UA Little Rock students selected as finalists in national legal writing competition

Students Ian Wren (right) and Maddie Burke (middle) are shown with their advisor, Dr. Casey Rockwell. 

Two University of Arkansas at Little Rock students were selected as finalists for a national legal writing competition held by the Academy for Legal Studies in Business. 

As finalists, Maddie Burke, junior international studies major, and Ian Wren, senior economics major, presented their papers at the academy’s national conference Aug. 11-14 in Portland, Oregon.

Wren received third place for his paper, “When Equity Fails the Employee: ERISA and the Specter of Absolute Subrogation.” He was able to travel to the conference with the assistance of the Undergraduate Research Signature Experience Award he received in the spring semester.

Burke received an honorable mention for her paper, “Fear of the Unknown: Drawing Back the Curtains on Shielding Laws and Regulations on Drugs Utilized in Animal Euthanasia and Lethal Injection.”

Wren’s paper is about a section of employer-provided insurance plans that can leave employees worse off in some cases than if they had different insurance or no insurance at all. These plans operate under ERISA—the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974—which was passed with the intent of protecting employees’ finances from insolvent or unscrupulous employers.

“Because most Americans receive insurance from their private-sector employer or belong to the plan of a family member who gets it through their employer, this area of the law can affect the lives of tens or hundreds of millions of people,” Wren said. “I think it’s important to trace the interpretation of this law over the years to see how we’ve arrived at the current, decidedly inequitable situation, and I think it’s important to discuss potential solutions.”

Burke’s paper focuses on some of the controversial issues surrounding lethal injection as a method of execution, including the rising number of problematic executions, the shortage of lethal injection drugs, state secrecy statues that protect those who participate in an execution as well as the supplier of drugs, and the absence of assistance from medical professionals. Additionally, Burke finds it odd that the drugs used in lethal injection often lack Food and Drug Administration regulations, especially when drugs used in animal euthanasia are strictly regulated.

“I think this is important because, almost every day, we see something in the news about lethal injection as a method of execution,” Burke said. “I wanted to highlight some of the controversies and add to the literature about Oklahoma being the first state to adopt nitrogen asphyxiation as their primary method of execution instead of lethal injection.”

Last year, Burke won the top student honor, the Outstanding Student Research Paper award, for her paper, “The 1920 Death on the High Seas Act: An Outdated and Ambiguous Admirality Law Shielding Cruise Lines Companies from Civil Liability,” at the 2017 Academy for Legal Studies in Business Conference.

The Academy for Legal Studies in Business is an association of teachers and scholars in the fields of business law, legal environment, and law-related courses outside of professional law schools. Utilizing their resources, they provide a forum for the exchange of ideas and encourage support and cooperation among those who teach and conduct research in the field of legal studies.

In the upper right photo, students Ian Wren (left) and Maddie Burke (middle) are shown with their advisor, Dr. Casey Rockwell (right). 

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