Applying the Law to Real-World Issues: Innovative New Courses at Wake Forest Law

From left to right, top to bottom: Alyse Bertenthal, Marne Coit, Marie-Amelie George, Allyson Gold, Ellen Murphy, Gregory Parks

From left to right, top to bottom: Alyse Bertenthal, Marne Coit, Marie-Amelie George, Allyson Gold, Ellen Murphy, Gregory Parks

From reviewing bodycam footage to learning about cannabis law, Wake Forest Law is offering some exciting new courses this spring! Read on to see how the Law School is keeping ahead of emerging concepts and charting a path forward in the legal education landscape.

Cannabis LawProfessor Marne Coit

The first class of its kind offered in North Carolina, Cannabis Law examines the legal aspects of regulating cannabis at both the federal and state levels. The course covers the history of cannabis regulation in the US, medical versus recreational rules, hemp regulations, banking, product labeling, and more. Not only do students learn about these concepts in the classroom, but they are provided with opportunities to connect with guest lecturers who are experts in the law and industry and build out their networks. A unique component of the course is a final assignment that revolves around writing a policy one pager, which simulates the process of reviewing a bill and drafting a compelling argument for or against the bill. “Students have to be able to take stakeholder perspectives into account and be succinct and specific in their messaging,” says Professor Marne Coit. “These are skills they will be able to apply in other legal settings.” 

Special Topics in Criminal ProcedureDr. Alyse Bertenthal

In Special Topics in Criminal Procedure: Police Discretion, Dr. Alyse Bertenthal integrates students into an ongoing research project that examines North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission investigative practices. The course offers an on-the-ground perspective of the criminal justice system and covers such concepts as police investigations, exercise of discretion, regulation of law enforcement, and the everyday practices of stakeholders in the criminal justice system. Students have the chance to conduct interviews, watch and analyze bodycam footage, and formulate policy recommendations. “This is a real opportunity for students to get experiences they don’t traditionally have in a law school course,” says Dr. Bertenthal. “It’s also an excellent way to develop skills that are crucial to good lawyering.” 

Regulating IntimacyProfessor Marie-Amelie George

Intimate relationships are deeply personal, yet they are also subject to extensive state regulation, and it can often be challenging to balance the desires of individuals and the needs of society. Regulating Intimacy asks crucial questions that spark students’ critical thinking: How should the state safeguard people’s ability to pursue personal happiness, while at the same time ensure that individuals behave responsibly towards others? Can the government stay out of private spaces and simultaneously protect individuals from oppression and abuse? “This course focuses on many of the policy issues that undergird family law,” says Professor Marie-Amelie George. “It grapples with the idea of what the law is versus what the law should be. Ultimately it examines alternatives to making the law more just for all members of society.” Students will discuss the tradeoffs that these regulations require between the rights to privacy, autonomy, and equality. Students are asked to debate on an advocacy topic, select a source around the class concepts and lead a class discussion on the material, and write a research paper on a relevant topic. 

Firearms LawProfessor Gregory Parks

Professor Gregory Parks became interested in firearms law when he realized that there was a rising percentage of Black people purchasing guns. This intersection of his expertise in Black rights and gun ownership converged and set the stage for his course, Firearms Law. Students examine major supreme court cases on firearms, discuss what drives gun ownership and its roots in American colonial law and the Civil War, attempt to answer questions around who can own guns and who can’t, and more. The course integrates elements of pop culture, including song lyrics and media depictions of guns. Professor Parks says of the course,”The conversation around firearms is more complex than the general public discourse, even those discussions led by politicians. We’re not getting a full nuanced understanding of these ideas. Firearms Law helps budding legal minds learn how they can shape the narrative and impact people’s understanding.”

US Housing Law & PolicyProfessor Allyson Gold

Since 1948, adequate housing has been a component of the human right to an adequate standard of living, as per the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But housing in America has always been a fraught issue. US Housing Law & Policy provides an introduction to this complex topic and examines the history of housing policies and problems, public housing and federally subsidized housing, habitability and code enforcement, foreclosure, gentrification, eviction, and fair housing law—particularly as it relates to low-moderate-income tenants and homeowners. Students will analyze the laws that govern subsidized housing, housing discrimination, and other issues; apply federal, state, and local law to real-world housing problems and assess solutions proposed by housing justice advocates; and investigate and examine a discrete topic in US Housing Law and Policy through a capstone paper. Each student will also give a Ted Talk presentation on their paper to the class. “Students have likely heard about gentrification, affordable housing shortages, and mortgage rate increases, but may not know the regulations and systems that affect these issues,” says Professor Allyson Gold. “In US Housing Law & Policy, students will develop an understanding of issues in their own backyard, literally and figuratively.”

Food, Agriculture, and the EnvironmentProfessor Ellen Murphy

There are many facets to the new Food, Agriculture, and the Environment course, but this iteration of the course focuses primarily on agriculture. The goal is to introduce students to the concept of agricultural exceptionalism—policy exceptions in the law where agriculture is treated differently than other laws (e.g., child labor laws are different for farms versus other industries). Among the topics covered are the Farm Bill, discrimination in federal farm programs, agricultural labor, misbranding on food labels, land use, and more. Students gain an understanding of the policies and laws behind the food system so they can advocate to make change. “It’s important to understand the history of food production and the ways in which we have supported it as well as critiques on the current process,” says Professor Ellen Murphy. “We have an entrenched system, but in order to advocate to change that system, you have to understand it first.”