Accelerating Academic Excellence

Ten Prominent Scholars Join GW Law Faculty

December 14, 2023

Headshots for Mary Anne Franks, Omari Simmons, and Sarah Polcz

By Mary A. Dempsey

GW Law has welcomed 10 new faculty members—its largest buildout of academic expertise in recent memory—including prominent scholars who are shaping the new Health Law and Policy Program and nationally known professors who are deepening the work of the new Center for Law and Technology. Buckle your seatbelt as we introduce you to each of our new colleagues.

Barak Richman

Barak Richman

The new faculty members include Barak Richman, an economist and lawyer who joins the law school from Duke University School of Law. He co-chairs GW Law’s new Health Law and Policy Program with the Kahan Family Research Professor of Law Sonia Suter.

Richman’s interest in health law and policy dates back to his work on President Bill Clinton’s 1993 health care reform as a staff member on the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance, then chaired by Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

“I was working as staff on Capitol Hill right out of college and the committee was deliberating Hillarycare. It made me think about how the health care markets are heavily influenced by and heavily dependent on law—everything from what is subsidized and what is taxed and … what is done to make sure the markets work and the incentives are right,” he said. “It made me think about the outsized role health plays in the economy and in the law.

“That experience convinced me I wanted to be an academic,” he said. Richman, who earned degrees in urban studies and economics before studying law, said his career path was also influenced by his wife, a social scientist who joins GW Law as its first non-JD faculty member.

Laura Richman

Laura Richman

We have been joined by what I will euphemistically call a ‘secret weapon’ in Dr. Laura Richman. She is a PhD social scientist with a specialty in health psychology,” said Dean Dayna Bowen Matthew. “She brings rigorous social science data analysis capability in addition to deep understanding of the health care delivery system. We can teach our students and inform our research all while helping GW Law to provide shovel-ready solutions for policymakers around the country.”

Richman, an associate professor of social science and health law, focuses on social drivers of health. She is the author of Relational Health, How Social Connection Impacts Our Physical and Mental Well-Being, published earlier this year. Her research has received funding from the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, and private foundations.

“Students don’t realize how broad this field is. I’m hoping that will be part of this program, including through the increase in the kinds of courses and programming offered and the array of scholarship the Health Law group will do,” she said. “We’re going to have a conference in the spring that will highlight the work that others do in this area.”

The Richmans are the parents of two college students and a ninth-grader “who is adjusting to the culture shock of moving from a small North Carolina middle school to a large city high school.” Richman, who grew up in Bethesda, said she is re-discovering DC.

Sarah Polcz

Sarah Polcz

Also new to the law school is Associate Professor of Law Sarah Polcz, who was a fellow at the Center for Law and the Biosciences at Stanford University. Polcz’s work focuses on empirically testing assumptions about the psychology of creative incentives that are built into our intellectual property laws. Her projects seek to inform effective policymaking by using tools ranging from in-depth interviews and experiments, to constructing and analyzing large datasets for core copyright industries such as music. Her current projects examine how copyright law could adapt to the way new machine learning technologies are changing creative collaboration.

Because of the technology aspect of Polcz’s work, including her expertise in copyright law, she is engaged with both the Health Law and Policy Program and the new Center for Law and Technology.

Polcz and her husband are settling into DC with their three preschoolers, exploring the District’s parks and green spaces. A Canadian, she said a happy surprise is the scope of the District’s restaurant scene, which she said reminds her of the “best of Toronto and Montreal.”

Alicia Solow-Niederman

Alicia Solow-Niederman

GW Law's preeminent IP and Technology Law Program is also growing and will benefit from the expertise and research of two new privacy law superstars—Associate Professor of Law Alicia Solow-Niederman and Mary Anne Franks, the Eugene L. and Barbara A. Bernard Professor in Intellectual Property, Technology, and Civil Rights Law. 

The research of Solow-Niederman, who joined GW from the University of Iowa College of Law, focuses on privacy law, technology law, and artificial intelligence ethics and governance. She is developing a GW course on AI and the law.

“My scholarship explores how to regulate technologies in a way that reckons with social, economic, and political power,” she explained. “I am interested in how digital technologies, such as artificial intelligence, challenge regulatory approaches and expose underlying legal values. I approach these deep questions with an eye to algorithmic accountability, data governance, and information privacy.”

Solow-Niederman has longstanding links to the nation’s capital, starting with her participation in the Stanford in DC Program while in college and her work on a Senate re-election campaign. She later clerked in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia before serving as a Climenko Fellow and lecturer on law at Harvard Law School, her alma mater.

“I don’t want my work to sit on a dusty bookshelf. I want to pay attention to both practical and theoretical implications,” she said. “I want to work on scholarship that has impact.” Her research includes a paper about robot judges and whether their decisions could incorporate equity and justice considerations.

Mary Anne Franks

Mary Anne Franks

Professor Mary Anne Franks' expertise, meanwhile, encompasses family law, criminal law, the Second Amendment, and free speech issues. She studies the influence of technology on the law and is especially interested in technology’s impact on women. In 2013, she drafted the first model criminal statute on nonconsensual pornography—so-called revenge porn— which has now been adopted by several states.

Franks is the president and legislative and tech policy director of the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, a nonprofit that combats online abuse and discrimination, and has been an affiliate fellow of the Yale Law School Information Society Project since 2019. She is currently finishing her second book, Fearless Speech, on free speech and technology.

