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ASU Law fall grad overcomes early obstacles to achieve success

Wayne Unger looks to help other students do the same in the future as ASU Law professor

Wayne Unger

Wayne Unger, ASU Law fall 2020 JD candidate.

November 23, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2020 graduates.

“Given life’s challenges, while the road in front of you may look daunting, overcoming the challenges before you is often made possible by the community you surround yourself with, and ASU is a phenomenal community.”

So said Wayne Unger, a fall 2020 JD candidate at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, when asked about his ASU Law experience. After starting law school in fall 2018 at the University of California Hastings College of Law in San Francisco, Unger experienced the unexpected loss of his mother in his hometown of Chandler, Arizona, leading to an emergency transfer request to ASU Law.

“Dean (Douglas) Sylvester, Dr. Christine Wilkinson, and many others moved mountains to make the transfer as easy as possible during this challenging time,” said Unger, who commuted from San Francisco to Phoenix while his mother was ill. He completed his first 1L semester with a top GPA and began his second semester at ASU Law a few weeks after his mother passed away.

In the short 2 1/2 years since, Unger helped to open the Greek Leadership Village on ASU’s Tempe campus; worked on the in-house legal team at Microchip Technology in Chandler; participated in the ASU Global Security Initiative’s Disinformation Working Group; researched data privacy, security and disinformation for ASU’s Luminosity Lab; and wrote two published law journal articles. He will graduate one semester early this December. While TEDxASU 2020 was canceled due to the pandemic, Unger was also selected as one of the speakers for the prestigious event.

Unger, also an ASU undergrad alum, is pursuing his JD with a focus in data privacy and constitutional law. His ASU Law honors include being named a Pedrick Scholar and a recipient of the Brett Aspey Memorial Scholarship, preceded by his undergraduate recognition in the Leadership Scholarship Program, founded by Wilkinson, and the Larry R. Ludden Leadership in Business Scholarship.

Unger also taught Privacy Torts and Defamation for ASU Law Professor Michael Selmi’s fall 2020 torts course and has forthcoming articles in the following publications:

  • "Katz & COVID-19: How a Pandemic Changed the Reasonable Expectation of Privacy," Hastings Science and Technology Law Journal (forthcoming 2020).
  • "Reclaiming Our Right to Privacy by Holding Tech Companies Accountable," Richmond Journal of Law and Technology (forthcoming 2020).
  • "How Disinformation Campaigns Exploit the Poor Data Privacy Regime to Erode Democracy," (unpublished, forthcoming 2020).

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study law?

Answer: My “aha” moment when I realized that I wanted to study data privacy and constitutional law, specifically, in law school came after a meeting with Professor Gary Marchant of ASU Law. At the time, I was enrolled in his Law, Science and Technology course. In lieu of the final exam, I opted to write a research paper. When I met with Professor Marchant to discuss research topics, he proposed I research the private right of action with respect to data privacy and security lawsuits. I ran with the topic, and data privacy and security and its intersection with constitutional law has become my specialization. My research paper for Professor Marchant’s class is set for publication in the Richmond Journal of Law & Technology.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: In law school, I quickly realized that it is normal to feel dumb on a daily basis. Many of us have a blind Achilles heel in the “I don’t know what I don’t know.” Law school changed my perspective by helping me understand that there is a lot of information, history and knowledge that falls into the “I don’t know what I don’t know.” And that’s the excitement in learning — discovering information that challenges or adds to your knowledge, beliefs and values.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: ASU is my home. Growing up in Arizona, ASU was in my backyard. I completed my undergraduate studies with the W. P. Carey School of Business. After working in Silicon Valley for five years, I returned to Arizona unexpectedly for family reasons, and I am very grateful to ASU for welcoming me back for law school.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: While I never had Professor Diana Bowman for a class, after a networking event, Professor Bowman and I developed a strong mentor/mentee relationship. She taught me to “always write like the writing will be published.” This simple advice improved the quality of my scholarship tenfold.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: It takes time to discover what you will enjoy doing professionally. Be patient.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: For my undergraduate tenure, the Secret Garden on the Tempe campus. For law school, the law library and the law school’s reading room.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: While I have no set plans besides taking the Arizona bar exam, my aspiration is to return to ASU as a law professor.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: Comprehensive data privacy and security policy reform.

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