My route to law school was a little different than many of my classmates. Some of the other students at my undergraduate institute wanted to pursue the law to enact change in policy, to work at their family’s firm or to make a lot of money. I simply wanted to advance my career in a field I was already working in. You may be like my classmates and have broad goals for your law school experience, but don’t tune me out just yet. The reasons I chose W&L are specific to my experience, but will shed some light on the vast opportunities available to you as a student here.
As a student at BGSU I worked in the alumni and development office. This office is primarily responsible for raising the funds necessary to fill the gap between tuition, state funding and the actual cost of running the university. In addition, almost all new buildings, renovations and student scholarships are funded through their endeavors. I found myself working there through a scholarship I had received and fell in love with the mission of this small group of individuals. With the continual reduction of state funding and the increasing tuition rate at all public schools, this is becoming a monumental task. If I had not received a scholarship to that school I would not have been able to attend. After considering the way education had furthered me as an individual and as a productive member of society I was compelled to give back and allow other students that same opportunity. This is not as ambitious as ending violence in the Middle East or promoting human rights in Africa, but it is how I see myself impacting my community. Allowing students the opportunity to become educated and use that education to benefit society is a noble cause in my mind.
So how does that lead to law school? One facet of gift giving is estates and trusts where individuals leave a portion of their estate to the university. This is a highly beneficial arrangement for the university and allows the individuals to feel that they are contributing to a place that helped to make them who they are. This particular activity also requires a great deal of legal expertise. In the small office I worked in with less than 20 staff members, 3 of them were attorneys and they were always in demand. More importantly, the gifts they managed were the ones that meant the most to the bottom line. To make the greatest impact I needed a law degree.
I, like you most likely, had heard the horror stories of law school. The rumors of the experience being exceptionally stressful, your classmates being overly competitive, professors who try to embarrass you in front of your peers and a virtually unmanageable workload. I did not want or need that stress in my life. I also did not want to work at a big firm – so was this really a task I was willing to take on? Did I want to subject my family to the strain that school could possibly put on our finances, relationships and career goals?
As I am writing this blog, you can infer that my answer was “yes”. But not because I believed the trade for a better career was worth the trials I was so wary of. I ultimately decided to attend law school because I found a place that would allow me to pursue improved career options but would allow me to be me at the same time. Washington and Lee is the only university I visited that allowed such flexibility in the course work so I did not feel pressured into working towards a job in a big law firm. On one of my visits to the school I met the individual who organizes the third-year program. I told her of my interests and instead of explaining the available choices that would be applicable to that type of field, she sat down with me and we discussed how she and the office could tailor an experience that would place me directly in the advancement field. She acknowledged there was no set program for that area but she was willing and excited to help me find an experience to fit my needs.
As for the horror stories, never once in any of my communications with W&L did I feel this was the kind of place those attitudes would be permitted. The students were warm, welcoming and understanding. The professors and the deans were accessible to answer questions or just talk about the application experience. I have only been a student for few weeks but I can promise you this is not just a show. The students here care about each other. They are competitive in the sense they challenge each other to do better, to be better, but they are always willing to help if you need notes or just need to talk. The professors are likewise a great resource, not a source of stress or anxiety. They will push you to excel but they will help you every step of the way. The work load is likely more than you have ever experienced before but again there are resources around every corner to help you succeed.
So how does this apply to you and where you are in your decision process? In comparing Washington and Lee to the other schools on your list, consider where you want to be five years after graduation, and more importantly, who you want to be. You may not know what kind of law you want to practice or where you want to end up. However, you can determine what kind of lawyer you want to be. Joining the Washington and Lee community is not a perfect fit for everyone. We value professionalism, ethics and honor both in the work place, in education and in life. We expect excellence. This is not to say we expect perfection, but we expect each student to work as hard as they can to exceed in their field. We expect this to be an experience that will change you as a person and as a professional, and we are here to help you throughout that experience. I chose Washington and Lee because it will and has already begun to change me as a person and a professional, but still allows me to pursue the things that are most important to me. You will not be a number here. You will be an individual that is part of the greater W&L community.