By Mike Bombace
As previously noted, two of our current first-year students will be periodically blogging about their experiences at W&L Law. In his last post of the semester, Mike Bombace takes on the subject of life in Lexington. Admittedly, this is probably the most common question we get over the course of an admissions cycle. A great many prospective students wonder just what there is to do in a town of 7,000? Well, a lot. Provided it’s the right fit for you, Lexington is a great place to live, learn and study. But don’t take my word for it.
This is my last blog post of the semester and year, and, even with finals just around the corner, I am happy to say I am still doing well. Hopefully you have read my prior posts, but if not, take a moment and check them out (here and here). In my first post, I mentioned I chose W&L because of its community. And, as I detailed in my second post, a large reason for this community is the commitment of the faculty. Another significant reason for this sense of community is the town of Lexington.
When I began my law school application process, I was determined to end up in a large city. I was born and raised in Denver and had come to enjoy living in a large urban setting. After I heard back from several schools, I did further research and thought about my choices. When I heard back from W&L, I actually had to get out a map to figure out where Lexington was. Everyone I talked to about Lexington made Revolutionary War jokes. Sadly, their geography skills were about as good as mine.
Geographic struggles aside, I began to read up on the town. In thinking about my law school decision, I knew that the academic experience would be important but that, due to my hobbies, the location of the school would also weigh heavily (I wanted to be able to run and cycle on something besides pavement). Consequently, I began balancing a number of factors between the schools I was actively considering. Some of those factors were: employment statistics, cost of living and attendance, clerkships, prestige/ranking, and geographic placement. These were the first factors I considered in making my law school choice, and during this analysis I found W&L was strong in all five factors.
I then made a series of phone calls. I knew community was going to be important for me, and without having visited yet, a conversation with a current or past student seemed the next best step. A friend put me in contact with a recent graduate, and she proved a tremendous resource. We talked about a lot things. Most of them I have covered already (hard data, the community, professors, the beauty of Lexington). What stood out most were her actions. In a profession and academic setting that turns so much on words, one can forget that actions can speak louder than words. She went to undergrad at W&L and chose to stay an additional three years for law school. To me, that spoke volumes.
The final step in my decision occurred when I attended an Admitted Students Open House. I wanted a great legal education with all the characteristics described above, but I also wanted a quality of life. Consequently, I needed to figure out if I could see myself living in Lexington. Over the course of the weekend, I spent time at the school. I interacted with students and faculty. I walked around town. I chatted with residents. And perhaps most importantly, I asked the students if they were happy with the school and Lexington. I always got a “yes” (even from a student (now friend) from Miami who had just gone through a massive winter (by Lexington standards)).
Upon moving to Lexington, I was pleasantly surprised to find not just an idyllic setting complete with gorgeous hills and valleys, extensive opportunities for hiking and mountain biking, and a dedicated group of roadies (road cyclists), but also several great restaurants, shops, and a very livable town. Once I moved in, I ran several errands and in every store I went into the owners greeted me warmly. I wound up having extended conversations with them about life in Lexington, and they all wanted to know more about me and just what I was up to?
A close friend of mine had a similar experience when he was at the grocery store and an older lady needed some help with her groceries. Upon seeing his W&L Law sweatshirt, she sought him out and asked for his help simply because he was a law student. Are we boy and girl scouts at heart at W&L? I don’t think my friend would say so, but the Honor System and just what it means to be a Washington and Lee student certainly do not end at the walls of the law school. In fact, in a great many ways, the town of Lexington embodies, in larger form, the community of the law school (I mean, I never lock my bike up – How many places would you feel comfortable doing that?).
After classes started, I found less time to run and cycle but made sure to get out when I could on a few of the local trails. There is one in particular, the Chessie Trail, that runs right by the law school, along a local river and winds through the hills into a neighboring town (Buena Vista). In addition, a fellow classmate and I cycle occasionally. We cycle up to the Blue Ridge Parkway and enjoy looking down at the Shenandoah Valley below while chatting about class.
And, as you might gather from the above comments, Lexington is a very easy place to live. All the stuff that usually makes your life stressful is just not part of the equation here. Whenever I’m looking for a good study break or need to run errands I am, luckily, right in the center of town and no more than a five or ten minute walk from one of the best chocolatiers in the United States, a number of great restaurants, an organic grocery store, and Lexington Coffee (where the coffee they serve is roasted but a few miles away).
When I first began to think about Lexington, I was worried I would get bored and there wouldn’t be enough of the creature comforts I had come to expect after living in a city for so long. However, I needn’t have worried. I am always busy (law school makes this possible in any setting) and, despite the town’s small size, there is a lot to do. More importantly, and this will likely surprise many of you, the size of Lexington is perhaps its greatest strength. When combined with the small size of the law school, it makes the community we have here possible. Furthermore, when all of this is coupled with the Honor System, a truly dynamic environment for living and learning is created. I would argue that such an environment does not exist anywhere else.
Lexington is not New York City, Los Angeles, or Denver. However, in my mind, when you’re thinking about law school, this is a positive. Lexington is a college town with all the warmth and hospitality you might expect given its southern location. I encourage you to visit whenever you are able and, if possible, during one of our Open Houses. Actually spending some time in Lexington is the best way to figure out if it is the right fit for you.
Have a fun and safe holiday season.