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Spotlight

A collection of WVU Law stories.

WVU Law 2017 Graduate Veronique Vernot

Veronique Vernot: Hitting the Ground Running at Mercedes-Benz

The same day Veronique Vernot found out that she passed the Georgia Bar Exam, she received an e-mail from Mercedes-Benz USA. The company wanted to schedule a digital interview with her for an in-house counsel position at its Atlanta headquarters.

“It was an awesome day!” recalled the 2017 WVU Law graduate.

The digital (video) interview went well and Vernot, just months out of law school, was asked to participate in a formal application process that spanned approximately two months and involved multiple exams and in-person interviews.

In the end, Vernot was asked to join the team and work in Atlanta at Mercedes Benz-USA.

WVU Law 3L T'Keyah Nelms

T'Keyah Nelms: A Passion for Public Service

As a 3L at WVU Law, T'Keyah Nelms is turning her passion for helping others into a legal career and a lifestyle centered around public service.

In summer 2018, Nelms was a Certified Legal Intern at the Allegheny County Public Defender’s Office in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. There, she represented more than 65 clients in criminal and domestic violence preliminary hearings in Pittsburgh’s Magisterial Courts, negotiated deals with Allegheny County assistant district attorneys and law enforcement officers, and responded to mail from incarcerated clients.

“Working with the Allegheny County Public Defender’s Office helped me realize I want to pursue a career in criminal law upon graduation,” said Nelms. “Having the opportunity to gain hands-on experience with clients and to speak in front of a judge every day served as a practical application of what I have learned in my law classes, and I gained specialized skills and knowledge within this area of the law.”

According to Nelms, her passion for serving as a voice for others stems in part from her own experience being diagnosed with thyroid cancer in her sophomore year of college. She lived with the cancer until she graduated and was able to get a job with health insurance to help offset the cost of surgery to remove her tumor.

WVU Law student Stephen Scott at Jones Day in Pittsburgh

Stephen Scott: The Global Law Firm Experience

“I applied to Jones Day because it is internationally leading in litigation, among many other accolades, particularly in its Pittsburgh office,” said Scott. “Jones Day provides its associates with a breadth of opportunities to collaborate across offices and get involved with cases from beginning to end.”

Jones Day is a global law firm with offices in the Americas, Middle East, Asia, Europe and Australia. Its Pittsburgh office employs more than 70 lawyers who handle litigation and transactional matters for a local, national and international clients.

The firm treated Scott as if he was a full-time associate, immediately allowing him to work on billable and pro bono projects with attorneys in Pittsburgh and at other Jones Day offices. He primarily worked on civil litigation assignments involving several areas of law, including insurance, commercial transactions, and cross-border disputes.

Jones Day’s highly collaborative work environment also enabled Scott to work closely with attorneys in the firm’s Washington, DC office on an appellate brief.

WVU Law Cleckley Fellow Hope DeLap

Meet Cleckley Fellow Hope DeLap

WVU Law Cleckley Fellow Hope DeLapAs the Cleckley Fellow, DeLap will assist in selecting cases, supervising students in the West Virginia Innocence Project Law Clinic (WVIP), and helping litigate claims of innocence in state and federal courts. She is working under the supervision of Melissa Giggenbach, WVIP staff attorney, and professor Marjorie McDiarmid

DeLap will also have the opportunity to produce legal scholarship at WVU Law and provide outreach to the West Virginia legal community. 

“I went to law school with the hope of one day advocating for those who have been silenced by the justice system. As the new Cleckley Fellow, I am so thrilled to help give our clients back their voice while hopefully inspiring our student attorneys to continue on with this work after they graduate,” said DeLap. “While at WVU Law, I hope to learn more about the forensic fraud issues most relevant to criminal work here in West Virginia. I am also excited to be part WVIP’s work to reform policies and spread awareness of flawed forensic science to address the causes of wrongful convictions with the aim of preventing new miscarriages of justice.”

DeLap received her J.D. in 2018 from the University of Chicago Law School, where she was a clinical student in the Exoneration Project. She was also a judicial extern for the Honorable John Z. Lee of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, and she worked on cases involving police misconduct and prisoners’ rights as a summer intern for Loevy & Loevy, a civil rights litigation firm in Chicago.

