My Time at W&L Law #6

by Claire Fernandez

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, Claire Fernandez, takes on the topic.

Claire Fernandez

Claire Fernandez

I chose to come to W&L for several reasons. I liked that it is such a small school because I knew that I didn’t just want to be another face in the crowd to my professors. I knew that smaller class sizes would require me to participate more, which I knew would benefit me academically. I also liked that, when I visited W&L for an Open House, the current students talked about how much fun they had with their classmates as much as they talked about how much time they spent studying; I didn’t hear that at any other schools. I am a very competitive person, but I don’t believe in hiding books or refusing to help my peers in order to get ahead.

When I think of the characteristics that a professional school should teach you, all of those cut-throat horror stories that every prospective law student hears just aren’t part of what I imagine. And I liked that when I came to W&L, instead of everyone telling me to lock up my books and computer so that no one would steal them, the tour guide said that he left his phone and wallet out all the time and never had to worry about anything being missing when he got back.

Over the course of my three years here, I have developed truly amazing friendships that I know will last far beyond my time in Lexington. When most people think of law school, they think of the hours upon hours they spent studying and reading and writing, and I certainly think of those things too, but when I think of W&L, my friends come to mind first. I know that if I were at a larger city school, I would probably have made friends with other people in the city or in other graduate schools in the area, but I would not have gotten to know my classmates as well as I have. I’m grateful that W&L’s size and location have led me to the amazing friends I found here.

Another one of my favorite things about W&L is how easy it has been to develop meaningful relationships with professors. From Professor Millon, my first small-section professor who reminded us all to sleep and call our moms, to Professor Murchison, my APLP professor and Note advisor who I can always go to for advice or just a good chat, to Professor Drumbl, my Tax Clinic director who has a contagious passion for helping others that rivals her contagious laugh, to Professor Wilson, my go-to professor for advice about my future career in health law. Those connections were what I hoped for when I decided to go to a small school, and they are why I know W&L was the right choice for me.

The 3L Program has also been one of my favorite things about W&L. I spent a semester in the Tax Clinic, and I found the experience extremely rewarding. Professor Drumbl’s passion for the cause (we work with low-income taxpayers) and her commitment to our clients is undeniable. Traveling to meet a few of our clients, she and I spent several hours in the car together, and we had the opportunity to talk about everything from our clients to my post-graduation plans to how she was supposed to make her young son’s Halloween costume after he told her that he wanted to be a windsock. She took the time to get to know each of the students in the Tax Clinic on a personal level, and her expansive knowledge about the tax issues we dealt with made the Clinic an incredible learning experience, not only from an academic perspective, but also in terms of learning about real-world practice and client interaction. I have spent the past seven years in small, southeastern private schools, and it can be easy to forget how much that environment differs from the rest of the world.

Through my work in the Tax Clinic, I met a recent widow who was trying to cope with her husband’s unexpected death when the IRS contacted her regarding her husband’s failure to file his income tax returns for years prior to his death. She wanted to correct her husband’s mistakes, but the IRS was demanding more money than she made in a year. The opportunity to help her, as well as several other clients who would not have been able to afford assistance elsewhere, was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

I also took the Health Law Practicum, which was the most interesting class I have taken during my time at W&L Law. The assignment that I found most interesting was a research paper about medical professionals in teaching hospitals using the newly deceased to learn and to practice various techniques without seeking any sort of consent. I was so intrigued by the topic that I reached out to an old high school friend who currently works as an ER nurse in Maryland to talk to her about whether she had ever seen such things done and what her opinions were on the issue. Normally I would not bore my friends with the topic of a research paper, but everyone I talked to about that assignment found it as interesting and surprising as I did. That was just one of the assignments I did for that class that inspired me realize that health law is something that I can see myself doing every day as a career and genuinely enjoying, and Professor Wilson was more than happy to have lunch with me and offer her advice on how to pursue that career.

As I prepare to leave W&L, I know that I will miss all of those things. On sunny Friday afternoons in the fall, I will also miss the afternoons I spent playing LSFL on the lawn with all of my friends. I will also miss Dean’s Cup, the softball tournament we have in the spring that is fun even for me, someone who had never held a baseball bat before coming here and who refuses to try to catch a ball in the air for fear that I’ll knock my teeth out. I will also miss waking up on Sunday mornings and having brunch at Brix with my friends to talk about our weekends and the things we have going on during the coming week. Ultimately, I think that I’ll miss the whole community and the overall experience that I’ve had here, but I will leave knowing that this was the right school for me and feeling grateful for the things W&L taught me.

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