My Time at W&L Law – O’Dane Williamson

April 18, 2014

With less than a month left in the 2013-2014 academic year, we asked several of our third-year students to reflect upon their time at W&L Law. Today, O’Dane Williamson takes on the topic.

O'Dane Williamson '14L

O’Dane Williamson ’14L

From my perspective, an individual’s law school experience will be shaped by core values, beliefs, and past experiences. When I began looking into law schools, I knew two things were important to me. First, I wanted an environment that was close in ideals and setting to my native country of Jamaica. Second, I wanted a place that would help me to continue developing the practical skills I had learned as a working professional. After researching and visiting W&L, I instantly knew that the school met those criteria. W&L is located in the small town of Lexington—where everyone becomes a familiar face—and the school’s continuing efforts to transform the third-year program to mirror the actual practice of law helps its students learn and develop the necessary skills for success as a practicing attorney.

One of our priorities in Jamaica is an unspoken code of showing respect to everyone, no matter who they are. The people in the town of Lexington are no different. When I leave Lexington, I will miss the conversations I had with Teresa and all the staff who worked at the gas station beside my house. With them, I had genuine conversations about school, how their jobs were going, and about daily events in the town and their lives. Like Jamaica, because of Lexington’s small town setting, I became acquainted with my neighbors and spent hours having conversations with them. Their encouragement helped with the transition to life in Lexington. Lexington also offers a serene and beautiful landscape that many law students find conducive to effectively handling the stress that comes with our studies.

The law school itself has many great attributes, but the most lasting impression W&L will have on me is the third-year program. Prior to coming to law school, I had worked for a number of years. It was during this time that I quickly came to realize that while the theoretical aspects of learning can prepare you for the working world, it certainly isn’t sufficient to be a successful practicing professional. W&L’s third-year program has prepared me with many tools to become a successful practicing attorney.

One of the greatest benefits of the third-year program is that most of the practicums and clinics are structured around working in teams or pairs. Based on my work experience, how effective we will be as attorneys will largely depend on our abilities to work with others. In contrast to the first two years of law school, where much of the work is individualistic, the third-year program puts a high priority on collaborative work. Through the program, students come to realize that, while collectively they have the same goals, there are sometimes conflicting views about how to achieve them. The program allows students to learn how to make compromises on issues and value their co-counsel’s input. Throughout the third-year program, I have paired up with about ten different individuals, each with a different personality. I can say that, from working with each of these individuals, I have picked up traits that I will continue to use as a practicing attorney.

But the third-year program doesn’t just focus on working with a co-counsel; it also concentrates on working with opposing counsel and other professionals. As a student representative in the immigration clinic, my co-counsel and I spent a significant amount of time negotiating compromises with government attorneys. In addition, because one of our clients had criminal issues that would significantly impact the client’s immigration proceedings, we had to spend time working with—and educating—the client’s criminal defense attorney to coordinate the criminal proceedings to be most beneficial to his immigration hearing. Unlike the first two years of law school where we interpreted case-law, the third year-program allowed us to begin to work with and persuasively present our interpretations of the law as applied to our cases to other legal professionals.

What I find to be the most effective part of the third-year program is the hundreds of hours students spend mastering the tools attorneys use on a daily basis. At the end of my third year of law school, I will have spent sleepless nights drafting complaints, writing answers to complaints, and responding to discovery requests. I will have spent long nights and days agonizing over what facts to include in documents and how to effectively word them to keep control of my case. Through my trial advocacy practicum, I will have spent hours mastering the procedures for direct examinations, cross examinations, pretrial motions, and working on the most effective closing and opening statements that complement my style. Because of my mergers and acquisitions practicum, I will have spent restless nights assessing what terms to include in a stock purchase agreement that keeps my client happy and gets the deal done. I will have spent hours with my co-counsel sifting through pages of different stock purchase agreements to come up with a presentation before a board of experts on why a deal was the most beneficial for the client. At the end of my corporate counsel practicum, I will have written a handful of opinion letters to my client, explaining the likelihood of lawsuits and how to deal with them. I will have experience in drafting engagement letters explaining who my client is and how any conflicts will affect them.

I truly believe experiences are unique. For me, the best experiences at W&L came from developing a rapport with the people in the town of Lexington and having a truly worthwhile experience with the third-year program. I will always remember my time at W&L and carry it with me throughout my career as an attorney.

