Life Beyond the Classroom – Stephanie Bollheimer

BollheimerSAt W&L Law, students benefit from the many experiences and learning opportunities both within and beyond the classroom.  We asked several of our current law students to discuss the activities and organizations they have chosen to devote their time and energies to.   Today, 3L Stephanie Bollheimer explains the role of Honor Advocates in the Washington and Lee community.

The Honor Advocate Program is an integral part of Washington and Lee’s Honor System. Both law and undergraduate students run the program and serve as Honor Advocates. These students serve as resources and advisors to W&L students involved in proceedings before the University’s conduct bodies.  This means that when a student must appear before the Executive Committee (EC), the Student Judicial Council (SJC), or the Student Faculty Hearing Board (SFHB), an Advocate will assist them through the process.

The program plays a vital role for accused students at W&L.  Most students are not familiar with how an EC or SFHB hearing is conducted; few would know how to present their best case to the SJC.  To address this, Advocates bring detailed procedural knowledge to each student’s case.   Typically, an Advocate meets with the accused student, investigates the facts, interviews potential witnesses, gathers evidence, helps with opening and closing statements, and attends the various University body hearings to serve as a resource for the accused student. . It cannot be overstated how important it is for accused students to have someone to help them through what can seem like a confusing process.  For the accused student, disciplinary proceedings are almost always stressful. The Advocates’ overall aim is to support students throughout the process. At a time when students often feel at their worst, an Honor Advocate is there to help. In the W&L community, where we pride ourselves on helping each other out, the Honor Advocate program exemplifies the spirit of service we owe our fellow Generals.

For law students, the Honor Advocate Program provides an invaluable experience.  While law school classes teach substantive law, the Honor Advocate Program provides useful, real-life experiences where students can practice their factual investigation, counseling and advocacy skills. The program is especially valuable for first-year students because it introduces them to hands-on, practical lawyering situations early in their law school careers.  Honor Advocates are not engaged in law practice scenarios, but assist students in cases with real consequences that may even include dismissal from the University.

Though I am a double General (‘09,  ‘14L) and knew about the Honor Advocate Program from my time here as an undergraduate, I did not fully understand or appreciate the Honor System and its effect on me until I graduated and moved away from Lexington. The sense of community, its values and morals, and the trust found on W&L’s campus and among its students is unlike anything I have ever experienced.  For me, the Honor System was one the main reasons I attended W&L Law, along with the third-year program and the incredible opportunities being a General offers. When I made that choice and got back on campus, I realized I wanted to give back to the community and be a part of the system.  Being involved in the Honor Advocate Program was a great way to contribute and develop my advocacy and professional skills.

Personally, I have learned a tremendous amount through my participation in the Honor Advocate program.  Throughout my three-year involvement, I have had the opportunity to work in all areas where advocates play a role.  I have advocated on behalf of students before the EC, the SJC, and the SFHB many times. I have also contributed to many investigation teams.  These experiences have not always gone flawlessly and have been difficult at times, but they have always been rewarding.  My participation in the program taught me how to set personal feelings aside so I could advocate for each accused student effectively.  I have also learned how to sift through a great deal of information and synthesize it into a viable case theory.  At the same time, though I have learned that every situation must be approached in a unique manner, and that the only way to be truly prepared is to be prepared for anything:  many times I  developed a clear plan for how I thought  meetings or hearings would go, and—of course—they often did not unfold as I expected.  This forced me to be adaptable, and think on my feet. Interpersonal skills are also vital when dealing with clients, witnesses and judicial bodies in law practice, and the same is true for the work of an Honor Advocate.  The program certainly helped me develop these skills   I also learned how to be comfortable directing events in a hearing, and managing the changing factual landscape.   The third year program helped refine all these skills, which have been extremely helpful in my internships, moot court competitions, and working with clinic clients during my third year.

The Honor Advocate Program is a wonderful organization that serves an essential role on campus.  I encourage law students to look into what the program does and recognize how it can help them develop as an advocate.  I know that the lessons I learned as an Honor Advocate will serve me well throughout my future law career.

 

 

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