by Marianne Zawadzki
With graduation less than a month away, we asked several of our third-year students to reflect upon their time at W&L Law. Today, Marianne Zawadzki, takes on the topic.
Several weeks ago I had a trial approaching, and I had one of those questions about my case that I’ve found a human being can answer better than Westlaw. In typical fashion, I trod the familiar stretch of carpet across the hall between the Criminal Justice Clinic and the office of J.D. King, our clinical professor. Blue case file in one arm, I approached the open door, paused, and raised my other hand to knock on the frame. Before my hand made contact, Professor King, facing his computer monitor on the opposite wall, raised a hand and said, “just a sec Marianne, let me finish this thought and we can talk.” Puzzled, I took a seat and began trying to figure out what mirror or reflection Professor King had used to tell it was me without looking. A few seconds later as he hit send on his email and rotated toward me in his desk chair, I blurted out “How did you know it was me?” Professor King cocked his head slightly and replied with a ghost of a smile that it was the point in the year when he could identify all his clinic students without looking by the way they approached his door. Apparently a unique gait and the pause in the doorway was my signature.
It says something to be at a school where the professors come to know you so well and are so accessible that they can literally pick you out with their eyes closed. And my experience of this is not unique to Professor King. Professor McDonnell in the Black Lung Clinic is happy to take a seat in an armchair and give me his ex-prosecutor’s perspective on my cases any time I pop in. Last year, I came to Professor Jost’s office to throw around some ideas for my seminar paper. At that time, Professor Jost was quite busy with the lead up to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and upon realizing he was on a conference call with several members of Congress, I prepared to slink away. But upon seeing me at the door Professor Jost waived me in, remarking that I “might learn something, and anyway, President Obama would be on in a minute if I had any interest in hearing that.” Yeah I did.
Needless to say, the academic benefits of a small school, and the unique environment W&L creates have left me feeling truly lucky to have received this particular legal education. But the small environment and the theme of quality over quantity extend into life in Lexington as well.
If you’ve spent any time at all with W&L students, you’ve probably heard ad nauseum that Lexington is a special place. Well, 3Ls might complain that they’re ready to go to a town with more than three bars, but the truth is, while I do enjoy going out in a big city and meeting new people, I doubt I’ll ever again experience the comfort of going to Macado’s on a Friday night and realizing I know the names of 90 percent of the people in there (and 100 percent of the bartenders), and can strike up a conversation with anyone.
When I first came to W&L I had very little idea what I was getting into. A California girl, I had never before been below the Mason-Dixon line. There’s definitely been a slight culture shock. When my mother came to visit, between her thick German accent and the southern drawl she just couldn’t seem to comprehend, I basically had to act as a translator. When my roommate 1L year left her bike outside overnight I was so shocked it hadn’t been stolen that I began taking pictures of it every day (It was undisturbed, by her or anyone else, all semester). I’ve now lost my streetwise ways and often leave my laptop unattended in the library and door unlocked, trusting the honor system.
But of all the unanticipated things, it is a snowstorm 1L year and a comparison to my co-workers at my summer jobs back in California that really made me see what I got here that I couldn’t get anywhere else. At the end of our first semester, during our last exam (contracts), it snowed 6 inches, and then 12 or so more overnight. With the airports and roads closed, rather than suffer through the travel delays alone, a large group of us banded together in Woods Creek for two days. We watched movies, lived off of our food reserves, decompressed, bonded and compared exam war stories. Nothing could have been a better fix after surviving our first semester, not even going home.
When I encounter law students in big cities, I often think back to that snowstorm. I appreciate the support network I benefit from here that my friends at other law schools don’t have. I know the names of virtually everyone in my class many of whom I now count among my closest friends. Sure, I have old friends from home, but they don’t necessarily understand the hours and hours of reading, the stress of briefing a case in class your first year, botching an oral argument or losing a case with a client you care about. At W&L I know who to turn to share a gripe, what kind of law my peers are interested in, where they’re from and where they’re going, and most of all know that someone will always understand exactly what I’m going through.
As I prepare to return to the real world, I can only hope I can find one mentor that opens their door to me like the professors at W&L, and one friend to watch my laptop as I get up to buy coffee when studying for the bar. What I know is that the connections I’ve made here will always stay with me.