COVID-19 pandemic, and worked with the company’s external legal partners in an increasingly efficient and cost-effective manner.

“It taught me to think more strategically and to think differently,” said Banks. “That’s really important on a leadership team, that you don’t have cookie-cutter individuals around the table. That you have folks that are thinking differently about situations so that you get the best results.”

Opportunities that encourage students to think differently about their work through a legal lens are intentionally baked into the MSL program, where Banks says she learned not only from her professors, but also from her peers, who brought their experiences from a diverse range of industries and geographies to their virtual interactions and to in-person weekend intensives that she participated in.

Banks initially wasn’t certain what to expect from a fully online, asynchronous program like Wake Forest Law’s MSL, but knew she needed a program in that format to be able to complete her degree while also working full time. However, she says the level of communication, flexibility, and support was above and beyond what she anticipated.

“The instructors are truly committed to the program and to their students. There wasn’t a time that I had a question and I didn’t have a response quickly and thoroughly, and guidance and support,” said Banks. “You always felt connected to Wake and to the program.”

And though her time in the program was a busy one, it’s the connections and collaboration that Banks says she missed as soon as she graduated.

“I miss it tremendously,” said Banks. “It’s a great way to broaden your knowledge and to show your commitment to not just your career, but the idea of learning every day.”

Visit to learn more about Wake Forest Law’s Master of Studies in Law degree program, offering tracks in Business Law and Compliance, Health Law and Policy, and Human Resources.

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, and stay up to date on what’s happening in the Wake Forest Law community by following us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Stephen Hawthornthwaite (left), the co-founder, CEO, and chairman of Rothy’s, showcases the company's line of shoes at a farmers market pop-up. (Photo courtesy of Rothy's)

Wake Forest Law alumnus Stephen Hawthornthwaite is shaping the future of sustainable fashion, one plastic bottle at a time

From an early age, Stephen Hawthornthwaite (JD ’96) was sure of three things: he wanted to start a successful company, do the right thing, and give back to society. What he didn’t anticipate however was that at the age of 41, he’d embark on a multi-year journey to launch what Forbes has called one of the next billion-dollar-startups — which is not only profitable, but is also actively shaping the future of sustainability in the fashion industry.

Hawthornthwaite, a Wake Forest Law alumnus, is the co-founder, CEO, and chairman of Rothy’s, a sustainable lifestyle brand transforming recycled materials into timeless shoes, handbags, and accessories with nearly no waste. Since launching in 2016, Rothy’s has diverted millions of plastic water bottles from landfills and over 200,000 pounds of marine plastic from oceans — 3D knitting recycled plastics into comfortable, stylish essentials.

The idea for Rothy’s — the name of which is a combination of Hawthornthwaite’s nickname, “Hawthy,” and the name of his co-founder, Roth Martin — was borne out of the co-founders’ desire to start a company that would solve a complex problem and their recognition that the increasing “casualization” of fashion was a trend that was here to stay.

“We had a shared vision around a great product that could be for everybody,” said Hawthornthwaite. “The original concept was to create a front-of-the-closet shoe that was an easy choice that a woman could wear first thing in the morning, into the evening, and carry her throughout her day.”

But the pair also knew they had to innovate.

“We didn’t want to be just the thousandth manufacturer of women’s flats,” he said.

And innovate they did, though in the face of one major challenge: neither co-founder had any experience in the footwear industry. But that, Hawthornthwaite says, is one area where his experiences at Wake Forest Law helped him find solutions.

Learning to distill and synthesize volumes of information into a simple, compelling argument prepared him for the work he would do to understand the landscape in both the footwear and knitting industries, and to chart a clear path forward for Rothy’s.

“There’s not a day that goes by in my current role that I’m not thankful to have a law degree,” he said. “I’m right where I wanted to be, which is I know the right questions to ask, and I know when to get an attorney involved.”

As he learned more about the footwear industry, Hawthornthwaite was struck by how much waste was produced in the typical manufacturing process, where material is traditionally die-cut into pieces that are then stitched together, resulting in excess material that isn’t put to use.

The 3D-knitting technology that Rothy’s developed and uses in its factories allows the company to seamlessly knit the upper portion of each of its shoes as a single piece, eliminating much of the waste created in a more typical footwear production process.

Hawthornthwaite had also observed that sustainable products of the past were often lower-quality or less fashionable. With that in mind, he believed that solving for those two drawbacks alone would engage more people in making sustainable purchases, whether that was their primary intent or not.

“If we make a great product that’s beautiful and comfortable, there are going to be people who really don’t care about sustainability, but they’re going to buy it because it’s beautiful and comfortable,” said Hawthornthwaite. “If you can deliver a great product that’s compelling without asking the customer to really sacrifice something in the process, then you’re driving change.”

