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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!”

Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Marie-Amélie George

Professor Marie-Amélie George went to law school to become an advocate for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. After spending time in court as a domestic violence prosecutor at the Miami State Attorney’s Office, Professor George realized she needed to approach the problem differently. She started asking herself: How could she prevent these cases from happening?

That led her from the courtroom to academia, where she has become a leading expert in LGBTQ+ civil rights and family law. She received her Ph.D. in history from Yale in 2018, and since then she has researched the history of LGBTQ+ rights in America. What sets her work apart is her use of original historical records, which she collects by traveling to archives around the country. As a result, she can tell the story of LGBTQ+ rights in a way that no one else can.

“Although many documents are accessible online these days, the pieces of information I am looking for are not being digitized,” says Professor George. “I am reviewing original documents, listening to audio recordings of speeches that no one wrote down, and watching videos of commercials and films that are otherwise impossible to access.” Professor George additionally interviews those who were involved in LGBTQ+ rights litigation and legislation to fill in the gaps in the historical record.

Thanks to her painstaking efforts to uncover LGBTQ+ legal history, Professor George has become a leading expert in LGBTQ+ rights. As of late, prominent news organizations like the Washington Post, The Skimm, and the Houston Chronicle have asked for her comments and opinions. She also recently led a Legal Workshop for Harvard Law School.

Professor George is a recognized thought leader. The UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute recently awarded her the Michael Cunningham Prize for her 2019 article entitled “Framing Trans Rights.” She also received the Emerging Scholar in Gender and Law Award from Pace University for “Exploring Identity,” which she published in 2021.

Professor George continues to promote Wake Forest Law’s mission of educating the public. She is currently writing a book, Becoming Equal: American Law and the Rise of the Gay Family, based on her research. It will be published by Cambridge University Press in 2024.

For more updates on Professor George’s research and media appearances, please follow Wake Forest Law on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram. You may also follow Professor George directly on Twitter, where she often shares other research and articles related to LGBTQ+ rights, family law, and more.

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.”

Law School Deconstructed: Addressing Our Biases Together

Students who come to law school from historically underrepresented backgrounds often experience incidents stemming from unconscious bias, and even acts of conscious prejudice that they are all too often unable to adequately address in a constructive way. This inability to express their concerns has a negative impact on their ability to learn and perform in the demanding academic environment of a law school setting. On February 18, 2022, the Black Law Student Association (BLSA) of Wake Forest Law, aided by the school’s faculty Committee for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, hosted Law School Deconstructed: Participation and Performance, an event designed to address these sensitive dynamics through thoughtful, open discussion.

The Friday lunch hour drew an overflow crowd made up of the entire law school community, where the hosts guided students, faculty, and staff through an exercise that highlighted to everyone in attendance just how pervasive, and often seemingly innocuous these instances can be. Presenting anonymous testimonials from members of the law school community, everyone in attendance — many standing in the back of room 1302 — got together to read, reflect upon, and discuss the submissions of people who had experienced harmful situations and encounters due to their socio-economic status, race, sexual orientation, or personal identity.

“Once we got the people in the room, I thought it would be a challenge to get people to engage,” said Cedric James, president of BLSA. “This was my biggest concern that turned out not to be a problem at all.”

As the room filled, James’ more immediate and pressing concern became supplies: there weren’t enough handouts with the testimonials to go around. Running out to print more sheets, and with late arrivals still having to huddle together in the back and around the doorways to share one, he expressed being overwhelmed with emotion about the turnout. The enthusiasm and openness with which the community engaged in the exercise and following discussion was heartening.

“The most meaningful thing was that faculty showed up,” said Kristy Abd-El-Malak, Secretary of BLSA, some of whom reportedly interrupted their Sabbatical or traveled from out of town to attend.

The exercise grouped attendees together at random for the initial discussion, which ensured that students, faculty, and staff read and discussed the testimonials together. Having to reflect on the impacts the incidents have on those who experience them with members of the community who don’t typically engage in these types of discussions together was key to the success of the exercise.

“We can’t be afraid to have these conversations” said Breanna Miller, Community Service & Social Justice Chair of BLSA. “These conversations are tough to have, but they need to happen.”

And the conversations will continue to happen. The attendees in the room were so engaged in the discussion that the hour was not enough to cover all of the different topics touched upon by the testimonials. BLSA is already working on a second installment of Law School Deconstructed to pick up where this event left off. And just as they did for this first one, they are working together with student organizations like LLSA, OUTLaw, WIL, and others to continue to offer these platforms for the community to come together.

