Things I Wish I Would Have Known: Experiential Learning

Muir_Alicia 2When I began my law school application process, there were some questions that I already knew I wanted to ask the admissions team and current students. I planned to ask about employment rates, bar passage rates, student organizations, and the feel of the community. However, as soon as you go on a visit or interact with a law student, it will become apparent that law students have a long list of involvements outside of the classroom that typically involve so many acronyms it can feel like a different language. Through this experience, I realized that it was important to ask what opportunities students have to participate in experiential learning when deciding where to go to law school. For me personally, I realized it was important to me to feel like I would leave law school not just being able to think like a lawyer, but to understand how to actually be a lawyer upon graduation. When I visited W&M and learned about the various clinics, competition teams, externship opportunities and journals, I was impressed by all of the ways W&M law students can diversify their law school experience and gain practical experience.

Experiential learning is really important to think about when looking at law schools because when you start to take your doctrinal courses, it is easy to lose focus of the your “why”: the reason you came to law school in the first place. Many W&M students are pursuing a career in the law because of a core desire to help others and serve their communities. In fact, this is a goal of the school as a whole in that it seeks to produce citizen lawyers. In order to send its students into the world as citizen lawyers, W&M provides students with a variety of ways to gain legal experience while in law school. W&M has 10 clinics, 4 competition teams, 5 journals and 10 research centers. With a student body of about 700 students, every student at W&M has the opportunity to get involved in one or more of these offerings.

Legal Practice Program

One way W&M shows its commitment to experiential learning is through the legal practice program. The legal practice program includes 2 semesters of legal writing and notably 2 semesters of lawyering skills. The lawyering skills class specifically provides students with the chance to learn practical skills first-hand, the ones you’ll be expected to know during your summer work and post-grad employment. In the fall, students learn and then perform both a practice and a graded client interview, meeting with supervisor, and client advising meeting. In the spring, students learn to give presentations about a legal issue, to deliver oral arguments, and to negotiate. This part of the curriculum allows students to learn and refine skills utilized by practicing attorneys every day.

Journals

Besides the lawyering skills courses, students can engage in experiential learning by joining a journal. There are 5 journals at W&M: Law Review, Bill of Rights Journal, Business Law Review, Environmental Law and Policy Review, and the Journal of Race, Gender & Social Justice. By joining any of the journals, you can develop superior citation (bluebooking) skills that are helpful in practice while writing a note where you propose unique legal argument.

Externships & Clinics

Participating in an externship or clinic teaches you to apply and build on the material you are learning inside the classroom. Students at W&M can apply to extern for any type of employer for credit during an academic semester. They can work with attorneys on real cases through the various clinics at W&M. We have 10 clinics, soon to be 11 when the brand new Community Law Clinic launches in the Fall of 2021. Students can work with the clinics during the summer and/or during a semester since they can participate for class credit. These clinics provide current students with the opportunity to help real clients in a variety of legal fields. While I have not yet worked with a clinic, some other current students gave me their thoughts and reflections about their experiences:

Laura Brasier, 2L – PELE (Parents Engaged for Learning Equality) Special Education Advocacy Clinic
“Working at the PELE Clinic gave me the opportunity to work directly with clients and their guardians by attending IEP (individualized educational plan) meetings and eligibility meetings with educational professionals. It was a great way to apply the client advocacy skills that we learned in the Legal Practice Program”

Tim Allison, 2L – Puller Veterans Benefits Clinic
“Being a part of the Veterans Benefits Clinic was an amazing way to explore a new area of the law while providing necessary advocacy for veterans claims. I feel that spending my summer improving upon my client interaction skills and legal writing skills was immeasurably helpful to improving my capability to be a successful lawyer in the future.”

Dana Mirsky, 2L – Virginia Coastal Policy Center
“Currently, I am working with a partner to examine the regulatory and permitting processes for wind energy projects in Virginia in an effort to streamline state and developer collaboration with the military in selecting appropriate sites for wind farms. VCPC has given me the opportunity to gain insight into the particular challenges of policy work and learn about the work being done to address various coastal issues in Virginia.”

Competition Teams

Becoming a member of one of the 4 competition teams on campus is a great way to further your experiential learning opportunities. W&M offers the Alternative Dispute Resolution Team, National Trial Team, Moot Court Team, and Transactional Law Team. If you come to law school interested in exploring a certain area of legal practice, competition teams provide you with the opportunity to explore and build the practical skills required in various areas. Overall, students have the chance to learn by doing. As a member of the Alternative Dispute Resolution team, I will learn how to participate in negotiation, mediation, and arbitration. Since I want to pursue a career in civil litigation and a majority of cases are settled before trial, these skills will prepare for me for practice after law school.

