My Time at W&L Law: Joanna Heiberg

April 2, 2013

With less than a month left in the 2012-2013 academic year, we asked several of our third-year students to reflect upon their time at W&L Law. Today, Joanna Heiberg takes on the topic.

Joanna Heiberg

Joanna Heiberg

I first visited Lexington in the summer of 2009.  Although I was just passing through, I remember that afternoon clearly. I strolled through historic downtown and the undergraduate campus, past the colonnade and Lee Chapel.  I finished my visit with ice cream at Sweet Things Ice Cream Shoppe. I was immediately drawn to Lexington’s tight-knit community, picturesque scenery, and deep-rooted history.

As a result of that initial visit, W&L Law quickly became a frontrunner when I made the decision to go to law school.  W&L Law provided a stark contrast from my undergraduate experience at a large state school, a change I welcomed given the difficulty and significance of law school.  I desired to attend a law school with a collaborative and collegial atmosphere and professors that knew my name and were invested in my future.  To top it off, I knew that the convenience and comfort of a town like Lexington would provide the perfect antithesis to the stress and long hours that are an inevitable part of any law school experience. At the end of the day, it was an easy decision.

My time at W&L Law has been an unforgettable one, filled with great memories, lasting relationships, and preparation for my future.  The transition into 1L year was easier than I could have hoped and during these past three years the school has provided many opportunities to relax and have fun in an effort to counterbalance the stress of law school.  These activities included Friday afternoon law school football league (LSFL) games, the annual pig roast, band parties on the patio, Barrister’s Ball, Dean’s Cup softball tournament, and many others.  I was also thrilled to find a group of classmates who shared my enthusiasm for SEC football and with whom I could spend Saturdays in front of the TV cheering for my alma mater, the University of Florida.

While I learned a great deal my first two years of law school, it has been my third year experience that has best prepared me for my future practice.  Due to my interest in pursuing corporate transactional work, I choose to take W&L’s Cross Border Transactions Practicum and Business Planning Practicum.  In these two courses I learned to read and understand complex agreements, negotiate business deals, and respond to various clients’ needs and concerns.  Additionally, I had the opportunity to draft a limited liability company agreement, a letter of intent for a biotech joint venture, and numerous memos to senior attorneys and clients recommending a course of action. Through these classes I have learned how to actually practice and apply the law I spent so many hours studying.

I have accomplished many things I never dreamed possible in my three years at W&L. I was published in the Washington and Lee Law Review. I argued in front of a three-judge panel for my Foreign Sovereign Disputes Practicum. I drafted bankruptcy court opinions as a part of my judicial externship program. I survived three winters of snow. I even made friends with not one, but several, University of Georgia Bulldogs. I am incredibly thankful for these experiences and, even more so, for my classmates, the W&L faculty and staff, and the greater Lexington community for making my time at W&L both memorable and rewarding.

Fast internet, on my phone

March 29, 2012

Eds. Note: This is the fourth and final in a series of dispatches from 3L A.J. Frey. A.J. is taking part in W&L Law’s International Human Rights practicum, which includes travel to Tanzania to research a human rights issue. This year, the students are researching labor and employment and workers’ rights, with a special focus on women in the workplace. 

With no one around to talk to my hand automatically, reflexively really, reaches for my phone. I check Twitter. “@LaurenConrad: I love all the colors in Dar es Salaam. Perfect for inspiration for my spring color story.”* Before I have time to ponder the fortuitousness of the fact that LC and I may have been (were?) in Tanzania at the same time, I hear, “Tall latte for A.J. at the bar.” I put my phone away. I have to go get my coffee.

Yes, I am officially back in America.

The striking thing about being back here is not how different it is from Tanzania, where I have been for the past two weeks. It’s how easily and immediately I re-acclimate to the comforts of home. I have welcomed with open arms all the things I told myself, while in Africa, were the unnecessary trappings of a coddled first-world life; things I should try to do without when I returned home. Well, I have news. I am possibly less idealistic than I initially anticipated. I like fast internet, and I like it on my phone.

