Having done undergrad at Meredith and graduate school at UNC-Chapel Hill, what made
you choose Wake Forest for law school?
Wake Forest was sentimental. I grew up near by, in Lexington, NC. I was attracted to
its luster and reputation for service. I wanted to give back. With Wake’s Pro Humanitate
moto, there is a responsibility among students to give back. Throughout law school, was
your plan always to practice family law, or was there a particular instance that influenced
you to pursue this topic?
“I’m laughing because I did not even take the course in family law. I was not
planning to teach family law, it was my pro bono work in the practice of law that lead me to
family law; and it was the time to develop my professional identify. When I was in law
school, it was the time when there was the most significant litigation over gender
discrimination. Gender discrimination was litigated in the US Supreme Court when I was in
law school, so that really helped me figure out who I would be as a lawyer. Even though I
did not take family law, I did see that family law is where gender discrimination was
particularly onerous. The way family laws were written then, they discriminated against
women in the family and that, I thought, was odious. While I was in law school, the lawsuits
that were being litigated, several of the most important ones, were being pursued by Ruth
Bader Ginsburg, who was a young lawyer with ACLU. Through Wake Forest, I’ve developed
a personal relationship with her, which as been the highlight of my professional life.
When I graduated, I practiced commercial and real estate litigation in what was then
a big firm in Greensboro, NC. But I decided from my pro bono work that I would do
something related to family law. So, I taught myself enough to pursue those cases. The way
the law was wrong in the family planted the seed for me, and decided if I ever taught—I
would teach family law.—if I ever returned to the law school to teach.
I was a Guardian Ad Litem for a child and in the course of that, saw that parents
weren’t being fairly treated. I saw discrimination against these parents and I was
representing the child, so I couldn’t advise them except t to advise them to a get a lawyer. In
that conflict, you’re never violating your obligation to represent someone the best you can
if you advise someone else that they need legal assistance; because that makes the system
work. So I did advise those parents to get representation, because their rights were being
trampled on. I have such respect for the family as an institution and what the family means
for the workings of a democracy. You can’t have a strong democracy if you don’t have
strong people; and psychologists and sociologists will tell us that starts in the family.
In another case, an alimony case, this poor women had just been beaten down
emotionally all her life, starting in her family and her childhood. This continued through
her terrible marriage. We won her alimony case, and got her just a pittance of alimony—
but it was the point, that someone had heard her, that I had heard her and enabled her to
be heard by the judge. We went out after that little alimony case, which was so insignificant
in the eyes of the law and we really didn’t win very much; but she insisted on buying a
bottle of champagne to celebrate. There were tears streaming down her face. It was the
power of what a lawyer can do; not newsworthy in any way, but to make a different in that