WVU Law Claire Swauger '18

Claire Swauger: A Passion and a Plan to Combat Opioids

Swauger graduated from WVU Law in May 2018, earning a J.D. with a concentration in energy and sustainable development law. As a student looking for practical work experience, Swauger joined WVU’s Land Use andSustainable Development (LUSD) Law Clinic. Part of her job included gathering public comments on projects for the Clinic’s clients throughout the Mountain State.

That work sparked Swauger’s inspiration to help people in West Virginia communities confronted by the opioid epidemic.

“Talking to real West Virginians motivated me to use my legal skills to improve their communities,” she said. “Learning how to become a tool to help small towns achieve their goals was the greatest honor and privilege of my law school experience.”

Students and staff attorneys in the LUSD Law Clinic work pro bono with local governments, landowners and non-profit organizations to develop tailored land conservation and community development strategies.

WVU Law Professor Alison Peck

Alison Peck: A Passion for Justice in the World

WVU Law Professor Alison Peck

“For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been really frustrated by language barriers,” Alison Peck explained. “I didn’t like the idea of being separated from people because we speak different languages.”

As a high school student, Peck spent a summer in Mexico, immersed herself in the culture, and returned home fluent in Spanish. A few years later, after graduating from Yale Law School, Peck put her French proficiency to the test as a clerk in Luxembourg at the Court of Justice for the European Communities.

Now, Peck encourages WVU Law students to think globally in her roles as professor and director of international programs.

WVU Law LLM student William Hart

Wiliam Hart: Forensic Justice LL.M. Q&A

I am an assistant attorney general to the North Carolina Department of Justice. I also serve as special counsel to the North Carolina State Crime Laboratory, which examines evidence associated with criminal investigations for public law enforcement agencies throughout North Carolina. In that role, I work on a wide variety of legal issues, including discovery; testing and preservation orders; courtroom testimony training and evaluation; review of laboratory protocols; legislative drafting; and multi-agency collaboration on multiple criminal justice initiatives.

There are talented and dedicated people working in crime laboratories, and I enjoy learning from them as I practice law. It is a privilege to help them navigate the complexities of the legal world on a daily basis while also learning about the complex scientific work they conduct daily.

The LL.M. in Forensic Justice was a perfect fit for my role at the North Carolina Department of Justice. It has transformed me from a lawyer who happens to work at a crime laboratory into an integral asset within the executive leadership of my client agency. In my role, I need to be effectively bilingual – I must have a working knowledge of forensic science practices so I can assist in translation between the laboratory and the courtroom, and vice versa.

WVU Law’s LL.M. in Forensic Justice has helped me understand the most litigated points of my clients’ various disciplines. The program’s specialization in expert testimony law has directly supported my work as a criminal appellate attorney for the State of North Carolina. The breadth and attention to big-picture discussions in forensics has also given me a leg-up when advising North Carolina State Crime Laboratory on policy-level considerations.

WVU Law 2018 Sprouse Fellows

Sprouse Fellows: Work Experience and Public Service

This summer, four WVU Law students are working in public defender’s offices throughout West Virginia. They are gaining the valuable work experience and providing an important public service as recipients of the Sprouse Fellowship.

Funded through the West Virginia Fund for Law in the Public Interest, the Sprouse Fellowship awards 2L students a $5,500 stipend to work for 10 weeks in a West Virginia state or federal public defender’s office. It is named in honor of James Marshall Sprouse, a U.S. Fourth Circuit Judge and former justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.

“The Sprouse Fellowship is a competitive opportunity, and it allows students to obtain their Rule 10 practice certifications and appear in court under the supervision of a licensed attorney,” said Jennifer Powell, director of the Center for Law and Public Service. “These fellowships provide important support and staffing to busy public defender offices and their clients while giving WVU Law students practical, hands-on learning experiences.”

The 2018 Spouse Fellows are Karissa Blackburn, Jade Hamilton, Jason Neal and Ellen Walburn.

WVU Law 2013 graduate Travis Brannon

Travis Brannon: Fueling the Future

The energy sector has changed a lot since Travis Brannon ’13 started law school. 

While different sectors continue to fight over pieces of the energy pie, the pie is also getting bigger as growing demand drives global energy production, according to Brannon.

Brannon’s job is to help his clients adapt to the ever-changing environment in the globalized and connected energy economy.

An associate at K&L Gates in Pittsburgh, Brannon represents well-known oil and gas exploration and production companies, as well as other large corporate clients in the energy industry. He also serves companies involved in renewable energy resources as they step up their presence in the industry.