The event is part of a concerted, intentional effort by students, faculty, staff and administration to foster a law school culture that actively addresses issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion in productive and constructive ways.

The Honorable Denise Hartsfield (JD ’91), retired Forsyth County District Court Judge and Adjunct Professor of Law at Wake Forest Law, was in attendance. She raised her hand to speak at the end and delivered an important message to everyone in the room.

“I want to congratulate you for putting this together. Just know that these issues don’t go away when you graduate law school,” she said. “You will face them in your professional and personal lives going forward. What’s important is that we continue to have these conversations and continue to learn how to be better for one another together.”

Look out for the announcement of the next installment of Law School Deconstructed: Participation and Performance later in the Spring of 2022.

Wake Forest University's School of Law and School of Business mourn the passing of Cheslie Kryst (JD/MBA ’17)

Wake Forest University School of Law and School of Business alumna and Law Board of Visitor member Cheslie Kryst (JD/MBA ’17), an attorney who fought for social justice, the 2019 winner of the Miss North Carolina and Miss USA pageants, and television host and correspondent, passed away on Jan. 30 at the age of 30.

“We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Cheslie Kryst, who was a treasured friend, classmate, and mentor to so many in our Wake Forest Law community,” said Wake Forest Law Dean Jane Aiken. “She was a persistent advocate for social justice, and her kindness, generosity, and inspiring spirit left a lasting impact on all those who had the privilege of knowing her. We extend our heartfelt condolences to Cheslie’s family and loved ones.”

While a student at Wake Forest Law, Kryst concurrently pursued her MBA at Wake Forest School of Business and was involved in a variety of organizations, including the Black Business Students Association.

“While in the MBA program, Cheslie was an engaged student, a committed teammate, and a bright light,” said Sherry Moss, the Benson Pruitt Professor in Business. “Her passing is beyond tragic and our hearts go out to her family and friends. She will always be remembered as a person who made a difference in the world.”

As an alumna, Kryst generously supported the law school and its students, including by serving as a member of the Law Board of Visitors.

During her first year in law school, Kryst won the 1L Trial Bar Competition, and later went on to become a member of the Moot Court Team, a member of the law school’s first national championship-winning AAJ Trial Team, and president of the Sports Entertainment Law Society.

“I remember Cheslie from her first day of law school in my contracts class,” said Dean and Professor of Law Emerita Suzanne Reynolds, who served as dean of the law school from 2014-2019. “She always brought out the human side of the cases we studied, a gift that led her after graduation into pro bono work on death penalty cases. I grieve with her beloved family, classmates, and the thousands she touched, especially for the pain she must have endured before we lost her.”

Photo credit Poyner Spruill LLP

Photo credit Poyner Spruill LLP

As the coach of the 2017 AAJ Trial Team of which Kryst was a member, Matthew Breeding (JD ’06) recalled that her incredible advocacy skills were matched by a deep sense of compassion.

“More than her charm and wit, her intellectual agility, and her effortless beauty, the one trait that exemplifies her the most is compassion,” said Breeding. “She loved her classmates without fear or shame, she fought for her teammates with every breath she could muster, and she showed actual, genuine empathy to everyone fortunate enough to cross her path.”

Kryst was also an active member of Wake Forest Law’s Black Law Student Association, and was awarded a scholarship from the organization in both 2015 and 2017. She also served as National Parliamentarian for the National Black Law Student Association from 2015-2016. Throughout her career, Kryst continued to support Wake Forest Law’s BLSA by speaking on panels, mentoring students, and facilitating connections between current students and other alumni.

“Cheslie was not only a brilliant person, but she also had a pure heart. She made it clear that we can do whatever we set our mind to,” said Cedric James (JD ’22), the current president of Wake Forest Law’s BLSA. “She consistently used her voice to speak up for those ignored and silenced. She was steadfast in her support of women and used her platform to uplift those around her.”

After graduating from Wake Forest in 2017, Kryst worked as an associate at Poyner Spruill in Charlotte, NC, where she practiced complex civil litigation and provided pro bono legal services to incarcerated people. In 2019, she won the Miss North Carolina pageant and went on to become the first attorney to win the Miss USA pageant. After serving as Miss USA, Kryst became an entertainment news correspondent and host for ExtraTV.

