The idea of Wake Forest University School of Law took root slowly over two decades in the late 19th century, reminiscent of the time needed for a Southern Magnolia tree to establish a firm root system and display its fragrant blossoms. One of the oldest tree species in the world, magnolias can take a decade after planting to reach full bloom, and peak seed production takes more than 20 years.
Just as magnolia seeds from the Old Campus in Wake Forest, N.C., were nurtured and planted on Winston-Salem's Reynolda Campus in 1956, we carry our traditions and history with us at the School of Law.
As you explore the highlights of our quasquincentennial celebration, you'll discover an enduring theme that has continued to distinguish Wake Forest and its School of Law since its inception in 1894. A passion for a value- and experience-driven legal education is an idea that has prospered over the past 125 years. This profound purpose continues to emphasize community and service and the belief that these combined values are the foundation for developing future advocates of the rule of law.
No matter which chapter of our story you choose to explore, you'll find a narrative that is uniquely human and enriched by a mission to develop successful citizen lawyers.
The idea of establishing a law school at Wake Forest College was contemplated as early as 1872, but it would take several years for interest and planning to take place. Under the leadership of college President Charles E. Taylor, Wake Forest's Board of Trustees ordered the establishment of the School of Law and subsequently appointed a committee to oversee its development. It was soon announced that the School of Law would open in September 1893.
Needham Y. Gulley, an attorney and newspaperman from Franklinton, N.C., was one of the newly appointed members of the Board of Trustees. He would eventually become Wake Forest's first law professor and, later, the law school's first dean.
When the fall semester began in 1893, Needham Gulley was present "pen in hand" but no student asked for registration. It is believed that the Panic of 1893—a serious economic depression in the U.S.—along with the unknown difficulty of the new course of study deterred prospective students.
Though Gulley felt "a trifling shade of discouragement," he announced that he would nevertheless lecture at Wake Forest once a week for students who were interested in the law. Because his weekly lectures were well attended, the Board of Trustees authorized college faculty to establish a course of study in law and elected Gulley professor of law.
In the summer of 1894, Professor Gulley offered his first law course. Although two students initially enrolled, one left after a short time, leaving Gulley with his lone student, Stephen McIntyre. A visitor to campus that summer reported seeing them congregate for lecture under a campus tree.
When the semester began in the fall of 1894, the School of Law had 12 students enrolled. Gulley, who taught law, government, and political economy, drove his horse-drawn buggy to Wake Forest College three times a week until 1895—a trip that took considerably more than an hour each way.
Gulley was named the first dean of Wake Forest School of Law in 1905. He applied legal theory to real-life scenarios, a teaching philosophy that was innovative for the time, and required his students to participate in Moot Court. By 1931, approximately half of N.C. attorneys had been taught by Dean Gulley. He taught at Wake Forest Law for 44 years, having retired as dean in 1935 and as professor in 1938.
By 1915, there was sufficient pressure to admit women to the School of Law. Although the Board of Trustees voted not to admit women, the wives of two Wake Forest law students insisted on attending classes during the summer session that same year. Dean Gulley would advocate for the admittance of women the following year, but it would take more than a decade for his wishes to come to fruition.
On June 1, 1927, the Board of Trustees approved the enrollment of women to the Wake Forest College School of Law. In 1928, Ella Margaret Gordon, who had already passed the bar examination, became the first woman to receive her Bachelor of Laws (LLB) from Wake Forest, making her the youngest woman attorney in the U.S. at the time.
Though women would largely remain a minority at Wake Forest Law throughout much of the 19th century, many renowned female lawyers would follow Gordon's footsteps. Rhoda Billings (LLB '66), the first woman to graduate at the top of the class, is one such figure. She was one of three women attending Wake Forest Law during the 1965-1966 academic year. Notably, her yearbook photo was placed directly below the introduction, "Third Year Men Prepare for Bar Exams," in Wake Forest University's 1966 edition of "The Howler."