 


My Time at W&L Law – Casey Coleman

April 17, 2014

With less than a month left in the 2013-2014 academic year, we asked several of our third-year students to reflect upon their time at W&L Law. Today, Casey Coleman takes on the topic.

Casey Coleman '14L

Casey Coleman ’14L

As I sit on the porch sunning myself for the first time this Spring, I find myself excited for the next adventure and so grateful for my W&L experience. I know I made the right choice because with only a few weeks left I have no regrets. I studied hard, got involved, made lifelong friends, and had a fabulous time.

In my first year, besides all the studying, Washington and Lee gave me the opportunity to join Phi Alpha Delta and run their famed Charity Auction even though I was so new I was still trying to find the best bathroom. Professors and businesses donated everything from homemade dinners to fly fishing trips, and that year we increased the amount we gave to local charities by 100%. W&L provides opportunities for everyone who wants to be involved.

In my second year, I took a chance and joined the Student Bar Association, the law school version of student government.   Now, as President, I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in the renovation of the law school, to solve student concerns, and to plan fabulous events like Pig Roast, where we all camp out along the nearby Maury River, and our 3L trip to the Foxfield Horse Races in Charlottesville.   Law school can be a grueling experience, but I had the opportunity to make it better for everyone.

A recent tragic event has yet again made me realize I joined the right community. The support from faculty, staff, and administration has been tremendous, and I know this experience is unique.  The school hired a bus to take friends to the service in Pennsylvania, put together a school wide dinner in remembrance and celebration, and continues to ask what more they can do.  I personally received overwhelming support from classmates and great friends.  We are 126 strong and I know I can depend on everyone for whatever challenges arise.

When I said “yes” to W&L, I said “yes” to lifelong friends, a fabulous academic experience and a community where I will always feel welcome.

 


My Time at W&L Law – Lauren Formica

April 17, 2014

With less than a month left in the 2013-2014 academic year, we asked several of our third-year students to reflect upon their time at W&L Law. Today, Lauren Formica takes on the topic.

Lauren Formica '14L

Lauren Formica ’14L

I went to a W&L open house where I met students from the law school. I remember two of these students in particular. One was a first-year student and the other was a third-year student. The first-year student told me about the law school football league that plays every Friday, how the faculty know your first name, the caliber of the school, and how students do not step on one another to get ahead. Then, I met the third-year student from Philadelphia. She gave me the one piece of advice that to this day resonates with me. She said if you want to go back to your home state, you should attend Washington and Lee because local students tend to go to local law schools and compete for local jobs. By going to W&L, I could offer a prospective firm a different educational background. I could diversify my resume and differentiate myself in the challenging job market. That is where Washington and Lee came into the picture. Ultimately, to me it came down to two questions: The first: where will I get the best education to become the best lawyer possible? And second, what school can help me get my dream job when I graduate? Washington and Lee was the answer to both of these questions.

Signing up for law school meant signing up for a challenging three years that tests you mentally and analytically. Some people may think that Washington and Lee’s location, situated in the Shenandoah Valley, is a downside of the school because it is in such a small town. It is not a downside; instead, it is a benefit. Instead of traffic, the hustle and bustle of a big city, the distractions from a large mall or a long commute, I chose a two-minute commute in a beautiful country town where people sit on their porches, eat southern style barbeque and crickets lull you to sleep. Law school very well may be the most stressful three years of my life, but I am glad I completed those three years in a relaxing setting.

“My personal life is falling apart.” said Andy Sachs.  
Nigel responded, “That’s what happens when you start doing well at work. Let me know when your entire life goes up in smoke: then it’s time for a promotion.” The Devil Wears Prada. The same is true for your first semester in law school. It is hard. It is challenging. It can be gruesome. But like most things in life, sometimes you need to clear out the clutter to make room for the new.

In the end, it is a leap a faith you will take when deciding whether or not to attend law school. When you receive an acceptance from W&L, it is not just an offer to a prestigious institution, but a guarantee that their faculty, students, and your soon-to-be-peers will catch you should you take that leap. I can personally attest that if you should you take this opportunity, W&L will welcome you into their community.

 

 

 


My Time at W&L Law – Jennifer Crook

April 11, 2014

With less than a month left in the 2013-2014 academic year, we asked several of our third-year students to reflect upon their time at W&L Law. Today, Jennifer Crook takes on the topic.

