by Stephen Harper
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, Stephen Harper, takes on the topic.
As graduation approaches, it is difficult to imagine how quickly the past three years have flown by. My experience at W&L Law has been both challenging and rewarding; it has been a period of personal growth and development. During my time here, I improved my analytical and legal reasoning skills, gained invaluable practical legal experience, and cemented numerous friendships.
When I started the application process, I was pretty certain I wanted to attend a law school in a major city. For the most part, I only applied to schools in New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, and Boston. Nevertheless, I was familiar with W&L from my undergraduate application process and decided to apply to the School of Law. My decision to apply was easy because W&L was highly ranked and there was no application fee.
After I received my acceptance letter, I began to consider W&L more seriously. I spoke with a family friend who received his juris doctor from W&L. He advised me that he had a great experience in Lexington and that W&L provided him with a top-notch legal education.
I also did my own research about the school and discovered that W&L not only offered the core legal courses, but it was also in the process of reforming its third-year curriculum, moving students from the traditional curriculum to a more practical program involving skills immersions, clinics, externships and simulated practicum courses. I was very interested and intrigued by this innovative approach, and my preliminary research convinced me that I should attend an Open House at W&L.
Initially, I was very hesitant to attend a school in a rural area. However, when I visited W&L, I was immediately impressed by the beautiful campus and the friendly people. I also was attracted to the small class size and the low student-to-faculty ratio. During my visit, I inquired about job placement and found that W&L usually placed a significant portion of its graduating class in Washington, D.C. and New York. My visit alleviated many of my concerns about going to school in a small town, and it made my decision to attend W&L an easy one.
I have not been disappointed with my experience at W&L and in Lexington during the past three years. As a 1L, I improved my legal writing in my small section classes and received thorough feedback from professors regarding my writing assignments. After most of my writing assignments, I would meet with my small section professor outside of class and discuss what I did well and what I could do better. These meetings usually lasted for thirty minutes. However, the professors were always open to scheduling additional or longer meetings when necessary. In addition, they had no problem with me stopping by their office unannounced with questions.
As a 2L, I was able to pursue my specific interests in the law and choose from various electives. Because of my background in finance, I decided to enroll in classes that would prepare me for a career in transactional law (e.g. Close Business Arrangements (CBA), Publicly Held Businesses (PHB), Cross-Border Transactions, and Secured Transactions).
As a 2L, I also had the opportunity to participate as a member of two journals: the Washington and Lee Law Review and the German Law Journal. As a member of both journals, I had to write a student Note. I decided to write my Law Review Note on credit rating agency liability following the enactment of the Dodd-Frank Act. My CBA professor served as my faculty advisor. He reviewed many of my drafts, provided extensive feedback, and offered numerous suggestions about my analysis and sources of information. I met with him often and his assistance greatly improved my Note.
As a 3L, I gained invaluable practical experience through the third-year curriculum. During the first semester, I externed at a reputable firm in Roanoke, where I had the opportunity to further develop my interest in general corporate law. I drafted memoranda for senior attorneys, reviewed and marked up contracts, and drafted various contractual provisions.
I also took a mergers and acquisitions practicum during the first semester, which was taught by attorneys from Hunton & Williams and other large law firms. The class was the most intense class I have taken at W&L, and it provided me great insight into the life of corporate law associates at large firms. The class not only focused on the legal aspects of mergers and acquisitions, but it also emphasized business concepts and ethical issues. There were written assignments due just about every class.
Most of the assignments required significant out-of-class interaction with hypothetical clients (which were played by the professors). On one occasion, the class traveled to Richmond to pitch different bids to our hypothetical clients. Many assignments required significant independent research and drafting. Because all of the assignments involved some type of group work, multiple drafts were reviewed, marked up, and sent back and forth between group members. The group work made it seem like I was working at a large firm. Group members depended on other members to meet strict deadlines on a weekly basis. I think the M&A practicum prepares students very well for the type of work a young associate at a large firm would be expected to complete.
I did not have an exam in either my externship or the M&A practicum; rather, my grade was based on research, writing, and drafting assignments, negotiations, and client counseling simulations. I felt like I was practicing law, rather than studying law.
Throughout my three years in Lexington, I was fortunate to meet some interesting people and develop new friendships. Because of the small class size, students at W&L really get to know their classmates and professors. Everyone is very collegial and W&L lacks the cutthroat competition that is often associated with law school. The small town atmosphere and the type of people at W&L made my law school experience much less stressful than I anticipated.
Because Lexington is a relatively small town, there are not as many distractions as there are in a large city and students are able to focus on their work more. Nevertheless, there are plenty of things to do around Lexington. W&L really encourages balance. Many students participate in intramural sports and extracurricular activities and clubs. During the fall, many students spend their Friday afternoons playing law school football and socializing with friends on the law school patio. The Student Bar Association also sponsors many social events throughout the year, including a pig roast, Feb Club, and numerous patio parties. There are also outdoor activities, including hiking and hunting, and one of my favorite events of the year, the Rockbridge County Wine Festival.
After graduation, I plan to move back to New York. I am excited to be back in a big city, but I will miss the scenic countryside and the relaxed pace of Lexington. I hope my classmates and I will continue to stay in touch and assist each other in our personal and professional endeavors, just as we assisted each other throughout law school. Although the past three years in Lexington have been challenging at times, I have had a very enjoyable experience. I am confident that W&L was the right choice for me.