With less than a month left in the 2013-2014 academic year, we asked several of our third-year students to reflect upon their time at W&L Law. Today, Jennifer Crook takes on the topic.
When I was first approached about writing a piece reflecting upon my experience at Washington and Lee, I started to think about the professors I’ve had, the millions of cases I’ve read, and the outlines I have created during my time here. But then my attention shifted outside the classroom. I began to think about fall afternoon flag football games, pie festivals, indoor soccer games, and SBA events. The “school” part of law school seems to fall away, and I am left with wonderful memories and great friends. I wouldn’t trade my law school experience with anyone.
I went to Virginia Tech for my undergraduate degree and fell in love with the mountains. Coming to Lexington was like coming home for me. When people ask me to describe Lexington, I say, “we don’t have a Starbucks.” Just let that sink in. But the pros for choosing Washington and Lee far outweigh the con of not having a Starbucks. I chose Washington and Lee specifically for the third-year program. If there is one thing I have learned from my older brother who practices in D.C. – and I’ll deny this if you tell him –it is that law school does not teach you how to be a lawyer. Experience does. I knew that after graduation, I wanted to be able to walk into my first job and be productive for my clients. I also knew that being able to recite cases would only take me halfway there.
Last summer, I was fortunate to split my summer and work at a law firm in Roanoke and a Commonwealth’s Attorney Office outside of Richmond. For my third year placement, I selected the judicial externship program. This ensures that, by the time I graduate, I will have worked in the public sector, private practice, and clerked for a judge. I feel that this experience has prepared me for my first job because now I can look at a set of facts and see arguments on both sides, as well as what a court might say to each theory.
For my judicial clerkship I was matched with Judge Irvine, who sits in the Rockbridge County Circuit Court. I cannot adequately express how much I have learned from him. He has allowed me to research topics, draft opinions, and sit in on meetings with attorneys. These cases range from first-degree murder to divorces. I truly feel that this experience is the perfect bookend to my law school career. I understand now why the professor in my first year writing class insisted that the last sentence of your brief should always be your request for relief. Having read multiple briefs submitted to the court this year, I realize why asking for relief is so important. You might have just written the most well researched and perfectly analyzed brief, but if the court does not know what you are asking for, the odds diminish that the court will do exactly what you want. It is the little things like this that makes my legal education come full circle. It enforces the lessons I’ve learned, and reminds me of the proper way to draft legal arguments throughout my career.
Washington and Lee has great academics, and I have learned so much from the third-year program, but it is the people here that make it so special. Everyone made a conscious choice to come to Lexington. Specifically, the professors who choose to teach here are literally the best in their field. Not only are they some of the most intelligent people I have ever met, but they are also giving with their time and are never above staying late to answer student questions. The open door policy that the professors employ is not just lip service. For example, if they are out of town or traveling, the professors give out their cell phone number to students in case questions arise and they are not able to be in their office.
People come here because of the strong academics. After all, it is difficult not to think about the strong academic history of Washington and Lee while studying next to Justice Powell’s chair in the reading room of the law library. But, it is the majesty of the mountains, the friends, and the atmosphere that makes Washington and Lee so wonderful. Looking back, it is the friendships I have made over my years here that I will cherish forever. I chose Washington and Lee for the academics and the third-year program, but I will take my memories and friendships with me forever both in my personal and profession career.