Jane Aiken

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.

Graduates from the Wake Forest Law classes of 2020 and 2021 listen as Dean Jane Aiken delivers remarks at the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum on May 17. (Photo credit Robert Ross)

Classes of 2020 and 2021 called upon to meet future challenges as “the lawyers with heart”

Following a law school experience that was unlike any of the classes before them, the Wake Forest Law graduates of 2020 and 2021 were called upon during this year’s commencement ceremony to remember the unique skills they developed from learning and living through a global pandemic and the nation’s renewed reckoning with race, and to use that knowledge to help advance justice.

“Because of these experiences, you are meeting this moment of historical uncertainty with strengths suited to meet the challenges of the moment: to not just reopen the old world, but to remake it,” said Wake Forest Law Dean Jane Aiken in her opening remarks.

Aiken urged the graduates to remember their deepened appreciation for justice, that they can make transformation happen, and that they already had through the various ways they adapted to the challenges they faced throughout their law school career. She also recalled how the classes of 2020 and 2021 maintained and created community ties at a time when they could no longer rely on having a community emerge just from physically being in it.

“[These skills] are likely to make you more effective, more compassionate, more creative — in short, a better human being and a better lawyer,” said Aiken. “This adversity has forged you into people who can take informed risks, be courageous, have an appetite for meaningful, real, and lasting change. And most of all, you can bear the weight of commencing this new world.”

Wake Forest Law alumnus and North Carolina Court of Appeals Judge Richard Dietz (JD ’02) was the distinguished speaker for this year’s commencement ceremony. As the first person in his family to attend college, Dietz earned his bachelor’s degree from Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania before attending Wake Forest Law, where he graduated first in his class and served as research editor of the Wake Forest Law Review. After graduating from law school in 2002, Dietz served as a judicial law clerk for judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and the U.S. District Court in Virginia. He was also a research fellow at Kyushu University in Japan, where he studied comparative and international law issues. He went on to practice at Covington and Burling in Washington, D.C., and Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton in North Carolina before he was appointed to the court in 2014.

In his remarks, Dietz underscored the ways in which Wake Forest lawyers are particularly well-suited to meet today’s legal needs, and not simply because of their legal skills.

“There’s something about Wake Forest that does more than just train skilled lawyers,” said Dietz. “It’s in the bones of this place. We’re trained to be lawyers with heart, and that’s what we need right now more than ever.”

Dietz recalled how he personally experienced the kindness and compassion of Wake Forest Law students during his time in law school. When Dietz’s mother was diagnosed with cancer while he was a law student, he returned home to be with her. His first week at home, he unexpectedly received a package containing a stack of VHS tapes and another stack of papers. Unbeknownst to him, his classmates had coordinated with one another and the faculty to record each of his classes, photocopy the notes of the students with the best handwriting, and send it all to Dietz in Pennsylvania. The packages continued to arrive every couple of days, and at the end of the semester Dietz, who initially feared he would have to drop out of law school, was instead able to sit for his end of semester exams.

“I imagine a lot of you, hearing this, are not surprised by the kindness of my classmates,” Dietz said.

It is this kind of lawyer that the world needs now more than ever, he told the graduates, as people recover from unemployment and economic instability because of the pandemic, grapple with new technologies, adapt to transformed economies and workplaces, fight for racial justice, and seek to reform the justice system.

“This is our time to show up as the best of what the legal profession — and this is our profession now, this is you — the best of what we represent,” said Dietz. “And what we need most is not just people who show up with legal skills. With all these people in crisis, all these causes that need champions, we need the lawyers with heart, and that’s you.”

Student Bar Association President Hank Niblock (JD ’21) and Professor Rebecca Morrow were also selected by the class of 2021 to address the graduates in recorded remarks.

Morrow reminded the graduates that while faculty members wanted them to understand the content they learned in the classroom and develop their legal skills, they also had another goal in mind: for students to become braver learners and braver lawyers.

“Not only has your success in law school made you braver, more capable of learning new and difficult things, and better able to see that your capabilities exceed your expectations, your bravery is needed,” said Morrow. “It’s not that I want you to feel responsible for having all of the answers — you aren’t — or worse that you have to fake it to make it, you don’t. Instead, I want you to see that you learned something new and very difficult and very valuable, and you can do it again and again.”

Niblock encouraged his classmates to remember their strong legal education and, most importantly, to be themselves when tackling the varied legal issues they will face in their careers.

“Wake Forest lawyers are team players, work together, and help each other,” said Niblock. “You have all the tools necessary, and in a world that is obsessed with bigger and better, you are enough, and you always will be.”

Watch the commencement ceremony, held May 17 at the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum, and remarks from each speaker on the Wake Forest Law 2021 commencement website.

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.

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