We asked eight of our current first-year students to discuss their decision to attend W&L Law. Today, Maisie Osteen, a graduate of Hofstra University from Charlottesville, Virginia, takes on the question.
I always knew law school was for me. Since I was little, a legal education has been the foundation for almost every career possibility I have ever considered. In 2008, I graduated from Hofstra University and got a taste of the legal world. I worked at both a small law firm and at legal aid and these experiences, along with my natural inclinations, solidified my desire to pursue a legal education. The only problem left was where to go!
I am from Charlottesville, Virginia, and if you asked me when I was in high school, traveling over the mountain to play lacrosse against Rockbridge High School, if I would end up at W&L, I would have said ‘no chance.’ Even if you had asked me at the beginning of my law school search, I would have said ‘it was a long shot.’ At that time I had never visited the W&L campus or explored all the school had to offer. When I narrowed down my options and realized W&L was at the top of my list, I decided to attend an admitted students weekend. During my visit, I realized W&L was the school for me.
One conversation I had with a then first-year student was particularly influential in my decision. I had grown up with a stereotype of the W&L student; I thought it was a school filled with conservative individuals all dressed in prep school attire. I expressed my concerns of the homogenous student body to the current student and she immediately dispelled my concerns. She told me about the efforts the school took to ensure a diverse student body and recruit law classes with a broad range of perspectives. She was right. Since I have been at school I have been encouraged by the diversity of perspectives and backgrounds. These differences have informed discussions in and out of the classroom. Take my criminal class, for example. In this class, people have an opportunity to share their views on any number of aspects of the criminal justice system. Sometimes people agree. Sometimes they disagree. But either way, the discussions are always interesting. In the aftermath of the Troy Davis execution we had conversations about the moral and practical application of the death penalty. The very liberal and progressive voices adamantly opposed the death penalty under any circumstance while others found it a viable means for deterrence and public safety. I am happy to be in a place where peoples’ experiences and beliefs charge their conversations and fuel their passion about relevant topics.
Along with the conversations I had with current students, there were three primary reasons I chose W&L: the third year program, the class size, and the Washington & Lee community. The third year program at W&L is unique and cutting edge. In an economic environment where jobs are anything but guaranteed, I knew I needed to do whatever I could to put myself in the most attractive hiring position possible. After talking with professors and current students, I felt the third-year program would give me hands-on experience that would allow me to develop as a lawyer in a safe, supportive academic environment and flourish in an extremely competitive job market.
The small class sizes also set W&L apart. When I visited the school and realized the entire 2014 class could fit in the Moot Court Room, I knew this was a place where I would receive individual attention. I am an interactive learner and engage more completely in classes where I feel a part of the academic process. My largest class, right now, is 60 people, a class size that is considered small at many universities. My smallest class is an astounding 20! This class is my “small section.” In our small sections, we study one area, in my case Torts, and also do our legal writing and research. The professor leads the writing class, grades and critiques our work and helps us develop our legal writing. It is a huge advantage to have this direction from a professor, rather than a student, because they have been in the legal world and understand exactly what is required and expected. After all of our small-section writing assignments we have “writing conferences” with our professors to talk about our development and outline the areas we need to work on. This is the attention and care that I was looking for in my legal education and that I have absolutely found at W&L.
Finally, the W&L community and the greater Lexington population particularly charmed me during my search. People here speak to one other. This may seem like an insignificant thing, but this small act of kindness is indicative of the interconnectedness and friendliness that is present on campus and in the community. Because of the camaraderie between the students, we are focused on academic development and not derailing each other, a practice which you often hear about at other institutions.
There are many reasons why students come to Washington & Lee and there are even more reasons why alumni are so passionate about the W&L community. I have only been here a few short months but I understand why alumni will go out on a limb for each other. There is something special going on here, something that is based on honor and commitment to fundamental shared values. This network, which begins with classmates, extends through the legal profession and benefits all W&L graduates. In my search for “the school,” I discussed the academic experience with law school graduates nationwide; W&L graduates were always the most full of pride and commitment to their alma mater. I am so proud to be a part of the Washington & Lee community and look forward to the next three years.