Passionate AdvocateApril 5, 2012 |
by Jamal Eric Watson
To Amos Jones, the famous caricature of professors as having little consequence to real people is inapt when the academicians happen to be attorneys. Like many law professors of color, Jones concentrates his academic work in the realm of real problems — “business problems and social problems, too,” he says.
“Law professors are elevated from the ranks of attorneys, and virtually all of us spent meaningful years in full-time practice before entering the academy,” says Jones, an assistant professor of law at Campbell University’s Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law in Raleigh, N.C.
Jones specializes in employment agreements and has, in recent years, become a sought-after consultant and commentator on legal issues facing higher education. In addition to teaching and writing in the area of discrimination, he consults on a number of high-profile cases involving minority academics alleging various forms of discrimination at their institutions.
“At one point, my clients included a Ph.D. in Ohio, a Th.D. in Kentucky and a D.M.A. in Indiana,” he says. “Those matters were opened before I arrived in Raleigh but morphed into ongoing concerns on which I now work as co-counsel.”
A former visiting assistant professor of constitutional law at the historically Black North Carolina Central University School of Law in Durham, Jones came to Campbell — whose law school relocated in 2009 from the tiny town of Buies Creek to downtown Raleigh — after having published several law-review articles since 2005. Those pieces included a seminal article in the Thurgood Marshall Law Review about then-Sen. Barack Obama and the problem of racial classification, especially with regard to affirmative action entitlement.
Consulting Complements Teaching
With a law degree from Harvard and a one-year Fulbright Fellowship that followed at the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Comparative Constitutional Studies, Jones is among those American law professors who elect to engage in some form of outside consulting. For Jones, those areas are contracts and employment. He says that serving as a professor and maintaining an active bar membership allow him to devote some time outside the classroom to pro bono representation as well as to select matters that firms with financial constraints might not be willing to take on.
Jones, 34, who worked as a journalist before entering law school, says he had not expected that a 2010 wrongful-termination case alleging racial discrimination and breach of contract in Kentucky would catapult him and his client to national prominence as an appellate advocate on the case.
Dr. Jimmy Kirby had been a tenured professor for years and was the only Black professor for nearly all of his 15-year employment on the faculty of Lexington Theological Seminary — the flagship seminary of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) denomination. He was fired from his position in 2009 as part of an effort by seminary officials to cut costs. Kirby, who is Black, says that he was also the victim of racial discrimination and filed suit. A lower court ruled that the seminary was exempt from all employment suits under the doctrine of “ecclesiastical abstention.” Jones is appealing the ruling.
At Harvard, Jones served as a research assistant to prominent law professors Charles J. Ogletree and Lani Guinier and was the executive editor of the Harvard BlackLetter Law Journal and the Harvard Human Rights Journal.
Jones is unapologetic in his commitment to advocating for those who find themselves on the academy’s margins.
“There’s so much talk of service and altruism among today’s intellectual elites,” Jones says. “For a law professor whose teaching and research focus [is] on real-world problems, there are manifold opportunities to serve within the academy and also among the public. I love what I’m doing.”