“Cheslie’s spirit was as bright as the torch she carried during the Miss Universe competition. She cared deeply about her community, and she used her platform to speak out on social justice issues and to bring light to causes about which she was passionate,” said Alison Ashe-Card, Associate Director of Diversity and Inclusion at Wake Forest Law. “Cheslie often returned to Wake Law and served as a mentor to many students. Her light and legacy will live on through those whose lives she touched.”

Wake Forest offers support and counseling services for all students, faculty, and staff. The Counseling Center may be reached at 336-758-5273 and the Chaplain’s Office at 336-758-5210. For faculty and staff, there is also the Employee Assistance Program at 336-716-5493. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available at 1-800-273-8255.

Wake Forest University honors Eleanor Morales (JD ’10), Director of the Veterans Legal Clinic, as a Decorated Deac

For Ellie Morales (JD ’10), it was her experiences during a Department of Defense internship while attending Davidson College on an Army ROTC and a swimming scholarship that solidified her desire to pursue a legal education.

“Seeing real-life military and government civilian lawyers impact national and international events persuaded me to become a lawyer,” she says. “I thought that being a military lawyer would be the best way I could make an impact in the service of others and my country.”

Her career spent doing just that and more led Wake Forest University to honor Morales as the “Decorated Deac” during the football game against N.C. State on Nov. 13. The recognition is among many she’s received for her service to her country and clients throughout her career — which has most recently brought her back to Wake Forest Law as the Director of the Veterans Legal Clinic to supervise students as they work with former service members to correct injustices in their military records.

“What I enjoy most about teaching at Wake Forest Law is the same reason I chose to come to Wake as a law student: the community, including the faculty, staff, and students,” says Morales. “It’s a supportive environment that fosters growth and learning.”

Immediately after graduating from law school, Morales joined the Army Judge Advocate General Corps, first serving as a legal assistance attorney and later as a military criminal prosecutor while stationed at Fort Hood in Texas. In 2013, she volunteered to deploy to Kabul, Afghanistan, as an operational law attorney, where she advised a senior-level commander on the rules of engagement and the law of armed conflict supporting the International Security Assistance Force and U.S. forces. The position offered her the opportunity to collaborate with not only service members from multiple military branches, but also military lawyers from around the world.

Returning to Fort Hood about a year later, she then went on to attend airborne school at Fort Benning in Georgia and became part of the 82nd Airborne Division stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, where she advised a brigade commander on legal actions. Upon transitioning into the Army Reserves in 2015, where she currently serves as an Army judge advocate in the rank of Major, she worked as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Department of Justice for five years. In 2019, Morales and her colleague received the DOJ Director’s Award for Superior Performance for their work successfully prosecuting the first sex trafficking trial in the Eastern District of North Carolina.

She says her experiences as a law student in her criminal law and evidence courses, as well as in the Innocence and Justice Clinic, had an impact on her work after law school.

“They formed how I viewed justice and influenced me as a military and federal prosecutor,” she says.

But according to Morales, it’s the law school’s deeply personal and flexible approach that leaves a lasting impact on its alumni.

“Each law student has the flexibility to decide their own path,” she says. “Wake encourages and fosters diverse careers for its students, who graduate as well-rounded lawyers and possess strong legal writing skills. They’re lawyers who are hardworking and focused on serving others and their communities.”

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.

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 msl.law.wfu.edu 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 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.

Learners for life: Thriving at the intersections of the law and other disciplines

When Tim Ellerbe (MSL ’21) is asked to share what drew him to pursue his Master of Studies in Law degree in Business Law and Compliance, he unequivocally credits the University’s reputation. He relishes the reaction he gets when people ask about it. “You have a law degree from Wake Forest?” he quips, mimicking an impressed expression. “That opens doors.”

As Senior Program Manager for IT Security and Compliance at Dell, Inc., Ellerbe is very much enjoying how the degree has enhanced his role working with lawyers and legal teams where issues of privacy and security intersect with business operations and practices.

“Companies get sued for not getting this stuff right,“ he says, and a big part of his job is ensuring that Dell is and remains compliant with the laws regulating its business.

He joined the company after 30 years at Hewlett-Packard, and quickly found himself feeling restless as he contemplated the next step to take in his IT career. Ellerbe identified security, privacy, and compliance as issues of top concern in the technology space, so he set out to find a degree that would accommodate both his new career ambitions, as well as his lifestyle as a long-time working professional. He found a multitude of options and eventually settled on the Wake Forest Law MSL due to the school’s reputation, and because the program felt like exactly what he needed to learn to become a security and compliance officer.

