Why I Chose W&L Law – The Return – #3

by Chris Wagner

We asked eight of our current first-year students to discuss their decision to attend W&L Law. Today, Chris Wagner, a graduate of Indiana University – Bloomington and former Teach for America volunteer in Phoenix, Arizona, takes on the question.

“What do you think about the future of democracy in America?” inquired Professor Miller.  The six or seven pairs of eyes at the table darted glances at each other in hopes that some brave soul would opine first.  We had just finished introducing ourselves and without hesitation, without a hint that the social pleasantries were no more, he casually casted the spotlight on each of us – still strangers amongst ourselves – and requested a cogent argument on the future of our political system.

By this time, Orientation Week was almost over.  We had survived our first encounters with the ghost of Socrates in our mock torts classes; information overload became the new normal; and we finally had an opportunity to mingle with professors and alumni at the law school picnic.  To be sure, I gladly stuffed my face with barbecue while my classmates took the lead in engaging Professor Miller’s rather provocative question, but this was a moment I needed.  After a week of orienting and being inundated with information, I was in need of reminding as to why I had decided to spend the next three years of my life in Lexington.

Prior to visiting W&L, I was convinced that the schools to which I applied, aside from location and size, were generally the same; and this made choosing a school rather difficult.  A weekend in idyllic Lexington, however, experiencing the W&L community firsthand, made the decision easy.  The attachment that students and faculty have to this school becomes vividly apparent upon stepping into Sydney Lewis Hall.  Professors and students alike are eager to know you, to learn about your background and your career aspirations, or, as evidenced by Professor Miller, to hear your thoughts on contemporary issues.  And, it really is a place where everybody knows your name (Cheers!).

I ultimately chose W&L Law for several reasons: the intimate, scholarly community of the law school, the accessibility of the faculty, and
the tranquility of small-town Lexington. In my experience, law schools love declaring that they are “different.”  Allow me, however, to transcend cliché and submit that W&L truly is an exceptional community.  One needs not to enroll here to sense the intimacy of the community.  During my visit as a prospective student, I purposely sought the thoughts and opinions of current students.  They spoke passionately of the importance of the W&L Honor System and the effect it has in making W&L a safe, comfortable, and noncompetitive place to study the law.

Furthermore, W&L Law is small.  You quickly learn names, backgrounds, political leanings, and sports team allegiances within the first few weeks of school.  This intimacy was hands down the most important quality factoring into my decision to attend W&L Law.  I loved my time at a large university, but after witnessing the tight knit culture as a prospective student, I knew this is where I would thrive.  W&L’s small size, the good people it attracts, and its convivial culture work to make law school – what is often thought to be a terrifying, uncomfortably new experience – surprisingly enjoyable.

My classmates, and especially those in my small section (the small class of about twenty students that doubles as my legal writing section),
are more than happy to help with lingering questions, share class notes, or just lend general support.  Furthermore, being surrounded by smart, driven individuals with such diverse backgrounds is enriching beyond measure.  I learn from these extraordinary people every day.  Just when you think that you cannot be more prepared for contracts class, that you have the judge’s logic seared into your hippocampus, that you would welcome the professor’s twisted hypothetical with a smile, a classmate will bring to the discussion a new insight you never thought to consider.  Many factors contribute to the law school experience, but the caliber of the student body is particularly consequential and can yield limitless benefits.

In addition, the faculty at W&L Law are scholars and teachers.  Far from seclusion in the ivory towers of academia, the faculty here are invested in educating future lawyers.  And they truly are fonts of knowledge with diverse experiences and no shortage of entertaining anecdotes to reassure us that legal doctrine, as abstract and complicated as it may be, is indeed relevant. Furthermore, most professors
have open door policies and are happy to answer questions, continue a class discussion, or just get to know their students.  My small section professor has been invaluable to me in learning to write a legal memo – the IL’s veritable rite of passage.  According to him, our mastery of proper legal writing is his primary objective; and in pursuit of this objective he has extended his office hours, canceled class to free up more
office hours, and has consistently provided personalized feedback.  Having graduated from a large public university where time spent with faculty was limited, the accessibility of W&L faculty was a quality I specifically sought in a law school, thus it made W&L all the more attractive.

In addition to the rich community within W&L Law, the town of Lexington has its own attractive qualities.  I grew up in Indiana – certainly a charming region of the Heartland – but the people of Lexington, Virginia are in their own metric of graciousness.  For instance, a routine trip to Kroger often becomes a date with the ladies at the hot food counter.  The conversation typically involves me attempting to pry from their grips the recipe for their baked mac n’ cheese.  I have yet to succeed.  The point is that anyone who lacks faith in humanity just needs a day trip to “Lex.” This is the only place I have ever lived where I feel no need to lock doors.  Also, Lexington is a small town, but it is a college town; and while a variety of entertainment options might require some legwork, there are things to do here.  Outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, and rafting abound; we enjoy our own local drive-in movie theater with amazing fried food.  Also, one can always drive to nearby Charlottesville or Roanoke to diversify their dining and entertainment options.

Professor Miller, while putting us on the spot, exemplified the congeniality so endemic to the W&L community.  Like so many other members of the law school community, Professor Miller can comfortably introduce himself, enjoy southern style barbecue, and pepper his soon-to-be students with weighty, yet pertinent questions.  Here, strangers become acquainted and dive immediately into the validity of Fukuyama’s “End of History” thesis.  I’m now halfway through my first semester of law school, and my experience has certainly confirmed my expectations.  I can only celebrate what lies ahead.

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