Jennifer Crook

Jennifer Crook ’14L

When I was first approached about writing a piece reflecting upon my experience at Washington and Lee, I started to think about the professors I’ve had, the millions of cases I’ve read, and the outlines I have created during my time here. But then my attention shifted outside the classroom. I began to think about fall afternoon flag football games, pie festivals, indoor soccer games, and SBA events. The “school” part of law school seems to fall away, and I am left with wonderful memories and great friends. I wouldn’t trade my law school experience with anyone.

I went to Virginia Tech for my undergraduate degree and fell in love with the mountains. Coming to Lexington was like coming home for me. When people ask me to describe Lexington, I say, “we don’t have a Starbucks.” Just let that sink in. But the pros for choosing Washington and Lee far outweigh the con of not having a Starbucks. I chose Washington and Lee specifically for the third-year program. If there is one thing I have learned from my older brother who practices in D.C. – and I’ll deny this if you tell him –it is that law school does not teach you how to be a lawyer. Experience does. I knew that after graduation, I wanted to be able to walk into my first job and be productive for my clients. I also knew that being able to recite cases would only take me halfway there.

Last summer, I was fortunate to split my summer and work at a law firm in Roanoke and a Commonwealth’s Attorney Office outside of Richmond. For my third year placement, I selected the judicial externship program. This ensures that, by the time I graduate, I will have worked in the public sector, private practice, and clerked for a judge. I feel that this experience has prepared me for my first job because now I can look at a set of facts and see arguments on both sides, as well as what a court might say to each theory.

For my judicial clerkship I was matched with Judge Irvine, who sits in the Rockbridge County Circuit Court. I cannot adequately express how much I have learned from him. He has allowed me to research topics, draft opinions, and sit in on meetings with attorneys. These cases range from first-degree murder to divorces. I truly feel that this experience is the perfect bookend to my law school career. I understand now why the professor in my first year writing class insisted that the last sentence of your brief should always be your request for relief. Having read multiple briefs submitted to the court this year, I realize why asking for relief is so important. You might have just written the most well researched and perfectly analyzed brief, but if the court does not know what you are asking for, the odds diminish that the court will do exactly what you want. It is the little things like this that makes my legal education come full circle. It enforces the lessons I’ve learned, and reminds me of the proper way to draft legal arguments throughout my career.

Washington and Lee has great academics, and I have learned so much from the third-year program, but it is the people here that make it so special. Everyone made a conscious choice to come to Lexington. Specifically, the professors who choose to teach here are literally the best in their field. Not only are they some of the most intelligent people I have ever met, but they are also giving with their time and are never above staying late to answer student questions. The open door policy that the professors employ is not just lip service. For example, if they are out of town or traveling, the professors give out their cell phone number to students in case questions arise and they are not able to be in their office.

People come here because of the strong academics. After all, it is difficult not to think about the strong academic history of Washington and Lee while studying next to Justice Powell’s chair in the reading room of the law library. But, it is the majesty of the mountains, the friends, and the atmosphere that makes Washington and Lee so wonderful. Looking back, it is the friendships I have made over my years here that I will cherish forever. I chose Washington and Lee for the academics and the third-year program, but I will take my memories and friendships with me forever both in my personal and profession career.


My Time at W&L Law – Randall Miller

April 8, 2014

With less than a month left in the 2013-2014 academic year, we asked several of our third-year students to reflect upon their time at W&L Law. Today, Randall Miller takes on the topic.

Randall Miller '14L

Randall Miller ’14L

After three years, I know without a doubt that Washington and Lee School of Law was the perfect school for me. The people at W&L are amazing. I am so grateful to be a part of the W&L family – because unlike other schools, we do feel like a family. I have met so many wonderful people both during my time in Lexington and while I was away from campus through W&L connections. When I broke my arm during my first week at W&L, I had one classmate drive me to doctor visits in Roanoke, another made me a peach cobbler, and others frequently forwarded me notes from class. I know that if I need anything, I have friends at W&L who are willing to help. I have listened to similar stories from W&L alumni, and I can testify that W&L has attracted and continues to attract kind students.

