Record number of students enroll in short courses for Wintersession
The half-credit courses focus on practical skills and professional development across several areas of law.
Duke Law School’s Wintersession continued to break records this year, enrolling 555 students interested in learning about topics ranging from corporate litigation and prosecutorial ethics to the role of gender and culture in negotiating.
For the 11th year, students spent the week before the start of the spring semester sampling from 34 half-credit professional skills classes taught by leading scholars and current practitioners, many of them Duke Law faculty or alumni. Enrollment in the program, which is not mandatory, increased 11% from last year.
Students who participated said they appreciated the chance to explore some areas of law in greater depth or to learn practical skills that are not always included in the curriculum.
Marie Cepeda Mekosh ’23 signed up for two courses: Lawyering for Systemic Change: A School Policing Case Study and Deposition Practice. She said that the first course, taught by Senior Lecturing Fellow Peggy Nicholson, “gave me a much better understanding of how social change works and how lawyers can better serve the communities with which they work. I appreciated thinking creatively about how lawyers in a variety of positions can work within the constraints of their roles to advance change at a systems level.”
In her deposition course, taught by Lily Farel ’06, Mekosh got started on building skills that will be essential to her future role as a civil rights litigator.
“I wanted to learn more about depositions since they make up an important part of trial preparation,” she said. “I had never even seen a deposition before this course, but this course equipped me with an understanding of the building blocks of taking a deposition – from how to prepare for a deposition, to how to build rapport with the deponent, to how to deal with difficult deponents.”
She praised both of her instructors for fostering learning and communication around complex topics, and said she appreciated the opportunity that Wintersession provides to learn about and gain experience in subjects that are not normally part of the Law School curriculum.
“I thought it was a great experience,” Mekosh said.
Alumni give back
Many alumni come back year after year to teach courses at Wintersession. Farel, senior manager at SAS Institute Inc., wrapped her fourth year teaching Wintersesion with her Deposition Practice class.
“My two goals for the class are to give the students a sense of what a deposition looks like and to provide the practical experience of taking and defending a mock deposition,” she said. She worried that the online format this year might be a challenge, “but I was floored by the ease with which the students pivoted to conducting class via Zoom. They even used various Zoom functions to enhance their depositions.”
Farel also praised the students for their intelligence and curiosity, and she praised the program overall.
“I am always struck by how well run and how much fun the program is,” she said. “This year was no exception, even with the change to virtual.”
For his third year at Wintersession, Jeff Zhang ’05, a partner in Orrick’s Beijing and New York offices, taught a course on the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) and cross-border mergers and acquisitions. He said the course “not only provides me an opportunity to contribute back to my alma mater in a small way, but it’s also a way to stay intellectually connected with the Duke Law community. Plus, I always enjoy teaching.”
Lisa Simpson ’94, a partner in Orrick’s New York office, taught her fifth year of Wintersession. Her class, Advising Clients on Use of Trademarks and Copyrighted Material, considers real-life examples from actual disputes that cover a wide range of industries and media, including video games, sporting events, fashion items, medical devices, food products, plays, books, songs, photographs, and computer code.
“I love teaching this class, and I love Duke students,” she said. “They are the best – always engaged, quick to learn and apply the material, thoughtful in their analysis, and excited to master a new area. This experience always renews my love for this area of the law and for teaching. It is fun to take a fresh look at cases I have litigated and that courts have struggled with.”
Students who enrolled in Wintersession this term said that the short courses had a big impact.
Sasha Kahn ’23 said he took Basics of Accounting to shed some light on a previously difficult topic.
“Two days of class demystified what I thought was an impenetrable subject, one that kept me from pursuing opportunities where accounting might have been involved,” he said. He added that the class “will surely be of use in ways I never thought it would. I no longer feel the need to shy away from conversations when someone says ‘balance sheets,’ and that, alone, will have made the class worth it.”
He took another course, The Decision-Making Process in a Death Penalty Case, to gain insights into an area of law that he wishes to practice.
“My dream is to work in public defense with a focus on capital habeas work,” Kahn said. “I dealt with several death penalty cases at varying stages of the process during my summer internship, but this course allowed me to see the process from ‘the other side,’ taking us through what death penalty-certification looks like in several cases. It was fascinating to do.”
Sydney Engle ’23 took two courses on litigation. She said the sample contracts and disputes discussed in Litigation Strategy in the Corporate Context “highlighted that attorneys must balance various financial, ethical, and strategic considerations when giving their clients legal advice.”
Engle said her other class, Current Problems in Antitrust Litigation, “helped [her] to see that being a successful litigator, in antitrust or in other fields, requires an awareness of both the core doctrine and the relevant policy rationales.”
Though this year’s Wintersession had to take place virtually because of the continuing COVID pandemic, instructors and students reported that classes were both energizing and effective.
“Even while navigating the vagaries of COVID and a Zoom class, I find that Duke students are engaged and engaging,” said Paige Gentry ’13, deputy general counsel of an affordable housing agency in Maryland, who returned for the fourth year to teach Leadership and Communication in the Law with Elle Gilley ’13, senior counsel at Takeda. “Elle and I continue to learn new things from our students every year. We appreciate their participation and great questions.”