WVU Law 2014 Graduate Kelli Ganz Murray

Kelli Ganz Murray: A Goal, Work Ethic and Compassion

As a law student, Kelli Ganz Murray '14 had worked as summer intern for the Massachusetts Committee for Public Counsel Services, which oversees the Boston Public Defender Division. After that experience, she made it her goal to return to the city as a public defender.

Following graduation, Murray moved permanently to Boston in order to take advantage of opportunities that would help her achieve that career goal. She passed the Massachusetts and New York bar exams and she secured a clerkship with the Honorable M. Page Kelley of the United States District Court in Boston.

“I learned an incredible amount from Judge Kelley, who began her own career as a public defender. She helped me make great contacts and get my foot in the door at the public defender agency,” Murray said.

Following her clerkship, Murray spent two years as a public defender for an area north of Boston. The county is notoriously rough and Murray endured long work days and a long commute, but it paid off.

WVU Law EILC Client UMuseUs

UMuseUs: A High-Tech Clinic Client

Justin Whitman wants West Virginia to be a hub for the technology industry, beginning with his own high-tech startup, UMuseUs.

"When I moved to Berkeley County from northern Virginia in 2008, there weren't many tech or business ventures in West Virginia, so I had to create my own opportunities," Whitman said. "So I did corporate consulting for Fortune 100 and 500 companies. Then I decided that putting my best foot forward in West Virginia would be to start a tech venture here."

UMuseUs is a multifaceted, interactive social platform that is centered around music of all genres. The website, UMuseUs.com, uses proprietary software to "provide platforms, venues and resources that empower musicians and music lovers to share, discover, interact, create and more."

"UMu se U s allows you to say, 'I'm a guitar player. Th is is what I look like. H ere's an audio or video clip of what I sound like, or here is some of my original work'. Bands are able to find someone to play with them who is qualified, ju st like a recruiter does when they're trying to fill a job," Whitman explained. "It also allows music lovers to discov er new artists and become a musician's first fan. And it allo ws musicians of all ages to showcase their skillset from home and have an avenue for others to hear their music and give them feedback," he said.

WVU Law Marlon Rhine '15

Marlon Rhine: Balancing His Practice with His Passion

When he was a law student, Marlon Rhine ’14 lived a double life.

Before he came to WVU Law, Rhine was a multi-instrument musician for several touring bands. While he lived in Morgantown, the Georgia-native played drums in a local band with a classmate, performing throughout West Virginia.

In between classes, homework and gigs, the Emory University graduate was also tour manager for the late Colonel Bruce Hampton, a founding member of Atlanta’s avant-garde Hampton Grease Band.

“One Sunday afternoon, I went to a music festival in Virginia with Colonel Bruce,” Rhine recalled. “I was there having lunch with big-name musicians one day, and then the next day, I was on Law School Hill sitting in Professor Cardi’s bankruptcy class.”

WVU Law students Jamie Crestfield and Christian Wilson

Crestfield and Wilson Sharpen Skills at the NLRB

An externship with a federal agency helped two students begin their final year of law school with a valuable skillset.

Jamie Crestfield and Christian Wilson worked for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) regional office in Pittsburgh over the summer. Their efforts focused on taking witness affidavits and conducting legal research for a large unfair labor practice case.

In the process, they also gained experience navigating a complex administrative legal system — a job skill that is needed in a variety of fields such as healthcare, government and energy law.

Crestfield and Wilson began law school with aspirations in sports law and that led them to take labor law classes. Some aspects of sports and labor law are especially alike when it comes to collective bargaining and dealing with unions.

WVU Law Americorps Volunteers Allison Eckman and Rob Donaldson

WVU Law's VISTAs are helping communities

Attorneys and students in the WVU's Land Use and Sustainable Development(LUSD) Law Clinic work many hours of pro bono service to help the state’s communities develop and grow strategically — but they aren’t doing it alone.

Allison Eckman and Rob Donaldson are Americorps Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) who have committed a year of service helping the LUSD Law Clinic and West Virginia communities create and implement comprehensive plans.

The goal of an Americorps VISTA is to support work that alleviates poverty and advances communities. The LUSD VISTAs meet that goal by working with the public to improve shareholder engagement and facilitate public meetings, workshops and trainings that surround the comprehensive planning process.

Rob Donaldson began working with the LUSD Clinic in November 2016 on a comprehensive plan for McDowell County. He is based at the WVU Beckley Campus and frequents meetings in the communities of War, Gary, Welch, Northfolk, Iaeger, and Keystone.