All this is not to say that I wasn’t profoundly impacted by my time in Tanzania. I was. My experience in the city of Dar es Salaam is a lingering memory, latched to my brain with sharp little hooks of sight, smell, sound, and taste. I learned so much there and was so affected by what I saw that I have a nagging feeling I benefitted much more from my time there than the people we were actually there to help.

I truly hope that the time that we spent in Tanzania, as brief as it was, will be worthwhile to our hosts at WLAC and the community they serve. With the recent buzz surrounding the Kony 2012 movie, there has been a lot of skepticism in the press about the role of Western NGOs in places like Africa. As a part of a student group, we were not playing exactly the same role as a typical humanitarian mission in a developing country, but there’s no doubt that our goal when we arrived in Tanzania was to contribute what skills and knowledge we could to aid our local partners in their work.

In the end, for myself at least, I felt as though the learning experience was worth more than we could ever hope to repay. Our goal now, as we return home, is to make sure that the things we learned are put to good use and that we are able to turn our observations into a solid, factual, well-written report that will be used by local and international advocates for labor rights in Tanzania and elsewhere. Our travels have come to an end, but the real work is just starting. Now we have the chance to put the things we learned there into practice and use them to benefit those who were willing to share so much with us. It’s a challenging task, but one I think all of us are committed to doing well.

So long from Lexington, and thanks for reading.

*No, for the record, I don’t follow @LaurenConrad, and I’m @avalonjfrey on Twitter if you’re wondering.


March 22, 2012

Eds. Note: This is the third in a series of dispatches from 3L A.J. Frey. A.J. is taking part in W&L Law’s International Human Rights practicum, which includes travel to Tanzania to research a human rights issue. This year, the students are researching labor and employment and workers’ rights, with a special focus on women in the workplace. 

Dar es Salaam is a city of many cultures, ethnicities, and traditions. On one Friday evening, as we catch a taxi to explore a new corner of the city, the sound of imams calling people to prayer mixes with the rumble of buses idling in endless rivers of traffic and the country music blaring from our driver’s radio. It’s a strange and wonderful combination.

In all things, Dar is a patchwork. Its city center is all Western-style glass and steel construction. There is a Holiday Inn (the nicest I’ve ever seen) with a swanky rooftop bar. A few blocks away, though, down a quiet side street under a glowing red sign is a place called the Alcove, which feels far removed from the Holiday Inn but much more inviting in its own way. Serving a full menu of both Indian and Chinese cuisine (take note, Lexington), and doing both very well, the Alcove encapsulates the hybrid culture of Dar for me.

On the night we visit, the clientele is as eclectic as the cuisine, and the tables are packed with families enjoying a night out together. The owner, who spent some years working on cruise ships and speaks English, remembers one of our group from a visit earlier in the week and greats us at the door as we arrive. We feast on as much deliciously spiced tikka masala and cashew chicken as we can manage and eventually spill out onto the deserted street and into the balmy Tanzanian night. And yet, at night, the city center is oddly dark and quiet. For all the hidden charm of places like the Alcove, the city center is not where the true heart of Dar es Salaam lies.

The real action is found in the maze of low-slung, sprawling, semi-urban developments that stretches out for miles in every direction from the center of the city. On our last night of work, our ever-accommodating hosts from WLAC take us on a taxi ride out to the outskirts of the city, past neighborhood after neighborhood, until we turn down a bumpy dirt lane and creep slowly through what appears to be a very residential area. After a few wrong turns and some careful backtracking we come to Brajec Pub (named after a prominent Tanzanian-Croatian I assume?), an idyllic outdoor grill, where we sit in lawn chairs, watch soccer on a huge projector screen, eat crispy, juicy barbecued chicken, drink Tanzanian beer (my favorite was Safari; others preferred Kilimanjaro), and celebrate the work we’ve done and the end of our time in Tanzania. For a moment I feel totally at home in Dar, like I’ve lived here for ages.

It’s a fitting way to cap off a trip that has been equal parts education, exploration, and hard work. The next post will be my last. I’ll wrap up the blog and share a few closing reflections on our experiences in this incredible country.

Life on $48 a Month

March 12, 2012

Eds. Note: This is the second in a series of dispatches from 3L A.J. Frey. A.J. is taking part in W&L Law’s International Human Rights practicum, which includes travel to Tanzania to research a human rights issue. This year, the students are researching labor and employment and workers’ rights, with a special focus on women in the workplace. 