Billings left Wake Forest for a career in the state's courtrooms. Before serving as North Carolina's second female Chief Justice of the N.C. Supreme Court in 1986, she was an associate justice of the state's supreme court as well as a state district court judge. She returned to Wake Forest in the fall of 1972 as the School of Law's first female faculty member where she served Wake Forest for more than 30 years.
Many female leaders have graduated from Wake Forest Law, including one who would go on to become the first female dean. After serving the school as interim dean for the 2014-2015 academic year, Suzanne Reynolds (JD '77) was named dean in 2015.
During World War II, law students were in especially high demand for military and other war-related service. Thus, enrollment in law schools throughout the country dropped during the fall of 1942. As a result, Duke University and Wake Forest College established a combined program—the "War-time Joint Program"— in 1943.
Under the leadership of Dean Carroll W. Weathers, an alumnus of Wake Forest College and its School of Law, the law school moved to Winston-Salem with the undergraduate college in 1956. In September 1954, the construction of the new law building was contracted for $550,000. The Law Building, now known today as Carswell Hall, opened for the 1956 summer session and was formally dedicated in 1957.
"The law building, which is a handsome four-story structure, contains many attractive and useful features including air-conditioning," said the "Wake Forest Bulletin" in a description of the new building. "In addition to classroom and seminar room facilities, administrative and faculty conference offices, library, student lounge and faculty conference room, the building contains a combination moot court-assembly room which will seat 250 people and is adapted for multiple purposes…"
In 1972, the "Law Building" was renovated with an additional wing and named Carswell Hall in honor of the late Guy T. Carswell (LLB '22), a prominent Charlotte attorney and first president of the Wake Forest College Lawyer Alumni Association.
In April 1961, the Wake Forest Board of Trustees authorized the medical school, law school, and graduate school to admit qualified applicants without regard to race. In 1964, Frank D. Cherry (JD '67) became the first accepted black applicant to Wake Forest School of Law. He would also become the law school's first black graduate and alumnus in 1967.
Terry Hart Lee (JD '74) would later become the first female black applicant to enter Wake Forest Law School. She founded and served as president of Wake Forest Law's Black American Law Students Association (BALSA), which, among its goals, aimed to recruit minority students, including Black, Native Americans, Mexican, Latino and Asian, as well as women of all races.
In 1979, the law school continued its commitment to substantially increase the number of black law students by launching a visitation day for minority students. These efforts were a part of the shared recruitment program led by BALSA and the admissions office. BALSA is known today as the Black Law Student Association (BLSA) and it continues to thrive at Wake Forest, with many of its members being highly active in the law school's student government, student recruitment, and career services.
As a local organization for law students affiliated with regional and national BLSA organizations, members collectively promote the needs of the black community while sharing a commitment to identifying and improving the challenges unique to black law students. Wake Forest continues to celebrate black law students with an annual BLSA Scholarship Banquet.
In 2007, Wake Forest was empowered by the leadership of Blake Morant, who was named the first black dean of the School of Law. In addition to expanding clinical offerings, Dean Morant expanded and emphasized alumni engagement beyond the borders of North Carolina, continued to diversify the law school's faculty, and oversaw the planning of the renovations of the Worrell Professional Center. He served until 2014.
In 1967, Wake Forest Law graduates received juris doctorate (JD) degrees for the first time in school history. Previous classes received the Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree. According to Wake Forest's yearbook, "The Howler," the change was meant to better position graduates in the job market. This change was also inspired by the idea that the JD would allow alumni to earn higher salaries than legal professionals holding an LLB.
John D. Scarlett was named dean of Wake Forest School of Law in 1979, ushering in the "Scarlett Era." He oversaw the design and implementation of the 440 Plan, which reduced the 1L class to 160 students with four sections of 40 students. He increased the number of scholarships and the recruitment of minority students, further emphasized business law in the curriculum, and added more technology to the law school experience.
His decade of leadership oversaw the launch of the London program, JD/MBA degree program, the Constitutional Law Lecture Series, and the Continuing Legal Education (CLE) program. Scarlett was also responsible for adding new faculty, integrating the latest technology to legal study, increasing financial aid, and expanding clinical programming. Under his leadership, Wake Forest School of Law became a law school without boundaries, attracting students from all over the country.