I am also very thankful to have taken classes under such distinguished professors who took the time to invest in my professional development and career path. For example, I was amazed when one professor, who is a frequently cited expert in international dispute resolution materials, wrote a letter of recommendation on my behalf with a very tight 48 hour turnaround. In fact, this professor drafted my recommendation during the two days between her trips to South Korea and Europe. Other professors generously connected me with practicing attorneys in my fields of interest, reserved seats for me at a U.S. Supreme Court oral argument, and provided extensive feedback on my writing projects. Another professor graciously offered feedback on two pieces of writing that I wanted to publish even after he had advised me on my student note for nine months. Before attending W&L, I heard stories about the open-door policy and how professors frequently made time outside of class to assist students in their professional pursuits. As a 3L, I can personally attest to the approachability and benevolence of the faculty here. These anecdotes provide just a few of the many examples of the faculty members going above and beyond their roles as educators.

Much like the professors, I have met numerous W&L alumni who have taken time out of their busy schedules to chat with me about my career goals on the phone, over a cup of coffee, and during lunch. Some of these conversations led to friendships, more introductions, internships, and one resulted in a permanent job after graduation. For instance, both my internship with the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and my internship with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission resulted from reaching out to W&L alumni who introduced me to some of their colleagues on Capitol Hill and at federal agencies. Just before interviewing with several law firms in Dallas, I met with an alumnus at a different firm. We stayed in touch, and I ended up working at his law firm for part of my 2L summer. I enjoyed the experience so much that I will be returning to work at this firm after graduation.

I believe much of the alumni support stems from the rewarding experience that many of them had during their time in Lexington. For me, the honor system has been an incredible aspect of law school at W&L. I frequently leave my laptop, IPad, books, and notes at my carrel between classes, and each day, I return to find them undisturbed. The honor system is a way of life at W&L. I trust my classmates and professors, and they trust me to do what is right. Professors have loaned me books and articles without doubting that I would return them. My classmates have placed coffee makers at their carrels and sent class-wide e-mails offering free coffee and cookies. I will greatly miss these moments that are so unique to W&L.

In addition to meeting wonderful alumni during my job search, I found that the W&L name opened a number of doors to opportunities that I did not think were possible. During my time as a law student, I was chosen to participate in a distinguished legal fellowship in Phoenix, AZ where I met hundreds of law students and practitioners from around the globe. Thanks to the professor who wrote my letter of recommendation between her transcontinental flights, I also participated in a graduate fellowship with an NGO at the United Nations in New York. In addition, I participated in internships with two nonprofit organizations working in both the areas of policy and appellate work.

W&L has allowed me to take part in many valuable experiences and enabled me to forge lasting friendships both inside and outside of the classroom. For me, the friendships, honor system, and quality of education are three things that I will always value from my experience at W&L.


My Time at W&L Law – Ben Willson

April 2, 2014
Ben Willson '14L

Ben Willson ’14L

With less than a month left in the 2013-2014 academic year, we asked several of our third-year students to reflect upon their time at W&L Law. Today, Ben Willson takes on the topic.

I came to Washington and Lee in spite of the third-year experiential curriculum. I am graduating from W&L one of its most enthusiastic advocates. Let me explain what changed.

As a prospective student, I was wary of the idea of “missing out” on an entire year of legal academic coursework. Having been out of the classroom for nearly a decade, I was thirsty for theory and eager to pore over books and discuss legal principles. I was afraid that this innovative program at W&L was an over-reaction to a new and difficult market in legal education, and that it tended to reduce law school—which in my mind had always been a bookish institution—to a trade school.

I came anyway, because my visit to the school and my discussions with faculty and students convinced me that W&L was a place that was serious about both the academic and the experiential, and that was good enough.

Looking back after three years, I am fully satisfied with my academic training, and fully satisfied with my practical training. I enjoyed the coursework immensely, especially Contracts, Constitutional Law, Remedies, and Administrative Law. The real highlights of my three years, however, were not in the classroom. It was in the experiential modules of the curriculum—Trial Advocacy Practicum, Appellate Advocacy Practicum, the Immersion session, Black Lung Legal Clinic—as well as in the Moot Court Program, that I actually grew and developed and changed.

The moments that will be preserved in my memory of this place are almost all from my practical experiences: Standing at the podium in the Moot Court Room with my heart in my throat, my friends seated behind me, and a panel of federal and state appellate judges on the bench before me in the annual John W. Davis Competition. (That panel will include U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito next year!) Sitting on the edge of my seat in the chambers of the Supreme Court of Virginia, listening to attorneys argue a case that I had argued the week before back in Lexington in front of the senior-most Justice of that Court, who was my Appellate Advocacy professor. Watching oral arguments in the Supreme Court of the United States with that same Justice, and sharing thoughts and impressions with him and my classmates over lunch afterwards. Meeting with clients of the Black Lung Legal Clinic and realizing that there are people who care a great deal more about how well we do our jobs even than we do.