Part of the company’s ability to produce such a product in a way that also aligned with its environmentally conscious mission hinged on Rothy’s having its own factory in Dongguan, China.

“To really execute on sustainability, to really be sustainable through and through, by definition you have to own your factory,” Hawthornthwaite said. “We built from the ground up with that in mind, and when you own your own factory, you’re really controlling the process. You’re controlling the waste. We know how our people are treated.”

Navigating the challenges of establishing the Rothy’s factory, and the company more broadly, was another area where Hawthornthwaite points to his legal education as particularly influential — especially what he learned in courses like tax law, corporate law, and real estate law.

“To anyone who is thinking about doing something else with their law school career, absolutely consider it,” said Hawthornthwaite. “A law degree is invaluable in any number of industries.”

What began as a women’s footwear company has now evolved into a brand that also produces handbags, accessories, and most recently, a line of men’s footwear launched in May 2021. As it has grown, Rothy’s has made great strides in sustainability, and the company’s mission to continuously do better for people and the planet has led it to set its sights on something even more ambitious: closing its loop through circular production, which it hopes to achieve by 2023.

“So many of the products that are produced don’t really have an end-of-life strategy. Because we own our factory, we can design for end-of-life. Our most complex shoe probably has seven [materials] total, and that enables us to start to recycle shoes, and then reuse that material in the production of new shoes and be fully circular,” said Hawthornthwaite.

It’s a vision that aligns with Hawthornthwaite’s fundamental belief “that people are good and that they want to do good things for society” — a belief that’s reflective of the pro humanitate spirit of Wake Forest Law graduates.

Listen to Wake Forest Law’s conversation with Stephen Hawthornthwaite on The Legal Deac podcast, where he talks further with Professor John Knox and Executive Director of Marketing Jorge Reyna.

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, and stay up to date on what’s happening in the Wake Forest Law community by following us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

The nine winners of the 2021 Transactional Law Competition at Wake Forest Law on Zoom.

Transactional Law Competition Board names winners of fifth-annual competition at Wake Forest Law

Wake Forest Law students Walker Abbott (JD ’23), Michael Riedl (JD ’23) and Maya Wiemokly (JD ’23) were named the overall team champions and the best 1L overall team of the 2021 Transactional Law Competition. Now in its fifth year, the student-run competition challenges participants to draw upon the contract analysis, drafting and negotiation skills learned in their law school courses to represent two sides of a contract in a simulated transaction.

In this year’s competition, students represented either an actor or a film company in an actor employment agreement. The 52 students who participated worked in 18 teams to draft an actor employment agreement, mark up another team’s draft and negotiate aspects of the agreement with an opposing team.

Other award winners from the competition included:

  • Madison Boyer (JD ’23), Shelby Gilmer (JD ’23) and Karen Surian (JD ’23), who were recognized as the best team negotiators.
  • Abbie Hibsch (JD ’22), Emily Solley (JD ’22) and Aidan Williams (JD ’22), who were recognized for the best team mark-up and best team draft.

The competition took place throughout February and March, and the final negotiation round was held on March 20 over Zoom. It is run by the Transactional Law Competition Board, which includes President Olivia Bane (JD ’21), Vice President Golzar Yazdanshenas (JD ’21), Problem Chair Alex Hill (JD ’21), 2L Board Member Natalia Nino (JD ’22), 2L Board Member Samatha Jenkins (JD ’22) and 2L Board Member Jordan Mock (JD ’22).

Professor Hal Lloyd, who serves as the faculty sponsor for the competition, said that it continues to provide excellent transactional law and negotiation experience for both the students who compete and for the board members who oversee it.

“With such a competition, Wake continues its good example of adding transactional balance to legal education,” said Lloyd. “Each year, I’m thrilled to see both the hard work and the sheer fun the competition inspires in everyone involved, including the judges to whom we’re always deeply indebted.”

Each round of this year’s competition was scored by 20 volunteer judges.

“We really appreciate all 20 practicing attorneys who volunteered their time to serve as judges, providing valuable feedback for our students through all three rounds of the competition,” said Olivia Bane, president of the Transactional Law Competition Board and a third-year law student.

The judges included Wake Forest Law faculty, as well as individuals from various law firms and companies in North Carolina and across the country, including:

  • ALG Senior
  • Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner
  • Collins Aerospace
  • Davis Mangum
  • Hagan Barrett
  • Highwoods Properties
  • Hudson, Rainer & Dobbs
  • K&L Gates
  • Law Office of Anne C. Keays
  • Parker Poe
  • Purrington Moody Weil
  • Robinson & Lawing
  • Womble Bond Dickinson