Yesterday, we drove all around the city with our guide, Tesha, making appointments with Tanzanian industry representatives and visiting factories to see if we could talk to workers. The traffic in Dar is in a state of constant gridlock. Cars inch along on the dust-choked roads while mopeds, motorcycles, and bajajs–little two-seater moped taxis–whiz through the gaps. Countless brightly-painted city buses rumble along the main roads pulling into and out of traffic at random intervals to load and unload passengers.

Tesha drove us to one textile factory where we were able to talk to the HR Manager who told us to come back tomorrow to talk to workers. This was not unusual. At nearly every factory we go to we get the run-around from management. They are very rarely willing to let us talk to workers unsupervised, although we can sometimes get to the workers when they’re coming out of a factory during a shift change or lunch break.

Today, we tried that strategy in a neighborhood where many textile and plastics factories are located. We walked along a lane between two huge, walled factory complexes until we came upon a group of people sitting down to eat lunch from a street vendor. The vendor was a young girl serving beans, rice, and stew out of plastic buckets–the kind you might use to mix cement in–onto porcelain plates with little hand-painted flowers on them. Men in coveralls would come from the factories to where we were, order a plate of beans and rice from the girl, and sit on the logs and tires strewn along a wall shaded by trees. We walked up and introduced ourselves to the workers gathered there. We usually  introduce ourselves by saying that we are students, that we are doing research on labor conditions in Tanzania, that anyone can talk to us if they wish, and that our interviews are totally anonymous. Outside of the factories themselves, the workers are always eager to share their experiences. Within minutes of sitting down under the shade tree, we had about ten workers gathered around to talk with us.

The single most common thing we hear from workers is that their wages are too low. The minimum wage here for a factory worker is 80,000 shillings per month, which is about USD $48. Many workers don’t make enough in a day to cover the cost of food and transportation to and from work, not to mention the costs of supporting a family and educating children. Many workers, casual laborers as they are called here, come to the factory each day to see if there will be work and are turned away because there are more workers than available jobs to do that day. Workers worry that if they take time off of work to care for sick family members, there will be no job waiting for them when they return. Above all though, it’s the cost of living on meager wages in this surprisingly expensive city that causes them the most worry.

Like many cities in developing states, Dar es Salaam is a study in contrasts between extreme wealth and poverty. While one of the factory workers we talk to might pay 10,000 to 20,000 shillings (USD $6-$12) per month for housing, monthly rent for an apartment on the peninsula, where most of the expats and diplomats live, is USD $2000-$3000 per month. The income inequality is evident on the roads as well, where ancient, lumbering buses packed full of people sit snarled in traffic alongside mint-condition Range Rovers and the occasional H2. As an American coming here from a country where income inequality has been a topic of note lately, it’s arresting to see just how wide the gap between rich and poor can be.

Along with being economically diverse, Dar is a cultural mishmash, where Islamic, African, Indian, Chinese, and Portuguese cultures combine. Next time, I’ll talk a bit about the mix of religions, races, traditions, and cuisines that make this old port city unique.

Welcome to Dar es Salaam

March 7, 2012

Eds. Note: This is the first in a series of dispatches from 3L A.J. Frey. A.J. is taking part in W&L Law’s International Human Rights practicum, which includes travel to Tanzania to research a human rights issue. This year, the students are researching labor and employment and workers’ rights, with a special focus on women in the workplace. 

The air as we stepped off the plane smothered me like a warm, wet blanket. Compared to the taste of crisp mountain atmosphere we had experienced ten hours earlier during our layover in Zurich, this air was overpowering–heavy, damp, and hot. Within a minute my bag had left a strap-shaped sweat mark on my shoulder and across my chest. My sunglasses slipped down the bridge of my nose as the sweat beaded and then formed rivulets that followed their course from my forehead and down my nose, clinging to my chin before falling away. We had officially arrived in Dar es Salaam.

