By Mike Bombace
As previously noted, two of our current first-year students will be periodically blogging about their experiences at W&L Law. Today, Mike Bombace explores the reasons why he chose Washington and Lee.
As detailed in my earlier post, I’m from Denver and love skiing, cycling and all of the other activities you might think of when you think of Colorado. I am an Eagle Scout, Ultra-marathoner, and was an avid SCUBA diver. I still enjoy many of these activities. I was attracted to these activities because of the community they created. To me, community is not just important while you are in it; it also shapes who you are and who you will be.
There are many decisions to make when choosing a law school and a great many of these decisions are difficult: Where do you want to live? What would you like to do? What do you want in life? These are the sorts of concerns that will likely occupy your time (and mind) in the coming months, and rightfully so. Choosing the right law school is not easy, and it definitely requires thought. A lot of thought. Over the course of last year, as I began thinking about law school, I noticed a recurring theme: community.
When law school is discussed, community frequently takes a backseat to more tangible, or at the very least, quantifiable, aspects, such as employment percentages, average starting salaries, federal clerkship figures, strength in a given field, and scholarship money available. These factors are important, to be sure. However, what gives substance to these numbers and statistics and, indeed your entire law school experience, is the community around you.
When making my law school decision, I visited all of the schools I was seriously considering, and I recommend you do so too. This is the only way you can really figure out what a school is like, or perhaps more importantly, what its community is like. In all my travels, the school that both said it had, and actually did have, a strong community was Washington and Lee. Just from my few days on campus and my interactions with current students, I knew the community at Washington and Lee was strong and meant something to everyone at the school.
A large reason for this singular culture is that Washington and Lee is a singular law school. It really is different than almost every other law school in the country. Admittedly, this is a little hard to quantify (thus the reason why a visit is necessary), but just think about the numbers: The school is very small (about 400 or so total students). The student-faculty ratio is extremely low (9.5:1). The academic experience is student-centered. The school is located in a college town of about 7,000 people. There are not a lot of law schools that fit that description.
Furthermore, W&L has something no other law school has: The Honor System. This set of very basic principles governs student conduct and is enforced entirely by students. There are many examples of the Honor System at work at the law school (laptops left out, tabs run from week to week at the Brief Stop (the law school’s cafe), but really its biggest benefit is that the Honor System allows you to trust everyone around you.
Why is this important? Well, it all comes back to community. The trust students have in one another. The respect given by the faculty and the respect returned by students. The security and comfort students feel. These factors add up to a learning experience and sense of community that are truly unrivaled. And, in my experience, that’s not something you can find just anywhere.
During my first week of law school, I studied in the same classroom every night. On the first night, I noticed a student had left a dollar bill. The second night, I noticed the same dollar bill was still there in the classroom, but someone had formed it into a ring. The next night, the dollar bill had become a paper airplane. The following night a crane. I have not been back to that classroom to study, but I imagine the dollar bill is still there. At our law school, that’s not an exceptional story. And to me, that’s what makes W&L Law (and its community) different, and why I chose to attend.