WVU Law 3L Katie Hutchison at the Inner Harbor in Baltimore

Katie Hutchison: A path to helping refugees

Opportunities at WVU Law sparked Katie Hutchison’s interest in the plight of refugees and ultimately led her to a prestigious legal internship at the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Baltimore, Maryland.

“Working with the IRC is helping me engage with cultures and understand humanitarian crises that were never on my radar before,” said Hutchison, a rising 3L.

Hutchison’s interest in refugee law began two summers ago when she attended a lecture at the University of Guanajuato in Mexico as part of the college’s study abroad program.

She returned to WVU Law and immersed herself in classes on international law, refugee and asylum law, and immigration law. Outside the classroom, Hutchison took advantage of an opportunity to work with Professor James Friedberg to conduct research on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

WVU Law CJ Reid Class of 2017

CJ Reid: Career-building summers lead to a pro bono record

CJ Reid graduated from WVU Law in May and his main focus this summer is preparing for — and passing — the bar exam.  

Like dedicated law students everywhere, Reid spent his last two law school summers gaining valuable work experience that would give his career a boost.

Along the way, though, Reid did something remarkable. He amassed an amazing 840 hours of pro bono legal service — more than any WVU Law student has ever done.

A student earning 200 pro bono hours while in law school is outstanding, according to Jennifer Powell, director of WVU Law’s Center for Law and Public Service.

WVU Law Maggie Power at Atlanta CDC

Maggie Power: Practicing at the Intersection of Public Health and the Law

At the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, they often say that the first tool in improving public health is studying patterns and the second tool is the law.

Maggie Power, a WVU Law 3L, follows that maxim every day in her externship as a research attorney for the CDC’s Public Health Law Program.

Power is combining her background in public health with her legal education. Her job is studying how law acts as a factor in the cause, distribution and prevention of health-related issues. She also provides technical assistance to local, state, tribal and territorial governments looking to improve their public health laws.

Instead of taking the usual courses in her final semester of law school, Power opted for WVU Law’s Federal Agency and Judicial Externship course. The course allows students to work full-time in a federal or judicial agency to apply their legal training in a professional setting. They meet remotely with their professor and complete a research paper and reflective writing assignments for course credit.

WVU Law Micki Biggs

Biggs, Holbrook and Waldie: Serving West Virginia as Post-Grad Fellows

Three 2016 graduates of WVU Law are spending a year serving local communities as public interest lawyers.

Patrick Holbrook, Susan Waldie and Micki Biggs were each awarded post-graduate fellowships by the West Virginia Fund for Law in the Public Interest. As fellows, they receive $46,000 to cover their salary and benefits while working in a West Virginia legal services organization until October 2017.

“There’s a lack of access to justice in West Virginia for those who can’t afford it,” said Jennifer Powell, director of the Center for Law and Public Service at WVU Law. “Funding a full-time, licensed attorney to work in these organizations really helps, in a direct way, to provide additional legal services to people who are in desperate need of them.”

WVU Law Micki Biggs

WVU Law Operation Haitian Christmas

Vernot and Young: Helping out in Haiti

Two students recently extended the reach of WVU Law’s public service by helping families in Haiti.

Veronique Vernot and Shane Young traveled to Haiti over winter break to help residents rebuild their lives following the widespread destruction caused by Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and an earthquake in 2010.

With the help of Vernot’s family, the pair traveled across Haiti to deliver toys, clothes and food to families devastated by the two natural disasters. They had gathered the donated items from the College of Law and institutions around West Virginia and the United States.

While in Haiti, Young and Vernot also helped assess damage to homes for NGOs working to rebuild communities in the island nation. 

Lisa Hartline

Lisa Hartline: A Fellowship Grant Provides Professional Opportunities

MORGANTOWN, WEST VIRGINIA — A fellowship last summer provided WVU Law 3L Lisa Hartline with the experience and confidence she wanted before embarking on her legal career.

Hartline spent 10 weeks in the Parkersburg office of Legal Aid of West Virginia. She was the program’s first recipient of the Regina Charon Fellowship, worth more than $5,000.

As allowed by West Virginia Judiciary Rule 10, Hartline was able to represent her clients in court under supervision of an attorney.

“Now, after getting the full experience of being a working attorney, it’s been hard to just be a student again,” said Hartline. “I feel I’m ready to go from being a law student to a professional lawyer.”

