My Time at W&L Law: Penn Clarke

clarkWith less than a month left in the 2012-2013 academic year, we asked several of our third-year students to reflect upon their time at W&L Law. Today, Penn Clarke takes on the topic.

I chose Washington & Lee because of its national reputation, outstanding faculty, small class-size, and proximity to home.  Also, I thought W&L’s third-year program would aid my transition from law student to lawyer.  For these reasons, as well as opportunities I had not anticipated, W&L has been the perfect choice for me.

The third-year program has not disappointed; in fact, it has exceeded my own high expectations.  To satisfy the “actual practice component” of the program, I have spent the entire year working in a judge’s chambers.  Students in the judicial externship program work for circuit judges on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, justices on the Virginia Supreme Court, federal district judges, federal magistrate judges, bankruptcy judges, state appellate judges, and state trial judges.  Students analyze briefs, write bench memoranda, draft opinions and dissents, witness hearings and trials, and interact with judges, law clerks, and attorneys.  Working in chambers is an invaluable experience for an aspiring litigator.

Other students have worked in the U.S. Attorney’s Office or Commonwealth Attorney’s Office, frequently arguing cases before judges.  Many students participate in one of W&L’s on-site clinics—Black Lung, Criminal Justice, Community Legal Practice, Immigration, Tax, and Virginia Capital Case Clearinghouse—where students interact with and counsel real clients in real cases under the supervision of professors.  Some intern at various law firms across the state; others work in various branches of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

In addition to the actual practice component, all third-year students enroll in practicums, courses designed to simulate practice.  Because of my litigation-focused externship, I decided to take two transactional-based practicums:  the Cross Border Transactions Practicum and the Business Planning Practicum.

In Business Planning, my classmates and I acted as junior associates and worked closely with Professor Lyman Johnson, who acted as a senior partner.  I drafted an operating agreement for an LLC, negotiated a letter of intent for a joint venture, and evaluated a private company’s IPO proposal.  While Professor Johnson places emphasis on developing the skills of young associates, he does not neglect legal theory.  Throughout the semester, he lectures on securities, tax, and corporate law and weaves together related concepts from these courses in a way that no professor in an isolated tax or corporate course can.  Combining concepts from first- and second-year transactional courses in a third-year practicum creates a bridge to actual practice as an attorney.

For first- and second-year students, opportunities also abound.  They can (and I did) participate in the simulation of practice through our unique Moot Court program, which has five competitions:  the John W. Davis Moot Court Competition, the Robert J. Grey, Jr. Negotiations Competition, the Mock Trial Competition, the Client Counseling Competition, and the Representation in Mediation Competition.  All second- and third-year students may compete in these five intra school competitions, and first-year students may participate as witnesses, clients, timekeepers, and bailiffs.  Students who perform exceptionally well in our intra school competitions then represent Washington & Lee in regional, national, and international competitions.  These external and intra school competitions allow students the opportunity to develop and refine their oral and written advocacy skills by working individually and collaboratively.

The forward-thinking, innovative administration and faculty have made many of these opportunities possible for the law students of W&L.  Commitment to excellence and dedication to students seem to define our professors whose primary goal is educating their students.  One can see this every day in Sydney Lewis Hall, where professors’ doors are always open and where professors are always interested in talking to students about class readings or students’ written work.  The school’s small classes allow professors to give attention to all of us and even to get to know us on a personal level.

I speak for my classmates and myself when I state that Washington & Lee has been a tremendous place to develop as law students and transition to attorneys.  If you seek (1) a proper foundation of legal theory guided by outstanding faculty and (2) confidence that you are prepared on day one of your post-law school job, then you should strongly consider Washington & Lee.

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