Research in Family Law

by Liz Smith, Class of 2014

liz smith

Liz Smith is from South Florida and earned a degree in Psychology at the University of Florida before moving to Virginia to begin law school at William & Mary. She is a Graduate Research Fellow and a member of the William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal.

When I was considering the move from sunny South Florida to Virginia, where I did not know anyone, the atmosphere I experienced at William and Mary during Admitted Students Weekend made the decision easy. The second most convincing reason for choosing William and Mary for law school was the offer of a Graduate Research Fellowship (GRF). While some may view a research fellowship as a trade off, I see it as a win-win. Not only do I get a break on tuition and a monetary stipend, but I have the opportunity to work directly with faculty, staff, and professors.

Once Graduate Research Fellows have a chance to develop an interest in a specific type of law, they are matched up with a professor with experience in that field. I have developed an interest in family law and was consequently lucky enough to work with Professor James Dwyer for almost a year now. Professor Dwyer has a significant amount of experience in family law, domestic violence, and youth law. I have been afforded the opportunity to work on a variety of research assignments for him, each of which is more interesting than the last. Some of the topics that I have researched include the current mail-order bride laws in the Philippines, the various requirements states have for distribution of unique marital property such as law degrees, and a wide range of domestic violence issues and specific local domestic violence cases.

During every job interview that I have had, I have been asked about my Graduate Research Fellowship. Employers were impressed with the honor, as well as interested in the research skills and professional relationships I was able to develop through the work. I honestly believe that my graduate research fellowship contributed to the success of my 2L summer job search.

My Graduate Research Fellowship has also been a great networking opportunity. Through research, I was able to locate and reach out to a William and Mary alum that was a GRF for Professor Dwyer as well. Partly because of our common experience, this alum was more than willing to meet with me and give great career advice as well as discuss her experiences during and after law school. Accepting my Graduate Research Fellowship has already contributed to the advancement of my career and the formation of professional relationships, and I still have another year!