In preparing for our fact-finding trip to Tanzania, myself and the other members of Professor Johanna Bond’s International Human Rights practicum did plenty of research on Tanzanian and international law; we conducted mock fact-finding interviews, summarized our legal findings, composed interview outlines, learned about the culture and language, and talked endlessly about packing lists, visas, required vaccinations, and the other minutiae of international travel. Nothing, however, prepared me for the visceral feeling of setting foot in Tanzania for the first time.

W&L Law Students in Tanzania

W&L law students traveling to Tanzania include (l. to r.) Hanna Jamar, A.J. Frey, Marcena Winterscheidt, and Christopher O'Connell

Along with the suffocating heat, the sounds, smells, and feel of the place were alien. The smell of smoke and sweet spices drifted through the airport as I waited to exchange my American dollars for Tanzanian shillings (at 1600 shillings to $1, not an easy exchange rate to calculate on the fly). As the car took us from the airport through the darkened streets of Dar, my classmates and I marveled in silence at everything around us: both the familiar–an ad for Goodyear tires–and the unfamiliar: people lining the highway to wait for buses, palm trees covering the median, a man pulling a heaping cart of scrap metal passing us as we waited for the lights to change, motorcycles weaving in and out of the congested traffic with women in hijabs sitting side-saddle behind the drivers. Awed and jet-lagged, I took it all in and marveled at the newness of everything around me.

Now, at the end of our first day of fact-finding interviews, I am feeling much more at home here. After a weekend spent acclimating and exploring, we all feel more confident, comfortable, and able to focus on the work ahead of us. Our task during this week is to work with our partner organization, the Women’s Legal Aid Center (WLAC) to interview as many people as possible about issues involving labor and employment in Tanzania. Specifically, we’re here to find out how Tanzanian and international labor law are being applied in the workplace and to investigate areas where workers’ rights, and especially women workers’ rights, might be improved and expanded.

Our hosts, the WLAC staff, have been incredibly welcoming and generous with their time. It is no exaggeration to say that we would be utterly lost without them. They are crtitical in coordinating our contacts within different industries here and providing us with leads for workers to talk to about employment conditions. They accompany us to our interviews, serving as co-interviewers with us and, crucially, translators as well. They are wonderful, knowledgeable, and kind, and it is humbling to see the work they are doing here day-in and day-out, while our contribution to their effort lasts only for the semester. Still, it does feel like we are of use here, and our efforts–at the end of one day–are producing results.

Today, my interview partners and I spoke with the manager of a small, local company about his business, his employment practices, and his understanding of the labor laws. As with any interview, it was a balancing act between following the outline for the interview that we had prepared beforehand and being flexible enough to go in other directions based on our interviewee’s responses. Likewise, there was a balance between doggedly pursuing aswers to the questions we have and being respectful of our interviewees. Today, despite our best efforts, our manager-interviewee was unwilling to let us talk to any of his employees–a much better source of ground-level information on employment conditions.

Tomorrow, we meet with new people and representatives from new companies, and we hope for the best. I feel incredibly lucky to have the chance to use the skills I’ve learned in my three years of law school to do such meaningful work. Each day here brings new surprises and challenges, so stay tuned for more updates.

Judicial Externship Program

February 16, 2012

We continue our look at our third year curriculum’s actual practice requirement with a post from two of our students who participated last semester in our Judicial Externship Program, Lauren Meehan and Mallory Sullivan.

Here are Lauren’s thought on her experience:

Challenging and rewarding are two words I would use to describe my judicial externship experience. For my “actual practice” requirement, I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to extern for the Honorable James C. Turk of the Western District of Virginia.  Judge Turk is a federal judge located in Roanoke, Virginia.  I was selected from a group of third year students who applied for the judicial externship program as a placement option in the third-year program.

As an intern, I assist both of the law clerks, the Pro Se Clerk, and Judge Turk by researching issues and writing draft opinions.  The cases I have been assigned include Social Security issues, prisoner habeas petitions, civil procedure and jurisdiction issues, patent cases, and criminal and tort cases.

