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Larger than life: Matthew Wallace represents students nationwide

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Matthew Wallace
Matthew Wallace confers with Gabrielle Bull, also a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. Photo courtesy of Syracuse University College of Law.

Can you imagine being the voice of 140,000 law students nationwide? Matthew Wallace can since that’s his current role as the ABA Law Student Division law student at-large to the ABA Board of Governors. His overarching goals in representing law students throughout the country are transparency, advocacy, and solidarity.

These concepts have guided his representation throughout his term this year and will likely remain prevalent when the next student representative fills his shoes.

Why transparency is critical

“I was concerned by the recent closures of law schools across the country, as well as the mounting student debt crisis,” said the 3L student at Syracuse University College of Law. “While I want all students to achieve their dream of being a lawyer, I also believe in setting practical expectations so that every student knows what lies ahead.”

To achieve this concept, Wallace has continued the work of previous LSD leadership in working to allow undocumented students to take bar exams. He has also worked to renew the ABA’s commitment to its advocacy for public service loan forgiveness.

A resolution Wallace has been very active advocating for is the upcoming change to ABA Standard 316. The modification would require that all law schools have a 75 percent bar pass rate within two years of graduation for each class or risk losing accreditation.

“While this resolution aligns with my goal of promoting transparency by ensuring that law schools adequately prepare students who can pass the bar, it also presented unprecedented challenges in that it would jeopardize the accreditation of schools with a high minority attendance,” Wallace said. “It’s for this reason that the LSD voted to oppose this resolution and actively campaigned against it at the 2019 ABA Midyear Meeting.”

Wallace is frank in his thoughts for the future of the ABA. “As our demographics and the world around us morph daily, we stand at a threshold never encountered before,” he said. “When people look back at my time on the LSD Council, I want them to see someone who successfully navigated the relentless changes and left the LSD in a position to succeed moving forward.”

A history of advocacy

In his role as the law student at-large on the Board of Governors, Wallace speaks on behalf of all 140,000 law students before the board and the association. “With a 44-member board, it’s easy to see how the law student voice could be drowned out in a sea of strong personalities,” Wallace said. “To counter this, I consistently remind myself that law students represent the largest majority of ABA members and the future of the profession.

“We deserve a right to help craft the future of the ABA, and that’s a message I’m proud to carry forward before the board,” he said.

Wallace’s background certainly supports the notion that he has always advocated for others. Since high school, he has participated in advocacy competitions, speech and debate, Model United Nations, and trial teams.

“I believe that a single passionate voice, with the right message, can change hearts and minds,” Wallace said. He brings these skills outside the classroom and courtroom into the community. “Our profession has become more visible than ever before,” he said, commenting on the Trump administration. “No longer are we seen solely as money-hungry sharks but as defenders of something bigger than ourselves: Life, liberty, and morality.”

Seeking tangible change

As an LSD board member, Wallace has helped co-sponsor eight resolutions on topics ranging from guns in schools to mothers’ rooms in courthouses.

“The LSD is currently building a coalition around its own resolution that will hopefully expand the Pro Bono Scholars Program,” Wallace said of his current project. “The program, tested in New York, allows 3Ls to spend their last semester in full-time pro bono practice in exchange for permission to take the February bar during their 3L year. This allows students to get a jump on the job market while fulfilling an important need in the understaffed legal services community.”

Within the ABA, Wallace has been active in its restructuring. Throughout the summer of 2018 and leading up to the Annual Meeting in August, the organization developed a new membership structure that simplified the association and its dues structure.

“I’m proud to say that this restructuring, after much tense debate within the board and the House of Delegates, passed in August 2018,” Wallace said. “I’m confident this move has set the ABA up for another golden era of advocacy and success as today’s students enter the ranks of lawyers.”

Solidarity with all colleagues

Throughout all of this, support for diversity has remained steadfast within Wallace, who believes all lawyers benefit from diversity.

“I urged the ABA to continue to reach out to underrepresented communities in the law, to tear down barriers that prevent access to justice across the country, and to remind ourselves on a daily basis that the MeToo movement isn’t absent in our law schools or our profession,” he said.

Wallace, who enrolled in the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps while completing his bachelor’s degree in political science at the University of Washington, was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. In his post-undergrad summer, Wallace reported to the Pentagon, where he worked as part of an operations and international law joint-force team within the U.S. Department of Defense.

“I participated in the legal evaluation of new battlefield technology, the development of the military’s transgender integration policy, and the American response to the ongoing dispute in the South China Sea,” he said.

One of his passions is to give back to the military community. “I dedicate my pro bono efforts to veterans’ claims and military discharge upgrades before the services’ discharge review boards,” he said. A future goal includes serving as an Army judge advocate general, and he will return to its corps in 2020.

A man with high hopes

“I hope to achieve one major additional goal: To expand the advocacy power of law students within the ABA,” Wallace said. “As the lawyers from the greatest generation retire, young lawyers are going to be an increasingly large segment of lawyers nationally. Thus, I believe we should have a greater say in the direction of the association.”

Law students currently have four voting delegates in a house of several hundred delegates. To that end, Wallace is drafting a resolution that would bring the number of law student delegates equal to the size of their council— which is seven—and proportional to other similarly sized divisions.

Wallace hopes the student who fills his shoes will refocus the position from being reactive to proactive. “In a time of great change such as this, I’m often reacting to items that come my way and ensuring that law students get their voices heard in the matter,” he said. “As the ABA and the political turmoil of the day stabilizes, it’s my hope that future LSD councils can propose more resolutions, be involved in drafting others, and advocate from beginning to end in ways that best serve all law students.”

You can join the effort

Wallace says law students have the power to effect real change within the ABA, and the LSD needs passionate leaders who can advocate for the future.

“I’ve worked tirelessly to ensure that today’s students are prepared for the world that lies ahead, and I hope others are inspired to do the same,” he said. “Whether that’s by working within your student bar association, your local or state bar association, or by serving actively within the ABA, the opportunities to lead are certainly out there. The future belongs to those of us who seek it.”

As Wallace’s term comes to an end, he reflects on his service. “I’ll always look back on this experience as a year that truly shaped who I am and what I stand for,” he said. “It has also further confirmed to me that a unified voice, with the right messaging, can be the most powerful thing in the world. “Never miss a chance to embrace that goal and look out for each other,” he advised. “In this ever-changing world, it’s the least we can do. I look forward to standing beside each and every law student nationwide moving forward.”

If you have questions or are interested in serving as the law student at-large in the future, contact Wallace at mwwallac@syr.edu.

Dayna Maeder Dayna Maeder is a civil litigation attorney at McConnaughhay, Coonrod, Pope, Weaver, & Stern, P.A., working with state agencies and national insurance corporations. Dayna is a YLD associate editor who enjoys her volunteer work as a litigation consultant and trial advocate trainer for the Leon County Teen Court program.