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, Mary Katherine Vigness takes on the topic.
I can hardly believe that my time as a law student at W&L is almost over. It feels like my visit as a prospective student was just yesterday. When I reflect on the last three years, I realize that there will be many parts of my experience that I will miss and forever remember fondly.
I initially considered W&L because of its outstanding reputation and intimate environment. I knew of friends from my hometown in Texas who attended the school and, from talking with them, I knew it had a strong alumni network with a national reach. When I visited the campus, I was impressed by the friendliness and professionalism of the students and fell in love with the quaint, safe, and historical town nestled in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains. At the time, I was used to urban environments and crowds of people, so the relaxed atmosphere was particularly appealing for law school. I also knew that I would have a difficult time in an impersonal and overly competitive atmosphere. In contrast, W&L appeared to balance the pressures of law school with a healthy and friendly culture. This was due, in part, to the small size of the classes. When W&L sent me an email to offer me a spot in the Class of 2012, I did not hesitate in giving them an affirmative reply.
I can clearly remember my first day of Orientation. My new classmates and I filed into the Moot Court Room, where we were introduced to the deans. Like many of my classmates, I had only a vague idea of what the next three years would be like. However, the deans reassured us that our law school experience would be some of the most pivotal, yet satisfying, years of our lives. They were right.
Since that first day, law school has been full of fun times, challenges, and new experiences. Law school is difficult no matter where you go to school. You will have successes, but you will also face setbacks. What sets W&L apart is the way it encourages every student to be successful despite those setbacks, utilize their personal strengths, and pursue a career that suits their interests. Although they can be demanding, the professors at W&L are accomplished and approachable. Many have an “open-door policy” (instead of office hours), and they foster an inviting academic environment where students can talk to them at any time and come by their offices with questions or just to chat. I frequently stop by my first-year professors’ offices to say hello, catch up, reminisce about my first semester, and seek advice. In my experience, the curriculum is undoubtedly rigorous, but there are a lot of people here to help you along.
There also are many opportunities to find your place at W&L Law. There are law journals, moot court competitions, clinics, and student organizations. There is a strong student government with an active honor system where law students can frequently interact with the undergraduates, which helps unify the student body. I volunteered as an Honor Advocate, where I helped students accused of honor violations prepare their cases before the Executive Committee. I enjoyed participating in the facilitation of the Honor System, which is so important to W&L, and helping students navigate the student judicial process. I also served as Publications Editor of the German Law Journal, where I gained editorial experience with a journal that has opened my eyes to a variety of relevant international legal issues.
I also have thoroughly enjoyed the third-year program at W&L, as it offers students a chance to experience the actual practice of law in a safe, supportive, educational environment. I am currently a caseworker in the Black Lung Clinic, which is a civil litigation clinic that represents coal miners applying for federal black lung benefits. As a caseworker, I have had the opportunity to sit first-chair on a case, where I have conducted discovery, taken depositions, and prepared arguments to present in a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. I have really enjoyed my frequent interaction with the clients, who rely on us to help them through every step of the process and are sincerely grateful for our help. I also have greatly appreciated the opportunity to experience litigation practice under the supervision of Professor Tim MacDonnell, a successful, seasoned attorney who can work with each of us individually on not just our written work, but also our oral advocacy skills.
Another great experience has been the Business Planning practicum with Professor Lyman Johnson. I have had the opportunity to draft an operating agreement for a LLC, negotiate a letter of intent for a joint venture, and evaluate an IPO proposal, which are unique and invaluable exercises for a law student. The class is set up in a way that simulates a law firm environment, where the students act as junior associates preparing work for a senior attorney. The close interaction with Professor Johnson has been critical to learning how to integrate securities law, tax, and corporate law into a work product suitable for a senior partner.
Just as important are my personal and professional relationships at W&L. I believe the student body to be unique because it encourages strong friendships, which alleviates some of the pressures of law school. These friendships strengthen our professional relationships as well, which create a strong network both during and after law school. We have spent a lot of time in the library, but we also have had plenty of opportunities to have fun. Personally, I had a great time with the Law School Football League. It was a good way to meet friends, and there was nothing better than walking out to the law school lawn on a Friday afternoon to hang out with everyone, get some exercise, and relax after a long week of classes.
I will certainly miss the friendliness and intimate feel of this small town community as well as its historical and picturesque landscape. I have loved how you can go to any of the restaurants on Main Street and almost always see a familiar face. When I walk into Lexington Coffee, for example, I encounter a host of classmates busy on their computers, local residents meeting for their morning coffee, and professors gathering to discuss their latest work. At night, my friends frequently gather for dinner and drinks at the Southern Inn, an old Lexington staple, or meet at Macado’s to watch sports games after a long day of class. The town may be small, but its size only adds to its appeal.
Looking ahead, I am excited to put my education to use. However, I will miss my life in Lexington and the close-knit community. I know I will look back and reminisce about both the good and the challenging times. If I had to distill my experience down to one line, it would be that there is no place like W&L Law.