As noted above, one of my cases was a habeas petition.  This case was uniquely complicated because all of the documents were handwritten by the prisoner.  Most of them were difficult to read and understand.  It was important, however, to carefully sift through the file and to understand to the best of my ability the claims the petitioner was bringing in his case.  Once I had an understanding of the claims, I had to research the standard of review and discuss the issues with the Pro Se law clerk before I could begin drafting an opinion. Pro Se law clerks are usually career clerks who research issues and draft opinions for judge’s with cases before them where the individual plaintiffs or defendants are representing themselves.  In working on this case, I really had a sense of how important my role was in ensuring that this person’s constitutional right to petition a court was upheld.

Occasionally, I also observe Court hearings which is always exciting and a welcome break from research and writing.  Working at the federal level has opened my eyes to the complications and intricacies of each case and deepened my appreciation for the different standard of review for federal courts.  Reading the briefs and motions submitted to the court, as well as the writing assignments and the critiques I received from the law clerks, has made me a more proficient and organized writer. Also, discussing the complex details of the cases with the law clerks and listening to their critiques of my work has been a very helpful learning opportunity. In general, this externship provided me with the opportunity to work with people with very different personalities who all have their own unique writing styles and preferences, and I feel more confident in my abilities and I am excited for next year.

Here are Mallory’s thoughts on her experience:

One component of W&L’s third year program is that students participate in an actual practice experience in a professional legal setting.  Out of the many clinics and externships offered, I chose to participate in the judicial externship program.  My year-long placement is with Senior Justice Lawrence L. Koontz, Jr. on the Supreme Court of Virginia.  Senior Justice Koontz has served at every level of Virginia’s judicial system (District, Circuit, Court of Appeals, and Supreme Court) and took senior status with the Supreme Court of Virginia a year ago.

Mallory SullivanNot surprisingly, the position is very reading, research, and writing intensive.  Much like the U.S. Supreme Court, which only accepts select cases to hear, the Virginia Supreme Court also chooses which cases to hear.  One of my major tasks is reading the petitions for appeal, researching applicable law, and preparing a memorandum that succinctly summarizes the facts and law and recommends whether the Court should accept or deny the petition.  At the writ stage, you don’t consider the underlying merit of the case; it doesn’t matter which party should have won, or why.  Instead, you decide if your Justice should vote to hear the case.  Typical reasons to grant an appeal are that the case addresses a novel issue of law or to resolve a split in the lower courts.  If the Court believes a lower court misinterpreted the law, the case is only heard if the error was material.  If the outcome would have been the same, the error is “harmless,” and the appeal is denied.

One of the things I’ve enjoyed about my externship is that you are exposed to many areas of the law.  I’ve worked on cases involving evidentiary issues, zoning disputes, corporate law, insurance coverage, the constitutionality of resumed police interrogation after waiver of counsel, and the civil commitment of a sexually violent predator.  In addition to learning about substantive law, I’ve also learned a lot about procedural law.  Many cases that are appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court are denied or dismissed for a procedural reason, such as the trial attorney not preserving an issue for appeal.

While the Virginia Supreme Court sits in Richmond, Justice Koontz’s day-to-day office is in Salem, a quaint town about an hour south of Lexington.  I travel to Salem once a week and to Richmond instead when the court is in session.  In addition to hearing oral arguments for cases that have been accepted for review, oral argument is also allowed at the preliminary writ stage by the party who is seeking the appeal.  After oral arguments conclude, the Justices discuss the cases.  The Justices have allowed me to sit in when they discuss which writs to accept, which has given me great insight into the judicial decision-making process.

As an editor on Law Review, I’ve done a lot of writing throughout law school.  However, the clerkship has taught me how to write for a professional, as opposed to purely academic, setting.  I’ve been exposed to a broad array of legal issues and am more familiar with the judicial process and the factors that influence whether appeals are granted.  After graduation, I hope to clerk for a year, so my experience has been invaluable in giving me a glimpse of what to expect.

University of Virginia General Counsel’s Office

February 15, 2012

We continue our look at our third year curriculum’s actual practice requirement with a post from AJ Frey. Last semester, AJ worked for the General Counsel’s Office at the University of Virginia. Below are AJ’s thoughts on the experience:

When it came time for me to begin the search for my “actual practice” component of the third year program, I was underwhelmed. I hoped to undertake an off-campus externship, ideally with the general counsel’s office of a private company, to see what the day-to-day practice of being part of an in-house counsel team was like. After talking with Ms. Hilton and Dean Natkin, it became clear that the options within a reasonable distance of Lexington for in-house counsel work were, to put it gently, limited.

