Course Examines ‘Lawyer’s Role in Urban Revitalization’

On the first day of the 2013 Intersession course, The Lawyer’s Role in Urban Revitalization: St. Louis as a Case Study, instructor Ryan Rippel taped a map of the St. Louis, Missouri, region to the whiteboard board in the front of the room.

The map showed the City of St. Louis surrounded by a brightly colored crazy quilt of 90 municipalities that largely make up St. Louis County. Some have fewer than 1,000 citizens. Some rely heavily on alternative revenues. Some depend on St. Louis County for critical services, like police protection. And, for the most part, they all think of themselves as “St. Louis.”

Rippel, a Missouri native who is now a program officer at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle, Washington, admitted to being “obsessed with St. Louis” before challenging the more than 46 upper-level law students in the class to think about the map’s legal, social, and cultural implications—and what lawyers can, or should, do about them.

Using the map as a daily touchstone, Rippel led a weeklong excursion through the history of the region’s development, the pros and cons of so many municipalities in one metropolitan area, and the role the legal profession can play in the larger context of public service. To provide different perspectives, Rippel brought in several prominent St. Louisans as guest speakers:

  • Vince Schoemehl, former St. Louis mayor and current president and CEO of Grand Center, Inc.
  • Frankie Freeman, attorney and civil rights leader
  • Colonel Tim Fitch, chief of police for St. Louis County
  • Chris Krehmeyer, president and CEO of the nonprofit Beyond Housing
  • Bill Danforth,Washington University’s 13th chancellor; and
  • Ned Lemkemeier, JD ’62, senior council at Bryan Cave LLP, who worked with Danforth on the landmark St. Louis school voluntary desegregation plan.

The course also included a field trip to Old North St. Louis, a distressed part of St. Louis City that is currently undergoing a significant revitalization effort. Here, students learned firsthand about the opportunities and challenges of revitalizing a long-neglected part of St. Louis’ urban core from Sean Thomas, executive director of Old North Saint Louis Restoration Group, and Tino Ochoa, an associate at Bryan Cave and president of the Old North group’s board of directors.

On the last day of the course, students worked together in groups to develop their own plans for the map before writing up their recommendations for the St. Louis region. Most of their ideas focused on a hybrid of local and regional approaches. Students were then asked how lawyers, in particular, can play a part in urban revitalization. Responses ranged from serving as legal counsel to neighborhood revitalization organizations like Old North St. Louis to leading committees to handle abandoned property and establishing and serving on a regional commission to oversee the use of tax incentives and tax-increment financing.

“I enjoyed the class because it offered a unique blend of law, policy, history, and political science,” says third-year law student Zoran Tasic. “Using St. Louis as a case provided focus to the course and enabled coverage of a wide range of issues, including local government structure, zoning, racial segregation, tax incentives, regional fragmentation, and inequality. The course challenged me to think much more rigorously about the critical role of local government in our lives, a subject that is not usually included in the typical law school curriculum.”

Adds Rippel, “A number of students told me they plan on getting more involved in the city and seem to be tracking issues there, which is perhaps the best outcome I could ever hope for. I am very grateful to have had the chance to be part of the Washington University School of Law community.” 

Upper-Level Intersession Courses Provide Diverse Opportunities

In addition to The Lawyer’s Role in Urban Revitalization, the 2013 Intersession provided upper-level students with a diverse group of courses touching on many areas of the law.

  • Animal Law: Professor Kathy Hessler, a clinical professor of law and director of the only animal law clinic in the country at Lewis & Clark Law School, provided an overview of the emerging field of animal law and explored its connections with other areas of law, including property, torts, and constitutional law.
  • Changing Law and Legal Consciousness in Japan: Students studied a variety of recent Japanese business law issues, such as contract and commercial transactions, corporate law, and dispute resolution. Instructor Yoichiro Hamabe, a corporate and business lawyer based in Tokyo, is a member of the Waseda Law School Legal Clinic, PLC.
  • Strategies for the Business Lawyer: Modeled after current bankruptcy cases, the course provided the foundation for understanding chapter 11 bankruptcy. Instructor Jill Nicholson introduced students to chapter 11 strategies from various perspectives. Nicholson is a partner with Foley & Lardner LLP and chair of the firm’s national Bankruptcy & Business Reorganizations Practice.
  • Electronic Evidence in the Age of Cloud Computing: John Cowling, JD ’80, an Armstrong Teasdale LLP trial lawyer and partner, taught this innovative course that explored the ways electronic storage of information is changing the costs and dynamics of litigation. Specifically, the course focused on E-discovery and E-discovery rules, triggers, and preservation. Cowling practices primarily in the areas of commercial litigation, environmental litigation, and information technology law.  
  • Introduction to Firm Practice: This course prepared students for private practice by exploring how law firms are structured, generate revenue, compensate lawyers, and develop business. Instructor Michael Downey, JD ’98,  is a St. Louis litigator at Armstrong Teasdale LLP, who represents and advises law and accounting firms in civil and disciplinary matters, ethics, risk management, and other professional issues. 
  • Private Equity Transactions: Providing an introduction to the the issues and documentation that arise in private equity acquisition transactions, instructors Michael Paley and Brian D. Wolfe, JD ’07, focused on the structure, negotiation, and documentation of a private equity investment transaction. Paley is a partner in the Chicago office of Kirkland & Ellis LLP, where his practice focuses on complex business transactions, including leveraged buyouts of private and public companies, strategic mergers, acquisitions, and joint ventures. Wolfe is an associate in the Kirkland & Ellis LLP’s Chicago office, where he focuses on complex private equity and public company business transactions, including mergers and acquisitions, capital markets transactions, and corporate governance counseling.  
  • Sex Offenders in the Community—The Legal Response: Beginning with the Adam Walsh Act and similar statutes, this course reviewed history, scope, and community impact of the legislation. Instructor Joan D. Van Pelt, JD ’76, recently retired from the New Jersey Office of the Public Defender, has litigated death penalty cases, managed the Office of the Public Defender’s Appellate Section, and built and led the Alternative Commitment Unit representing men in Sexually Violent Predator Commitment proceedings.

By Timothy J. Fox