Opportunities at W&M to Get Hands-On Experience

gividenBryan Gividen is a member of the Class of 2013 at William & Mary Law School. He has a B.S. in Economics from Brigham Young University. Bryan is the Communications Editor for the William & Mary Law Review, a member of the Moot Court team, and former President of the Federalist Society at the Law School. 

Over the past few years, a wide range of people and publications have critiqued legal education. Everyone from the New York Times to law professors themselves have rightly pointed out that law schools need to change to emphasize practical experience. William & Mary has led the charge to implement this feedback it into its program. And that is a huge benefit to current and future students.

I am a recent graduate who can speak about it firsthand. During my final year of school, I have participated in both an externship and one of our clinics. Each has been an incredible experience that has given me “rubber meets road” legal experience.
I externed for the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. In addition to working directly with Assistant U.S. Attorney’s, I have been responsible for writing memorandum and drafts that have been incorporated into documents submitted to federal district courts. Under the local rules of practice, law students enrolled at William & Mary can even appear in court under the supervision of a practicing attorney. For me, that meant trying misdemeanor cases by questioning witnesses, making closing arguments, and recommending sentences.

Perhaps one of the best testaments to William & Mary’s focus on placing students in practical positions was during a recent trial I was a part of. I sat at the prosecution table, another William & Mary student assisted defense counsel, and a third student sat beside the judge’s bench as one of his externs. William & Mary had students engaged in every aspect of the courtroom experience simultaneously. As Rachel Procopio wrote about,¬†sometimes these externships can lead to full-time positions. But even when they do not, they are excellent opportunities for students to get hands-on experience.

Our clinics provide similar experiences. This year I have participated in the Appellate and Supreme Court Clinic. On a weekly basis, a skilled appellate practitioner from a large firm in Washington, D.C., instruct us on appellate advocacy and strategy. Every pair of students in our clinic was assigned a case to write a brief to submit to a federal court. For example, my partner and I were assigned a First Amendment case to be submitted to the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, a federal court that has been home to Supreme Court Justices like Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Scalia, Justice Thomas, and Justice Ginsburg. The collaborative effort between the students and full-time attorneys has put our weekly sessions into practice. I cannot overstate how valuable the individualized feedback has been to improving my writing and argument skills.

If appellate advocacy is not your thing, William & Mary has other opportunities. Our clinics range from an Innocence Project clinic focused on exonerating wrongfully convicted inmates, to the Veterans’ Benefits Clinic meant to help military veterans with disability claims. A list of our current clinics can be found here.

Whatever your interest is, William & Mary is willing to help you find a way to get practical experience. Whether it’s in a clinic or externship, the school is eager to help students get the skills necessary to hit the ground running after graduation.