W&M competition team members also gave me some of their own reflections:

Sean Tenaglia, 2L – Trial Team
“Trial Team has pushed me to develop the critical skills that will allow me to excel in the courtroom and beyond. From crafting an opening statement to framing effective questions for witnesses to leaving the jury with a persuasive closing argument, my experience on the trial team has made me a more effective communicator and advocate for my future clients.”

Elle Profaci, 2L – Moot Court Team
“Being on Moot Court is a great experience. We write appellate briefs and participate in oral argument. As part of the team and in our Advanced Brief Writing class, I’ve really honed my ability to make precise legal arguments, which will be helpful in practice.”

Grace Myers, 2L – Transactional Law Team
“The Transactional Law Team gives students the opportunity to draft and negotiate common agreements, such as Asset Purchase Agreements. Being able to learn by doing and by interacting competitively with students from other students from other schools is immeasurably helpful in preparing me both for my studies and for a career in transactional law.”

There are countless ways for W&M Law students to gain practical experience and apply the knowledge they learn in the classroom to real-life situations. Between the legal research and writing program’s lawyering skills component, externships, clinics, journal, and competition teams, students are able to maintain a well-rounded and fulfilling schedule. Most importantly, in addition to W&M having plenty of ways to engage in this type of learning, our smaller student body helps to ensure that these opportunities can be taken advantage of by all interested students.

Alicia Muir is a 2L from Reading, PA, serving as Vice President of the Comparative Legal Student Scholars. 

Things I Wish I Would Have Known: Applications

We’re kicking off the 2021 application cycle with a new series written by our Student Admission Ambassadors – everything they wish they would have known! We hope this will be helpful for you as you research law schools, start the application process, and navigate final decisions. 

Vance, Gabby 1

I was just beginning my senior year of college and applying to law school. I was top of my college class and very involved in extra circular activities and held many leadership positions. While I was on top of the world, or so I felt at Elon, my undergraduate institution, I was just like any other applicant applying to William & Mary Law School. So how could I make myself stand out?

Law school admissions deans like Dean Jordan and Dean Smith are reading thousands of applications from many qualified students. Some things, such as a high LSAT, will make your application stand out in a sense, but I have always struggled with standardized tests. I knew my LSAT was not going to be the strongest part of my application. My personal statement and letters of recommendation provided a space where I felt like I could really show the admissions office who I was. But even now, almost three years later, reflecting on the application process, I could have done more to make my application stand out and be the best applicant possible.

When I was applying to schools, I spent so much time describing awards I had received and significant personal accomplishments. That is not a bad thing, it is good to have that information on your application. But, I spent very little time discussing WHY I actually wanted to go to law school and particularly WHY William & Mary Law School. I was one of the weird kids, who knew since they were in Kindergarten that I wanted to be a lawyer. Through various high school and college experiences, that passion only grew. During my junior year of college, I interned at a state prosecutor’s office and worked on a brutal domestic violence case. While the case was on trial, I had an aha moment that is I wanted to do for the rest of my life. So, where was that in my application? My personal statement was about on my study abroad experience, which was great and a very special part of my life, but someone who has to read so many applications will more likely remember that powerful story in the courtroom that impacted me so significantly to where that Plaintiff is who I think of when law school gets really hard. Those stories sell you as not just another candidate but someone who, when the going of law school gets hard, will keep going because they have their “why” and they really want to be here and do this.

Second, it sounds a bit ridiculous, but the law school application process is you advertising and selling yourself as the best applicant, and part of that is saying you interested in the school, in which you are applying to . If there is nowhere on your William & Mary application that signifies you would choose to go to William & Mary, you have ties to Virginia, you like Colonial Williamsburg – you are selling yourself short. Visit the school, call the dean of admissions, research the programs, and email a current student. Taking these steps will show you are not just thinking about law school. You are going to law school and likely this one. William & Mary was my top choice law school, and I knew if I got in, I was going. But why did I say that on my application? Law school admissions deans love when a student is really excited about their school. It means they are doing their job well! If the school is William & Mary, which I hope it is or elsewhere, make sure that they know how badly you want them. It will bolster you application and can help move you in the pile.

Gabby Vance is a 3L from Severna Park, MD, serving as the 0L/1L representative for the Student Bar Association