WVU Law Jen Bauer SEC extern

Jennifer L. Bauer: A Support System for Success

A successful externship has given Jennifer Bauer a support system to explore a future full of possibilities.

For 10 weeks last summer, the WVU Law 3L was among a cadre of elite externs at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in Washington, DC. She worked alongside law, business and cyber security students from schools such as Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Georgetown, Northwestern, the University of Florida and Vanderbilt.

Bauer was the only law student working for the General Counsel in the SEC’s Office of Compliance, Inspections and Examinations (OCIE), but she shared office space with 13 other externs.

This group soon became close knit and brought varying educational and professional backgrounds, stories and advice to the workplace, according to Bauer.

WVU Law Nathan Maxwell

Meet Nathan Maxwell, Cleckley Fellow

Nathan Maxwell says he can’t describe how great it is to be at the WVU College of Law.

In August, the 2016 graduate of the University of Chicago School of Law started his two-year term as the Justice Franklin D. Cleckley Fellow with the West Virginia Innocence Project (WVIP) law clinic.

“Most lawyers have five to 10 years of other experience under their belt before they get a chance to do this kind of work full-time,” said Maxwell, “I am very grateful for the opportunity and proud to have a position named for Justice Cleckley, a brilliant jurist and legal scholar.”

The Cleckley Fellowship was established in 2014 in honor of the first African American to serve on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. Cleckley is the Arthur B. Hodges Professor of Law Emeritus at WVU. He taught at the College of Law for more than four decades before retiring in 2013.

Stephanie Welsh

Welsh exemplifies student involvement in pursuit of career goals

As the students at WVU Law pursue their educational and career goals, they are also contributing to the culture of excellence that helps define the college.

Day to day, WVU Law students are diligently at work outside the classroom, ensuring the success of various projects from student organization events and fundraisers to community service efforts. One of those who routinely dedicates her time to these endeavors is Stephanie Welsh, who graduates in May.

Between serving as the  Student Bar Association (SBA) Community Service Chair and the Vice President of the  Public Interest Advocates (PIA), Welsh’s hard work has been invaluable to the WVU Law community.

The SBA 5k that Welsh organized this year raised over $1,300 for Legal Aid of West Virginia. She was also instrumental in the Veteran Thank You Project that sent cards and tokens of appreciation to U.S. soldiers overseas.

Art Wolf

Art Wolf: Army prepared veteran for success at the WVU Law

MORGANTOWN, WEST VIRGINIA—As a combat trainer in the U.S. Army, Art Wolf’s personal motto was to always care for and put others first.

“The philosophy I tried to convey was that being a professional soldier is not about using your abilities to bring harm to others, it is about using those abilities to protect and help those in harm’s way,” said Wolf, a former sergeant who served in the 24th Infantry Division and the 1st Ranger Battalion.

Now an aspiring lawyer, Wolf is drawing on his military experiences as a second-year student at the West Virginia University College of Law. “I feel that my time in the military was beneficial to my approach in law school because I learned that success comes from your state of mind, discipline, and hard work,” he said.

Wolf’s approach to law school is working. He was recently named top student in his Alternate Dispute Resolution class and he serves as a certified magistrate court mediator, developing practice-ready skills. He also works in the George R. Framer, Jr. Law Library and, last semester, he was a teaching assistant. Another measure of Wolf’s success at law school comes from his classmates. 

A Passion for Justice

Valena Beety - A Passion for Justice

Since joining the WVU Law faculty in 2012, Associate Professor Valena Beety’s passion for justice has made a significant impact on her students, fellow faculty members, and the legal community.

Professor Beety’s expertise is in criminal procedure, causes of wrongful convictions, and post-conviction litigation. She is the deputy director of the  Clinical Law Program and chair of the  West Virginia Innocence Project, a clinic that provides free legal representation to individuals seeking to prove their innocence of crimes for which they have been convicted.

The West Virginia Innocence Project recently won the release of  an innocent man. It also successfully won the right for new DNA testing in a  controversial rape case. With retired judge O.C. Spaulding, the WV Innocence Project is also working on legislation to mandate the recording of the entire police interrogation process.

In spring 2014, Professor Beety was elected to the Board of Directors of the Innocence Network, which represents organizations in 46 states and several countries. In 2013, she was awarded a  Big XII Fellowship and spent two weeks in residency at the University of Texas School of Law. The focus of her research was the growing roles of clemency and forensic science in Texas and West Virginia.

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