Tim Ellerbe (MSL ’21) during the Master of Studies in Law

Tim Ellerbe (MSL ’21) during the Master of Studies in Law

The fact that the MSL program felt tailor-made to Ellerbe was not a coincidence. In the summer of 2015, then-Dean Suzanne Reynolds (JD ’77) hired Professor Ellen Murphy (JD ’02) to re-invent the MSL as a part-time, online-only degree to meet the needs of working professionals. It was to be a market-driven curriculum by design, and Murphy spent a great deal of time performing extensive research, consulting with industry experts, and conducting market studies. She discovered the tremendous need for professionals who understand how to mitigate risk in their workplaces — a need that was only matched by those professionals’ desire for maximum flexibility to accommodate their busy schedules. The program was developed based on Murphy’s research, and it currently offers a curriculum focused on three tracks: Business Law and Compliance, Health Law and Policy, and Human Resources.

Sam Parker (MSL ’20) feels his MSL in Health Law and Policy differentiates him from his peers because it focuses on a different aspect of the needs of his organization.

“I’ve seen a lot of friends go back and get their master’s in social work or MBAs,” said Parker. “I chose this degree because it is a different way to look at the same problem.”

He began his current role as Program Manager for the Ryan White Department at Atrium Health in January 2021, and he credits his MSL for helping him get the position more quickly. In this role, Parker has taken on writing Standard Operating Procedures for his department, managing staff, working with the General Director on HR issues, and ensuring he is documenting correctly in the highly regulated business setting in which he works.

When discussing the contributions having this degree helps him bring to the Ryan White Department at Atrium Health, he said, “Am I the authority? No, but this degree has given me the ability to have a good basic understanding to help avoid some pitfalls” — pitfalls that can be costly to any organization.

Learning from world-class faculty who invite leading legal experts to the classroom is often cited by MSL students as a great value-add to their classes. Parker recalls an experience where a state judge speaking in one of his classes discussed how over-documentation will often be as detrimental to a case as under-documentation because both denote inconsistency and carelessness that can complicate a complaint.

Sam Parker (MSL ’20)

Sam Parker (MSL ’20)

Having access to classroom speakers at that level was a unique experience that stood out for him, he says. This high level of professor interaction and engagement is not a given in an asynchronous online format, yet the Wake Forest Law MSL accomplishes this through its faculty and administrative staff, who remain committed to providing students with a high-caliber academic experience.

The program recently completed its fifth year in its current format. Dean Jane Aiken has continued the work of meeting with leaders in different business sectors to identify new opportunities to grow in ways that remain responsive to the needs identified in the marketplace. Working with newly-arrived Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs Chris Martin and Director Amber Featherstone, they are exploring ways in which the MSL could enhance other graduate programs within Wake Forest University.

“Though our program is still young, the experiences of career advancement and professional fulfillment our MSL students report back to us after graduation have inspired us to invest more resources into growing it much, much further in the years to come,” said Aiken.

The program is expanding its offerings to MSL alumni who want to audit classes as a way to keep their knowledge and skills current. Ellerbee, for one, has already enrolled and completed his first class audit since graduation, Cybersecurity and Privacy. It was a class he wasn’t able to take during his time earning the degree.

“And I’ll be taking some more classes,” he says, spoken like a true life-long learner.

For more information on the Master of Studies in Law, visit the program homepage.

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

Professor John Knox testifies before members of U.S. House Natural Resources Committee on human rights and international conservation

In testimony before members of the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources, Wake Forest Law Professor John Knox discussed the key role that Indigenous peoples and local communities play in the conservation of natural ecosystems, and recommended steps the United States should take to protect against human rights abuses of these groups by governments and conservation organizations.

“It is now well understood that the world is facing a global biodiversity crisis, which threatens one-quarter of all species with extinction,” said Knox in written testimony submitted to the committee. “But it is far less well understood that the biodiversity crisis is also a human rights crisis. The best way to conserve the natural environment is to protect the human rights of those who live in nature: the Indigenous peoples and local communities who directly depend on forests and rivers for their material and spiritual well-being.”

During the Oct. 26 hearing of the Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife, Knox also described the findings of an independent expert panel on which he served that conducted an in-depth investigation of the World Wildlife Fund’s involvement in alleged human rights abuses in protected areas in Africa and Asia — findings which he said WWF had taken out of context and given a false impression of in its statement to the subcommittee.

