We asked eight of our current first-year students to discuss their decision to attend W&L Law. Today, Randall Miller, a graduate of Mississippi College from Roseland, Louisiana, takes on the question.
While working for an attorney the summer before my junior year in college, I began to glance at the national rankings for law schools. Knowing that I would apply the following year, I quickly scanned the profiles of many schools in the top 50 and beyond. Taking into account national reputation and quality of life, I drafted a short list of schools where I might apply. I distinctly remember reading W&L’s profile for the first time and thinking, “Wow, a nationally recognized law school nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains with an Honor System that has been in place for more than 100 years, I need to remember this one!”
The following summer my law school search became less of a casual browse and more of an intentional, focused effort. When thinking about where to apply, I considered a lot of different factors. I analyzed job placement data, thought about the area of the country where I wanted to live for three years and considered the strength of various programs. At the end of the summer I shortened my list to five schools; W&L was one of the five.
There were a few different reasons why W&L made this list. The third year program at W&L was impressive. Current attorneys told me that law school was mostly theory, but it appeared that W&L was making strides to lessen the learning curve between law school and practice. I wanted to graduate from law school prepared to practice, and I saw W&L’s third year as an ideal way to ready myself for the challenges beyond the classroom.
The small class sizes also drew my attention to W&L. I knew from my undergraduate experience that I learned best in small classes, and the student to faculty ratio at W&L was really low. In talking with current students, I found they regularly mentioned being able to stop by a professor’s office without having to schedule an appointment. Several students credited this open door policy with allowing them the opportunity to seek advice from professors and build close relationships with them. They all emphasized just what great teachers their professors were and how professors at W&L truly wanted to see their students succeed both in the classroom and in their careers. I wanted to attend a law school where the professors were approachable and valued the success of their students, and it appeared that these characteristics were representative
of W&L’s faculty.
The Honor System also stood out to me. I wanted to be a member of a law school community that valued personal integrity, honesty, and ethical decision making. I found these values at W&L. W&L was the only school where I heard students repeatedly describe leaving a laptop or other valuable in the law school over a weekend and return the following week to find it still there.
They also shared examples of professors viewing a student’s word as truth without probing further for validation. One student said his friend retold a true story of a dog eating his homework to one of his professors, and the professor did not question his honesty. The bond of trust that I noticed between the faculty, staff, and students was unique and admirable.
Location was also important. Having lived in a small town for much of my life, I could relate to the way of life in Lexington and knew that the distractions existing in larger cities would be minimal here. Also, the natural beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains created a peaceful backdrop for the law school. I recognized that law school would be demanding, and the ability to enjoy the amenities and views of the Shenandoah Valley resonated with me as a great way to find a peaceful escape when I needed to take a break from studying.
However, my Open House experience was what ultimately convinced me W&L was where I wanted to be. I visited the campus in August, and the impression from this earlier visit persuaded me to attend an Open House in March. Upon arriving at the Open House, the Director of Admissions greeted me by name! This thoughtful gesture was indicative of the general nature of the W&L community. From the onset, everyone was very open and friendly. Current students freely shared their experiences in Lexington, and staff members readily introduced themselves. It felt like a family. It was clear that the people truly made this law school different. They were engaging, caring, and honest.
Over the course of the weekend, it was clear the Honor System and pleasant atmosphere described online were realities that permeated every aspect of law school life. The Honor System created a community of trust that allowed students to leave their books and computers unattended at carrels, write an “IOU” at the Brief Stop (the café on campus), and have access to the law school 24 hours a day. Furthermore, it provided me with the assurance that I could trust my fellow classmates and everyone
at the University. The testimonies of students helping one another both in the classroom and outside of law school further convinced me that there was something different about W&L. This was the kind of law school I wanted to attend. I wanted to be in a place where my classmates and I would be held to high ethical standards and where students were willing to help one another.
I know the relationships I will form over the next three years will span far beyond the doors of Lewis Hall. I broke my right wrist (dominant hand) during the first week of law school. I was unable to write or type for two weeks. Thanks to my classmates and the willingness of professors to allow class recordings, I was able to survive classes without falling behind. Some classmates emailed me notes. Others baked cookies. Another made a peach cobbler. One of my classmates even chauffeured me to and from doctors’ appointments. I also spoke with some of my professors during office hours to discuss ways to adapt to this unforeseen challenge. I greatly appreciated their wise advice and words of encouragement. I can say without reservation that attending W&L Law has been one of the best decisions that I have ever made.