Some highlights from LENS’ 29th Annual National Security Law Conference

What if there were a place where experts discussed a wide range topics that impact national security such as international criminal justice, domestic drones, lawfare, cyber, domestic terrorism, big data, AI, sabotage, maritime law, space law, and surveillance all in a day and a half conference?  What if that place also invited the discussions of historical and legal background in relation to war in the Middle East, developments with China, as well as the role of the Securities and Exchange Commission in national security?

What if there were a place where students from Duke Law and other law schools and educational institutions joined military, agency, and government professionals, along with professors, practicing corporate and in-house attorneys, and members of the public to connect, discover and discuss emerging issues in the national security realm as well as career prospects?

That place exists – and it is the annual Center on Law, Ethics and National Security’s (LENS) conference, which was held Friday and Saturday, February 23-24 at Duke Law School. The largest conference held at Duke Law, and one of the largest of its kind in the country, the LENS conference marked its 29th year this year.

Knowledge and Networking

It’s my hope that the LENS conference equips attendees with new knowledge about a variety of national security issues and yet stirs their interest to discover more, while at the same time engaging industry leaders, concerned citizens, military and government workers, along with future lawyers, to consider ethical and legal issues and contemplate solutions to challenges.

I’m pleased to report that the feedback from this year’s event has been fantastic, and that’s a credit to the cutting-edge presentations by our expert speakers and panelists, but it’s also because of the interest and interaction by those attending.

Networking is a key component of the conference where people can cross generational and geographic, and other lines to connect and forge relationships that strengthen their careers and community.

“[There is] a warm and collegial networking opportunity that surpassed the bounds of anything I have encountered in law school and beyond…this event is easily the highlight of my time as a law student.  Not only do I feel more passion for this career path as I walk out of this weekend, but I am very impressed by the students who I will (hopefully) have the privilege of working with.”  Gwendolyn Strasberg Gardner, NYU Law

The students speak!

It was exciting to have more than 85 Duke Law students and faculty attend the conference  which was filled to capacity with almost 300 registrants.

Col (R) Dawn Zoldi speaking about domestic drones. Photo: Joy Dunlap

“I had a wonderful time during the conference. It isn’t every day that I get to hear from some of the leading authorities in areas such as drone usage and artificial intelligence, much less all in the same place.” Joshua Angelo, Duke Law ‘25

We welcomed LENS Scholars from 25 law schools and military academies, who were handpicked by their professors locally and across the country.  Here’s some of what they had to say:

with Ms. Owens

“The level of academic enrichment the LENS Conference provided me with is unmatched and invaluable and I thank you for allowing students to be so immersed in these vibrant conversations on so many emerging issues in the field. I can truly tell the LENS Conference is a labor of love and I felt so welcomed by yourself, Mrs. Dunlap, and all the dutiful volunteers of Duke Law. Sydney Owens, NCCU Law

Ms. Pabon and Ms. Gonzalez

National Security Law Society (NSLS) volunteers, led by NSLS co-presidents Madison Cash and Riley Flewelling, had an active and important part of the event, and this team, along with LENS administrator Bobbi Pabon and Faculty Events Coordinator Amanda Gonzalez, made a very significant impression on both speakers and participants.

with Duke Law NSLS volunteers

The speakers

Among key speakers were the Central Intelligence Agency General Counsel, the Honorable Kate Heinzelman; the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commissioner, the Honorable Caroline Crenshaw; and U.S. Army Asst. Judge Advocate General for Military Law and Operations Brig. Gen. David Mendelson– one of the most energetic and thought-provoking speakers I’ve seen.

The Dean of Faculty of the Air Force Academy, and former AF Judge Advocate Brig. Gen. Linell Letendre delivered what everyone agreed was a fantastic ethics presentation on AI.  Here’s some commentary by Campbell Law’s Sydney Cisneros:

“The presentations by Brig. Gen. Mendelson and Brig Gen Letendre were my favorite.  They discussed important topics at issue in national security law with a level of expertise and a certain energy that compelled me to try to take down every word…Professor Blank’s session paired nicely with BG Mendelson’s presentation. 

Their philosophy, that knowing the law extends far beyond memorizing the law and being familiar with the spirit of the law to being able to take care of your team, internalize the law and apply it to your client on demand, is applicable outside of LOAC [Law of Armed Conflict.  It was a call to every legal professional in the room to put in the hard work today, so that we may advocate for our clients tomorrow.”

Other expert speakers and leading-edge panelists also captivated conference attendees.

“Mr. Cheng’s update on China and Brig. Gen. Letendre’s talk on AI were fascinating. All the speakers impressed me, and I found the presentations topical and exciting. Thank you for putting together a great event! The LENS and ABA conferences have been the highlights of my 1L year,”  Matthew Barry, Duke Law ‘26

Duke Law Professor Bobby Bishop interviewed the SEC Commissioner in an eye-opening discussion while Shane Stansbury and Duke Law alumni Ben Kastan engaged in a fireside chat on surveillance that closed out the conference on a fascinating note.  

Other Duke alumni, Kara Iskenderian and Daniel Berrick, joined two other law professionals at a pre-conference session on careers in national security co-sponsored Thursday by the Center on Law, Ethics and National Security and the student-run National Security Law Society.

If you missed the conference…

Watch this space as we plan to roll out videos of most of the conference presentations on Lawfire®

Save the date!

The 30th LENS Conference is scheduled for February 21-22, 2025.

LENS Scholars 2024

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