In 1993, construction of the Worrell Professional Center for Law and Management was complete for $26.5 million. It was the first academic building in the nation to house both law and graduate business schools under one roof. The school of business eventually moved to Farrell Hall, which officially opened its doors in November 2013.
Integrating oral advocacy experience into the curriculum has been a long-held tradition at Wake Forest Law, one that has transformed dramatically since the first required moot court offering in 1894. The development of the Moot Court Board in 1971 and the Student Trial Bar in 1978 further enhanced Wake Forest's appellate and trial advocacy curriculum by increasing the amount of competitive opportunities for students. These additions created numerous moot court and trial advocacy teams that continue to represent the law school at regional and national tournaments each year.
1971 - The newly established Moot Court Board sends its first team to the regional National Moot Court Competition. This new organization also launched an intramural moot court competition, known today as the George Walker Moot Court Competition.
1978 - For the first time in history, the Moot Court Team captures a first place victory at the Judge Braxton R. Craven Memorial Competition. Team members included Laura Crumpler (JD '79), Patricia Holland (JD '79), and Richard Laws (BS '76, JD '79). It was soon followed by another first place victory at the 7th Annual Marshall-Wythe Invitational Moot Court Competition. Dorian Gunter (BA '75, JD '79), Ann Heffelfinger Barnhill (BS '76, JD '79), and Kay Johns Donahue (JD '79) made up this team.
1979 - The newly established Student Trial Bar organization sends its first team to the regional Texas Young Lawyers Association (TYLA) National Trial Competition. Mary Root (JD '81), John Ross (JD '79), David Tamer (BA '77, JD '79), and Tom Ferrell (BA '75, JD '79) were the inaugural team members.
1980 - The Tax Law Team, William Mills III (JD '80) and Martin Garcia (JD '81), win the Mugel Federal Tax Law Competition in 1980.
1981 - Two annual intramural competitions, the Cynthia J. Zeliff Trial Competition and the Edwin M. Stanley Moot Court Competition, launch.
1981 - Wake Forest sends its first Black American Law Student Association (BALSA) team to the Frederick Douglass Moot Court Competition in 1981. Team members included Lawrence Davidson III (JD '82) and Bargery Williams (JD '82). Wake Forest would win the regional tournament for the first time in 1984.
1983 - For the third time in history, the Wake Forest National Trial Team advances to the championship rounds of the TYLA National Trial Competition.
1986 - Wake Forest Law claims its first national championship title at the National Moot Court Competition. The team members included Scott C. Lovejoy (JD '87), Karen S. Williams (JD '87), and Donna S. Sisson Richter (JD '87).
1988 - Video capture technology is integrated into Wake Forest courtrooms and, by extension, appellate and trial advocacy practice.
1989 - National Trial Team claims a second-place finish at the 1st Annual Tournament of Champions (TOC). Wake Forest Law was ranked among the top 12 schools for trial advocacy. Len Cohen (JD '90) and Rod Pettey (JD '90) serve as the advocates of the winning team, with support from teammates Nils Gerber (BA '87, JD '90), David Hall (JD '90), Denise Hartsfield (JD '91), and Lee Nelson (BA '85, JD '91).
1992 - National Trial Team ranks among the top eight teams in the country.
1995 - The litigation curriculum, composed of a variety of courses, including legal research and writing, appellate advocacy, civil procedure, evidence, alternative dispute resolution, pre-trial practice, and trial practice, is supported by a variety of extracurricular opportunities such as interscholastic trial competitions, moot court competitions, and the Chief Justice Joseph Branch Inn of Courts. The curriculum is enhanced with the integration of the Clinical Program, known today as the Litigation Externship clinic.
2001 - American College of Trial Lawyers awards Wake Forest Law the Emil Gumpert Award for its excellence in teaching trial advocacy. The money awarded to the School of Law was used to equip the practice courtrooms with the latest digital technology.