However, despite the lack of obvious in-house opportunities nearby, I was encouraged by Ms. Hilton and Dean Natkin’s enthusiasm and confidence in my ability to find an externship that met my expectations. Never once did either of them tell me to find a different path or give up on the idea of working in-house. During the spring semester of my 2L year, Dean Natkin introduced me to the idea of working at the University of Virginia General Counsel’s Office. Having placed a student there the year before, she was confident that the office would happily work with a W&L extern again.

The idea appealed to me on many levels. I grew up in Charlottesville and earned my undergraduate degree from UVa, so I was excited for the opportunity to get back to Charlottesville a few times a week. I also knew that I might conceivably want to return to Charlottesville one day, and knowing as many people as possible in the Charlottesville and UVa legal communities seemed like it would be beneficial. Dean Natkin really sold me on the idea by explaining that the work done by the General Counsel’s office at UVa would be similar in many ways to the kind of work done by a large corporation, with the added benefit of exposure to interesting higher-education law issues.

I was selected for a fall semester general externship (a classmate of mine, Anna Knecht, will be taking over from me and working for the office in the spring semester). Going into my first day of work at the beginning of the school year, I had no idea what to expect. Now, with the semester over, and my work at UVa completed, I can confidently say that my time at the General Counsel’s office exceeded all expectations and taught me more in the way of substantive law practice than any experience in my legal education thus far.

The richness of experience in my externship was partially a matter of luck and good timing. I began the externship as UVa was in the thick of litigation that has been making national and international headlines and has huge implications for both students and teachers in U.S. higher education.

UVa has been the target of two lawsuits—one brought by the Attorney General of Virginia; one brought by a political action group—seeking to compel the University to disclose the emails, correspondence, notes, papers, and unpublished research of Dr. Michael Mann, a prominent climate scientist who had previously been employed by UVa. Dr. Mann’s most famous scientific theory is the “hockey stick” model of climate change—a graph that shows the Earth’s temperature rising slowly for most of its history and then shooting up suddenly as the Industrial Revolution happened, hence the “hockey stick” shape. The model, while accepted by most climate scientists, has been challenged by climate skeptics—those who dispute the phenomenon of climate change and the notion that humans may be causing it. After a leak from the University of East Anglia in 2009 of thousands of emails between climate scientists (including Dr. Mann), some climate skeptics became concerned that scientists were falsifying data in an attempt to make a better case for manmade climate change. (The East Anglia emails were subsequently found to contain no falsification of data or findings.)

The suits that UVa now faces are a direct result of that email leak. They seek to compel UVa to disclose to the public thousands of documents and personal work papers of Dr. Mann’s in an effort to continue the climate skeptics’ campaign to personally discredit climate scientists who are connected to the East Anglia emails.

As the sole extern in the General Counsel’s office this semester, I got to work closely with the team of lawyers coordinating UVa’s defenses to these suits. For UVa, these suits are about much more than the underlying scientific issues or the privacy of a single professor. The University believes that these suits threaten the core values of academic freedom upon which the American system of higher education is built. Much of my time this semester was spent researching the topic of academic freedom and writing briefs and memoranda explaining why the University should not be compelled to disclose the proprietary notes, correspondence, and unpublished research of its professors. My work gave me a deep appreciation for the values at stake in this litigation and offered me plenty of substantive practice in drafting and legal research.

Ultimately, I had the privilege of traveling with the UVa team to Manassas to argue part of our case in state court. The research and writing that I did went directly into the University’s brief, and it was a thrilling experience to hear legal points argued that I had a hand in drafting.

My externship at UVa gave me the opportunity to do meaningful work on an issue that I have come to care strongly about. It’s the kind of opportunity that I hoped would be a part of the W&L third year program, and I can now confirm that the externship element of the program met and exceeded my expectations. I learned a lot, both practically and substantively, and thanks to my mentors and supervisors at both W&L and UVa, I am better prepared for the challenges that face me as I transition out of law school and into law practice.