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.
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.