2017 - Wake Forest claims two national championships: National Moot Court Competition and the AAJ National Trial Competition. Matthew Cloutier (JD '17), Mia Falzarano (JD '17), Blake E. Stafford (JD '17), and Coach John Korzen (JD '91) made up the National Moot Court team and Drew Culler (JD '17), Mia Falzarano (JD '17), Cheslie Kryst (JD '17), Ethan White (JD '17), and Coach Matthew Breeding (JD '06) made up the AAJ National Trial team.
2018 - Wake Forest once again claims two national championships. Wake Forest holds an unprecedented first and second place finish at the TYLA National Trial Competition. Ranked among the top teams in the country, Wake Forest was invited to compete in the National Board of Trial Advocacy (NBTA) Tournament of Champions (TOC), where they earned a first place finish—the first in school history.
The 2018 TYLA National Trial Competition first place team included Tracea Rice (JD '19), Darius Lamonte (JD '19), Jonathan Salmons (JD '18), Le'Ron Byrd (JD '19), as well as Coaches Mark Boynton (JD '97) and Aindrea Pledger (JD '10). The second place team included Zach McCamey (JD '18), Virginia Stanton (JD '19), Joe Karam (JD '18), and Nick Bedo (JD '18).
'"I don't learn anything but legal theory!' has been a popular outcry in law schools for years," said an article by Rebecca Ferguson (JD '75) in the 1974 spring edition of "The Jurist." "But thanks to the interest and hard work of Associate Professor George K. Walker, Wake Forest Law students no longer say that. Under his guidance, the law school has recently established an appellate argument program."
The Appellate Advocacy Seminar, which would lay the foundation for today's Appellate Advocacy Clinic, was Wake Forest Law's first experiential learning program. Law students could now draft briefs and pleadings on appeal for 4th Circuit cases with a supervising attorney. Professor Walker felt that the experiential component would be an enormous advantage for graduating law students. To him, a skill, in addition to substantive legal knowledge, was being learned, and this skill could be put to immediate use upon graduation.
Seven years later, Wake Forest would offer an additional program that enabled third-year law students to work on cases in North Carolina with the supervision of a practicing attorney. The Legal Clinic, which launched in 1981 under the direction of Professor Ken Zick and Inga Kear, supported the vision of then-Dean John Scarlett, who was a fierce advocate for making Wake Forest a leader in clinical education.
The program expanded dramatically throughout much of the 1980s, with students having the opportunity to place in one of five civil law sections, including general practice, Legal Aid Society, commercial practice, corporate general counsel, and federal practice in the U.S. Attorney's office.
Wake Forest Law continued to add clinical and experiential programs over the next several decades.
1981 - Legal Clinic program launches, eventually becoming the Clinic Program in 1995. Under the vision and direction of Professor Carol Anderson, the program expanded and was renamed the Litigation Externship clinic in 2006.
1983 - Appellate Advocacy Seminar expands to become Appellate Advocacy Clinic.
1991 - Elder Law Clinic launches under the direction of Kate Mewhinney.
2008 - Innocence & Justice Clinic launches with supervising attorney and director Mark Rabil.
2009 - Community Law & Business Clinic launches under the direction of Steve Virgil.
2010 - Child Advocacy Clinic launches under the direction of Iris Sunshine (JD '89).
2014 - Professor Steve Virgil's Cross-disciplinary Professional Development course becomes Micro-Trade Development Clinic.
2014 - Veterans Legal Clinic launches under the direction of Professor Steve Virgil.
2019 - Wake Forest Law announces the launch of the Environmental Law Clinic.
In addition to clinical offerings, Wake Forest's historical emphasis on service and community transformed into the Pro Bono Project in 2009, allowing the School of Law to formalize pro bono work as an intregal component to the law school experience. Since the Pro Bono Project's establishment, Wake Forest Law students have served various members of the community, including veterans, children and teenagers, cancer patients, and immigrants.
Incorporating comparative law and international law has been a part of the curriculum for over 40 years. Study abroad programs in London and Venice marked the beginning of Wake Forest Law's global offerings, which inevitably expanded in 1996 when the School of Law launched a new master's degree for foreign-trained attorneys—known today as the Master of Laws (LLM) degree program. In 2018, the LLM began offering several degree specializations, including business law, criminal law, intellectual property law, and technology law, as well as the ability to craft a specialization when courses offered align with a preferred specialty. Wake Forest LLM Alumni hail from Afghanistan, Australia, China, Colombia, France, Germany, Kosovo, Nigeria, Peru, and more than 40 other countries throughout the world.