She said she was drawn to GW because it “sees itself as a place where people can learn to do good in the world,” she explained. “At GW Law, that means changing policy, changing laws, trying to revolutionize the law to make it fairer and more just.”

GW Law continues to reinforce its commitment to preparing students who are practice ready. To that end, three of the new full-time faculty members are anchored in the Fundamentals of Lawyering program.

Kayonia Whetstone

Kayonia Whetstone

Associate Professor of Fundamentals of Lawyering Kayonia Whetstone begins each of her classes with music curated to match the day’s themes. “I played ‘Wrote My Way Out’ from the Hamilton Mixtape on the first day of class,” she said. “We talked about good legal writing and the power of the pen.”

Whetstone, a native New Yorker, began her career in criminal law, working as an appellate prosecutor in the Bronx and Queens before moving to academia. She was a full-time faculty member at St. John’s University School of Law and at Howard University School of Law before joining GW.

“Since about 8 years old, I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. That’s largely because I saw unfair situations in my community—discrimination and unfairness in policing and public education. I wanted to be able to do something about them, to do work that would have a broad impact,” she said. “I am very idealistic and I believe lawyers are responsible not only to individual clients but to the broader community to be ethical and uphold standards. I’ve always tried to infuse those thoughts and perspectives into my teaching. 

“GW Law is very focused on bringing those values together for students and, from the first year, helping students build habits that make them competent lawyers who thoughtfully consider their values and duty to their clients and the public,” she added.

In addition to teaching and navigating a household that includes two children and her husband, Whetstone presents at conferences on topics ranging from criminal justice reform to the infusion of multi-media technology and cultural mindfulness in pedagogy.

Bethany Gullman

Bethany Gullman

Like Whetstone, Associate Professor of Fundamentals of Lawyering Bethany Gullman also brings an unusual twist to some of her classes. It is not music but, rather, the use of images to explain complicated legal issues.

“One of my research interests is visual rhetoric and how lawyers can use charts, graphs, and other images to effectively present complex information. I was a litigator and it’s definitely something that I thought about,” she said. “I like to do an assignment in which I ask students to present information using a visual.”

Gullman worked in private practice on mass tort and agribusiness and environmental litigation at what is now Faegre Drinker. She later worked as an attorney advisor at the Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section of the Department of Justice.

Her role at the law school marks a return to the classroom—and to GW. She taught Fundamentals of Lawyering in 2019 and 2020 before joining the Department of Justice.

John P. Collins, Jr.

John P. Collins, Jr.

John P. Collins, Jr. has been teaching Fundamentals of Lawyering as a visiting professor since 2020, after he left private practice. This fall he returned to the faculty as an associate professor. His expertise is concentrated in the area of judicial administration, reform, and appointments.

“I think back to how I felt as a new practitioner and the things I wish I had known in law school about the job and client service and keeping track of assignments. It’s those kind of things, in addition to the core legal analysis skills, that we focus on in Fundamentals of Lawyering,” he said. “We try to ensure our students come out truly practice ready, able to function day-to-day as practicing lawyers in any kind of field.”

Collins took a nontraditional trajectory to legal education. He was an umpire for professional baseball—first in the Gulf Coast League (now known as the Florida Complex League) and then in the New York-Penn League—before he decided to go to law school.

“I am a huge baseball fan,” he said, “but I quickly realized that being a professional umpire was not the best career plan.”

Omari Scott Simmons

Omari Scott Simmons

Professor of Law Omari Scott Simmons, a leading corporate governance and higher education policy expert, comes to GW from the Wake Forest University School of Law, where he was founding director of the business law program. His recent research examines emerging corporate governance challenges—such as political risk, corporate social responsibility, and social impact—and the shifting role of corporate directors, intermediaries, and business courts.

He is also an expert on higher education issues and the author of Potential on the Periphery: College Access from the Ground Up. He serves as a commentator on education issues for media outlets. Simmons and his late father founded the Simmons Memorial Foundation more than 25 years ago to support college access for vulnerable students. He estimated that the organization has helped more than 1,000 students achieve their education goals.

Simmons said several things drew him to GW Law, including “the impactful faculty who not only are known for their academic contributions but also for their engagement with policymakers.” He noted that teaching in the nation’s capital affords unparalleled opportunities to be in touch with public and private sector decision makers, and he cited GW’s strength “as a large research university with unique opportunities for cross-disciplinary collaboration, both within the university and with external stakeholders.”

Immediately after law school, Simmons clerked for Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court E. Norman Veasey. Before joining academia, he worked for two multinational corporations and practiced at Wilmer Hale in DC.

William S. Dodge

William S. Dodge

The final new faculty member is William S. Dodge, an international law and foreign relations law expert. He joins GW Law in August 2024 from the University of California, Davis School of Law. Dodge will teach international business transactions and international litigation and arbitration. He is also expected to continue at GW Law the Transnational Litigation Blog, of which he is a founding editor.

Dodge came to the field of law through his interest in global issues. He was born in Nigeria, where his parents were among the first volunteers for the fledging Peace Corps, and taught English in China for a year and a half after graduating from college.

Dodge clerked for Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun. He also worked in private practice as an attorney at Arnold & Porter in Washington, DC.

“One of the attractions of coming to Washington is how important this city is to international law. In the United States, this is really the place where international law and domestic law relating to international issues happens” he said. “And GW Law is a great place to do international law. The depth and breadth of experience of the faculty is remarkable.”