“The panel found that WWF knew, often for many years, about alleged human rights abuses in the parks in protected areas that it supports in each of these countries,” Knox testified. “WWF nevertheless continued to provide financial and material support, and most importantly, WWF often failed to take effective steps to prevent or respond to the abuses.”

Before beginning to question the witnesses, Subcommittee Chair Rep. Jared Huffman of California noted that he associated himself with Knox’s comments and said that “WWF still doesn’t seem to get it . . . in response to this panel’s investigation, WWF continues to portray this as largely exculpatory, something that exonerates them from accountability.”

Knox, who also served as the first United Nations independent expert and special rapporteur on human rights in the environment, noted that WWF’s problems with implementing human rights commitments are not unique, but just one example of a larger issue that runs throughout the world of international conservation. Such behavior, he argued, will not change until the U.S. and other donor states withhold funding for international conservation unless a protected area or conservation initiative can demonstrate it is respecting the rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities; providing effective protections against human rights abuses by park rangers; complying with human rights responsibilities; ensuring independence grievance mechanisms to hear and provide appropriate relief for complaints; and engaging in transparent practices.

“I would encourage you to consider and propose legislation that would ensure that funds to WWF and other conservation organizations include basic human rights protections,” said Knox in his written testimony. “The U.S. government, like other donors, has a responsibility to ensure that the funds they provide for international conservation are used consistently with its own human rights commitments.”

In addition to Knox, the subcommittee also heard testimony from Joan Carling, global director of Indigenous Peoples Rights International; Ginette Hemley, senior vice president of wildlife conservation at World Wildlife Fund – US; and Kaddu Sebunya, CEO of the African Wildlife Foundation.

Read Professor Knox’s complete written testimony. Watch a recording of the hearing, “Protecting Human Rights in International Conservation.”

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.

Professor Sidney Shapiro testifies about COVID-19 vaccine requirements before U.S. House Education & Labor Committee members

As employers across the country anticipate a rule being developed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that would require vaccination or weekly testing for people working for companies with 100 or more employees, Wake Forest Law Professor Sidney Shapiro, a leading expert in administrative procedure and regulatory policy, testified before members of the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee about OSHA’s legal authority to establish and enforce vaccine standards and accommodations.

In the Oct. 26 joint hearing of the Workplace Protections and Civil Rights and Human Services Subcommittees, Shapiro explained that OSHA has clear legal authority under the Occupational Safety and Health Act to issue an emergency temporary standard (ETS) requiring COVID-19 vaccines and testing because these protections save lives more so than masking and social distancing.

“We know for certain that workers will die from exposure to COVID unless they are protected by an ETS during the time it will take OSHA to write a permanent standard,” Shapiro said in his written testimony. “Short-term exposure to COVID, especially the Delta variant, is a grave danger that requires immediate protection because that single short-term exposure is sufficient to cause the worker’s death or serious illness.”

OSHA’s anticipated rule requiring vaccines and testing is especially appropriate in response to the Delta variant and a slowdown in the pace of vaccinations, Shapiro argued, and is in line with the kinds of “sensible safeguards” the U.S. has taken to protect people since its founding.

“The existing ETS, which does not require vaccinations or testing, was promulgated at a time in the country when it appeared possible that most Americans would become vaccinated and before the new outbreaks of COVID that appeared in the fall due to the Delta COVID variant,” Shapiro wrote. “OSHA must assess the need for an ETS by considering the evolving understanding of the best ways to protect workers in their places of employment.

“OSHA not only has the legal authority to issue an ETS requiring vaccines and testing, but its statutory mandate also requires it to take this step,” he continued. “People should not have to risk their lives when they go to work when there are sensible safeguards that would protect them. An ETC requiring vaccinations or testing would fulfill this life-saving mandate.”

In addition to Shapiro, the subcommittees also heard testimony from Dr. Doron Dorfman, associate professor of law at Syracuse University College of Law; Scott Hecker, senior counsel in the Workplace Safety and Environmental Practice Group of Seyfarth Shaw LLP’s Washington, D.C. office; and Richelle T. Luther, senior vice president of corporate affairs and chief human resources officer of Columbia Sportswear Company.

Read Professor Shapiro’s full written testimony. Watch a recording of the full hearing, “Protecting Lives and Livelihoods: Vaccine Requirements and Employee Accommodations.”

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