Perhaps the moment that changed me most occurred during my Trial Advocacy Practicum. It was the moment when I “caught the fever” for arguing a case to a jury. The culminating event of the semester was a mock jury trial in the Moot Court Room with our professor—a Lynchburg trial judge—presiding, and an actual jury of volunteers from the community empanelled to hear our case. My partners and I had prepared for the big event carefully, relying on all that we had been taught in Civil Procedure and Evidence class, in the immersion program, and throughout that semester of the practicum. When the jury filed into the jury box and took their seats, however, I realized that I was experiencing what practicing law is fundamentally all about: those twelve people who I’d never met sitting together in a box waiting for me to convince them that my client’s right and the other guy’s is wrong.

After closing arguments, we turned on a closed-circuit video feed and watched as they walked into the jury room, entered the camera’s field of view, and took their seats around the table. As they began to discuss the case, I was amazed to hear one of them use a turn of phrase I had given them in my argument. It was fascinating to see the fruits of our labors of persuasion echoing through their deliberations, and ultimately convincing them to find for us.

I am convinced that experiences like these are simply not as available in schools where the curriculum is packed with advanced academic courses through the third year. Those theoretical courses are wonderful—and I enjoyed all of mine—but art is long and life is short, and the exposure, motivation, confidence, and jump-start on the legal profession that the experiential program gave me is something that I would urge any prospective student not to miss out on.


My Time at W&L Law – Erin Seavoy

March 31, 2014

With less than a month left in the 2013-2014 academic year, we asked several of our third-year students to reflect upon their time at W&L Law. Today, Erin Seavoy takes on the topic.

Eric Savoy

Erin Seavoy ’14L

When I choose my undergraduate institution it was easy. I only looked at one school, I only applied to one school and I then went to that school. Simple. But when I decided to attend law school I was in a whole new world. I applied all over the place and one of the places was Washington and Lee.

When it came time for school visits W&L stood out. I instantly felt comfortable. The school’s atmosphere was friendly. It did not fit the law school stereotype of intimidation and stress. It felt like the type of place I could enjoy spending three years. And so, in August of 2011 I moved from Michigan to Virginia and began my law school career.

It turns out I was right. I have truly enjoyed my three years at W&L. There are many, many reasons W&L was the right choice but there are two experiences that stand out in my mind. First, I value the experiences I had traveling and getting to know professors. And second, my time working with the Kirgis Fellow program is an important example of the W&L community.

The best way to explain the opportunities at W&L is to choose one class and explain how it made an impact on my law school career. In my second year at W&L I took a seminar entitled Comparative Constitutional Law. The class was limited to nine students and we had great debates about the German and US constitutions. Over spring break the students had the opportunity to travel with the professor to Germany. We had class with German law students and visited important legal sites in Germany and France. Six of us made the trip, and it was a highlight of my law school career. We had hands-on experience discussing legal topics with students from around the world. It also gave us a chance to get to know our professor. Knowing our professors is something all W&L students appreciate. The professors here enjoy talking with students, giving advice to students and, in my case, traveling with students. One of the reasons I am glad I choose W&L is that students learn more from professors than just case law. We get to know them, we hear their stories and get their advice. The professors at the law school are excited to help students and that is a major reason I am glad I attended W&L.

The second thing about my time at W&L that stands out is my involvement with the Kirgis Fellow Program. At W&L each small section of roughly 20 students is assigned a Kirgis Fellow. The Kirgis is a second year law student who helps the 1Ls through orientation week and throughout the first year of law school. The Kirgis is an amazing resource and for many students is their first friend at the school. I was selected to be a Kirgis Fellow in my second year, and I truly loved the experience. I had 23 1L students. It was great to get to know them and help them through their first year. I am still close friends with my section of 1Ls and I truly believe the Kirgis Fellow program helps create the atmosphere of friendliness and helpfulness at the school. It passes down the W&L tradition of community, and it is one of the most important things I did here at W&L.

As I near graduation, I look back fondly on my time here at W&L. I know that I have changed and grown throughout my law school career. I believe I changed for the positive because of the open atmosphere and sense of community. It was the right decision for me.


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