In addition to adding a summer program in Vienna, Wake Forest integrated the Doctor of Juridical Science (SJD), Two-Year JD, Visiting International Researcher (VIR), and Legal English Program into its internationally focused academic programs and degree offerings.
In 2016, Wake Forest School of Law launched its first-ever fully online master's degree program—the Master of Studies in Law (MSL)—which aims to empower working professionals with legal knowledge relevant to the problems of the modern workplace. Originally launched in 2012 as a residential program, the online MSL has attracted students from all over the country who want to study Business Law & Compliance, Health Law & Policy, or Human Resources.
Along with the MSL, Wake Forest Law has also launched several graduate certificates, beginning with the Workplace Legal Fundamentals graduate certificate in 2016.
2012 - The School of Law launches the MSL program as a one-year residential graduate degree program.
2015 - Our part-time, limited-residency MSL degree program begins.
2016 - The MSL program becomes a part-time, fully online degree program with concentrations in Health Law & Policy as well as Human Resources. Wake Forest Law also launches its first graduate certificate program through the MSL program.
2017 - A concentration in Business Law and Compliance is added to the MSL degree and certificate program. The MSL also begins offering a first-of-its-kind telemedicine course as well as an optional residential weekend experience.
2018 - The Emerging Leaders Program in Law (ELP-Law), a first-in-the-nation partnership with Wake Forest School of Medicine's Physician Assistant (PA) Program, is established. The Wake Forest School of Medicine Doctor of Nursing Program also integrates MSL health law courses into its curriculum.
Many U.S. Supreme Court Justices have visited Wake Forest Law, beginning with Justice Sandra Day O'Connor in 1993, who was the keynote speaker at the Worrell Professional Center dedication. Wake Forest also awarded her an honorary doctor of laws that same year. Justice O'Connor returned to Wake Forest in 2006 as a distinguished guest speaker of the "Conversation With" series.
In 1994, then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist visited Wake Forest as part of the law school's centennial celebration, which was based on the year-long theme, "Celebrating a Century of Legal Education (1894-1994)." Justice Rehnquist was the main speaker at the University's Opening Convocation in October of that year.
In 2005, Wake Forest began its enduring relationship with then-Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was another distinguished guest of the "Conversation With" series. In 2008, Justice Ginsburg and her husband, Martin Ginsburg, joined Wake Forest in Venice as guest lecturers of law. She joined Wake Forest for its Venice and Vienna study abroad programs again in 2012. That same year, she joined the Wake Forest Journal of Law & Policy via live video feed as the keynote speaker for the spring symposium, "Gender and the Legal Profession: The Rise of Female Lawyers."
Justice John G. Roberts also visited Wake Forest in 2005. Prior to his nomination that year, Justice Roberts had confirmed his availability to judge the Stanley Moot Court Competition. Despite being confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court a few weeks prior, Justice Roberts attended the intramural competition.
In 2012, Justice Clarence Thomas was interviewed by Marc Rigsby (JD '12) as part of the "Conversation With" series. In addition to meeting with students, faculty, and alumni, Justice Thomas also visited a class and lectured on professional responsibility.
In 2016, Justice Ginsburg once again joined Wake Forest Law for its Venice study abroad program, but this time she and Professor Dick Schneider participated in a mock hearing for Shylock, the Jewish moneylender from Shakespeare's controversial comedy, "The Merchant of Venice." In 2017, Justice Ginsburg presided over the judges' panel for another mock trial for Shylock—this time at the U.S. Library of Congress. The panel included then-Dean Suzanne Reynolds (JD '77), Professor Dick Schneider, former U.S. Ambassador to the OECD and congresswoman Connie Morella, and Micaela del Monte from the European Parliament. Michael Klotz (JD '15) of Jones Day of New York advocated on behalf of Shylock.