Honoring the talented class of 2008

May 16, 2008Duke Law News

May 16, 2008 — American Bar Association President William H. Neukom urged members of the Class of 2008 to serve as “useful citizens” through volunteerism and pro bono service, and to commit themselves to preserving and advancing the rule of law at home and abroad, when he addressed them at their hooding ceremony on May 10.

The event in Cameron Indoor Stadium honored 201 JD graduates, 17 of whom also received LLM degrees in international and comparative law and 38 of whom also earned degrees from other Duke University schools and programs; and 81 lawyers from 34 countries who earned an LLM in American law.

Neukom described the rule of law as a central foundation for “communities of hope and purpose,” as opposed to those beset by violence, corruption, and rampant poverty, among other social ills. He called on the graduates to be leaders of a “multi-disciplinary movement” dedicated to stewardship of the rule of law, one that engages educators, members of the clergy and media, scientists, and military leaders, among others. “[Reach] out to colleagues from those kinds of disciplines — I encourage you to do that starting tomorrow,” said Neukom, a partner with Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Preston Gates Ellis in Seattle, and former lead counsel for Microsoft.

Noting that 80 percent of indigent Americans lack access to civil justice and many criminal defendants lack access to “competent representation,” Neukom reminded the graduates that pro bono service is “the highest calling” of the bar. “Lawyers have the central role in delivering access to justice to everyone in the communities where we work and live,” he said. “Pro bono work should go beyond the representation of individuals and small groups. It should include interventions that can bring about genuine, large-scale change. That means class action litigation, lawsuits, and lobbying.

“As John F. Kennedy may have said to you, ‘Do not shy away from leadership. You are well equipped to lead,’” said Neukom, adding that maintaining work-life balance by nurturing hobbies, humor, family, and friends is also important. “Make time to take care of your private self. Keep that basketball pumped up.”

Dean David F. Levi commended the graduates for the excellence of their contributions to the academic and intellectual life of the Law School through their scholarly journals and initiative in arranging talks, conferences, and symposia. He also praised their commitment to community service sparked in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which struck the Gulf Coast just days after the JD class started their 1L studies, motivating students to lead Duke University’s hurricane relief efforts.

“Katrina sparked a commitment in you to community service that has not waned,” he said. “Many of you gave up your spring breaks to work in underserved communities … including areas still struggling to recover from Katrina.” Levi noted that over their law school years, the number of pro bono groups more than doubled, with the graduates devoting more than 18,700 hours of pro bono service and community service through clinical programs.

Speaking on behalf of the JD class, Joshua “Brandon” Neal suggested to his classmates that they view the societal “storms all about us” — turmoil in the economy, wars, rising food and gas prices, and shake-ups in the legal market — as opportunities. “The best time to leave a lasting footprint is during a storm,” Neal said. “I propose to you today that there is no better time for the class of 2008 to leave our footprint on this world than right now in the midst of all this adversity. … I know our community, our country, our world will be a better place in part because of Duke Law’s class of 2008.”

Jaclyn Rabin, speaking for the LLM graduates, remarked on the personal and professional bonds formed among the group of attorneys “from every corner of the world,” in some cases from countries and cultures in conflict. Noting their exceptional talents and depth of experience, she urged them to let themselves “get a little messy in life. Do not simply fit neatly into a box that has been created by you or proscribed by those who view you. Embrace your differences and … never be afraid to say what needs to be said.”

After being welcomed into the “family” of Duke Law alumni by Board of Visitors Chairman Michael Dockterman ’78 who encouraged the graduates to view the Law School as a “haven” where they can return and refresh through their careers, Levi offered parting advice.

“You now have the skill and you will soon have the duty to preserve the Constitution and to heal the social fabric. Do not hesitate to do so,” he said. “Approach your career and your life in the law with a spirit of adventure and optimism. Do not be frightened to try different kinds of law practice, including public service. You are … capable of adapting to new situations and challenges by using the professional tools and judgment that you have learned here at Duke Law School.”

Class of 2008 honorees

Justin Miller Awards:
The Justin Miller Awards honor members of the graduating class who Duke Law students indicate have made significant contributions to the Law School community.
  • Integrity — Jennifer Avery
  • Intellectual curiosity — Jennifer Wimsatt
  • Citizenship — Matthew Wolfe
  • Leadership — Kristina Johnson

The LLM Award for Leadership and Community Participation was shared by Carlos Gabriel Kaplan (Argentina) and Masaya Tsuda (Japan).

Faculty Awards for student service and intellectual contributions:
  • Advocacy — Katherine Crawford
  • Community service — Kristina Johnson
  • Pro bono service — Matthew Wolfe
  • Public service — Emily Jura
  • Business organization and finance — Travis Souza
  • Clinical practice — Christopher Lott
  • Constitutional law and civil rights — Abby Dennis
  • Criminal law and procedure — Jerome Maiatico
  • Dispute resolution — Pamela Sisson
  • Environmental law — Marjorie Mulhall and Sean Roberts
  • Family law — Meredith Levy
  • Intellectual property and technology — Daniel Simon
  • Interdisciplinary studies — Samuel Burr Eckstut
  • International, transnational, and comparative law — Catherine Gibson
  • Labor and employment law — Michael Oswalt
  • Legal theory — Kish Vinayagamoorthy
  • Property law — Alexandra Wyatt
  • Regulatory law — Jade Totman
  • Tax and estate planning — Ann Marie Tigani


Photo galleries from graduation weekend: