We asked seven of our new students to discuss their decision to attend W&L Law. Today, Dan Strong, a graduate of Appalachian State University from Charlotte, North Carolina, takes on the question.
By Dan Strong
Making the choice to come to law school is a fairly easy one. If you want to become a lawyer, it is almost the only way that it can be accomplished. This, however, is where the ease of the process ends. Selecting which law school can be much more difficult. There are many things one must consider: location (big or small city, east or west, north or south), school size (a big school where you might get lost among the masses or small school with less notoriety), the curriculum (does the school have a practice area it specializes in), atmosphere (a nebulous term you can’t truly grasp until you get there), clinics, journals, student/teacher ratio, and even the number of volumes in the library.
When I was applying to schools each of these factors carried equal weight. I was teaching high school and it had been six years since I had graduated from college. I had no preference about what city I was in or the school name on the program the first day of orientation. Because of this I was able to compare schools holistically, not just focusing on the ranking or the number of books the library had, or which had a college football team that I liked better. I focused on what each school had to offer me during the three years I would be there. What academic approach did the school take? What was a typical student like? Was there anything to do in the city besides study? After making a short list, narrowing it down, changing approaches and starting over (multiple times), W&L kept popping up. Here are some of the reasons why:
One my main focuses when selecting a law school was the academic environment. W&L has made industry-revolutionizing changes to the academic curriculum. The old adage is that the first year of law school they scare you to death, the second year they work you to death, and the third year they bore you to death. W&L thought that spending a third year in a lecture-based classroom would not help students transition into being practicing attorneys. The third year at W&L is now a practical application of the content that you learn in the first two years.
W&L also has a wide range of clinics, journals, and competitions that I am interested in. For example, I recently participated as a bailiff in the Davis Appellate Advocacy Competition. I was able to see second and third year students argue a Supreme Court case in front of a panel of judges. While researching I found the best part was, unlike other schools, most of the competitions and journals are open to everyone who wants to try out!
The second area that I was looking for was the atmosphere of the school. I was exposed to this when I visited for Admitted Students’ Weekend. The atmosphere at W&L is different than any other school I visited. Students here understand that when you get out of law school all of your fellow students turn into colleagues. Students are always willing to help by giving advice or answering questions when you need it. Relationships you forge in law school can last the rest of your life, for better or worse. Schools with a cutthroat atmosphere can see that transfer into the working world after diplomas are distributed. The positive relationships at W&L can be seen in action through the alumni network of the school. Alumni are very welcoming and are eager to help students with their career development.
The atmosphere at the school is also impacted in a large way by the tradition and history of the institution. This manifests itself in the Honor System. There is little worry whether the laptop that you leave sitting on the table in the library will be there when you get back. The Honor System is one hundred percent student-run and maintained so students have a vested interest in its preservation. In my first week of school someone found a couple of dollars in one of the parking lots. The next day, that student posted a notice requesting that the person who lost the money contact him so that he could return it. You see this throughout the semester with sunglasses, jewelry, and other personal items. At any other school you would have little chance of seeing those items again.
Law school football is an example of where you can see the more social atmosphere of the school in action. Almost the entire school gets together to play football, socialize, and wind down from what can sometimes be a stressful week. The competition can be intense, but even students who don’t play come out just to have fun without the worry of when your next memo is due.
The final reason that I chose to attend W&L was the town of Lexington itself. Though Lexington is a small town, there is always something to do. There are wonderful restaurants, fantastic outdoor activities, the first non-profit drive-in movie theater in the country, wineries, a couple of micro-breweries, community festivals, and more. Everyone in town is friendly and you don’t have to worry about morning or evening rush hour. And if you miss a bigger city, Roanoke, Charlottesville, D.C., Richmond, and Charlotte are all within a couple of hours drive.
I selected W&L because of what the school had to offer me. I knew that a school with this kind of tradition, history, academic approach, alumni network, and collegiality would afford me the opportunities I needed to become a successful and respected member of the legal profession. I know that by coming to W&L I will get the most out of the three years that will jump start the rest of my life.