Supreme Court Seminar: A One-of-a-Kind Class Experience

zimmermanBy Liesel Zimmerman, Class of 2018

Law students spend a considerable amount of time reading cases and analyzing the interpretive strategies of the justices on our nation’s Highest Court. We become familiar with their individual writing styles and judicial perspectives. Although these influential figures become household names to students, few of us ever have the chance to see them in action. At William & Mary, facetime with Supreme Court Justices can be part of your curriculum!

Each year, Professor Neal Devins’ Supreme Court Seminar gives third-year students an inside look at the workings of the Supreme Court, including the chance to attend oral arguments and meet with a current justice. I am grateful to have secured a spot in the class this semester, and I am learning a great deal about the dynamics of the Court. Notably, the format of the course allows us to learn through open discussions with leading Supreme Court advocates, government officials, and Court of Appeals Judges.

For instance, early in the semester, we had the chance to meet former Solicitor General Donald Verrilli. He provided insight into his experiences arguing before the Supreme Court on behalf of the federal government. Even with his distinguished credentials, Mr. Verrilli proved to be very personable and genuine in his interactions with the class.

Professor Devins then introduced us to Marc Elias, who currently chairs the political law practice at Perkins Coie, and served as general counsel to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. He shared with us about the three voting rights cases he successfully argued before the Supreme Court. Further, he explained his techniques for preparing for oral argument, which were particularly valuable to the aspiring litigators in the room.

The following week, Judge Rosemary Pooler of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals spoke to the class. She discussed her decision-making in three cases that were eventually appealed to the Supreme Court. She also provided her view of what makes a good advocate, and emphasized the importance of a well-written brief in persuading judges. Stanley M. Brand joined us next, and expounded upon his role as the first general counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives. He explained how he advocated for all the Representatives, regardless of their political affiliations – a refreshing concept in today’s highly polarized political arena.

On Tuesday, October 24, our class visited the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond. It was a surreal experience to be present at the Fourth Circuit, with its elegant wood-paneled walls, massive portraits of former judges, and perfect view of the Virginia State Capitol Building. The setting lent itself well to the rich and important history of the court. There, we had the privilege of meeting with Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson and Judge Pamela Harris. Both were extremely cordial and willing to answer our questions about their experiences handling appellate cases. We also heard from the former Solicitor General of Virginia, Stuart Raphael, who shared his involvement in major cases within Virginia and the Fourth Circuit. These included his decision not to defend Virginia’s previous ban on same-sex marriage, and his role in addressing President Trump’s travel ban.

The semester, thus far, has been both fascinating and enlightening, and I count myself fortunate to be enrolled in the Supreme Court Seminar. Stay tuned for my account of our class’s upcoming visit to the Supreme Court!

Speaker Series: Judge Katzmann Comes to Town

willisby Blake Willis, Class of 2018

One of the perks of being in law school, especially at William & Mary, is being able to hear from practitioners about their experiences in the practice of law. During the first week of April, Judge Robert Katzmann, Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit paid a visit to Williamsburg. Judge Katzmann spoke to several groups including a lunch-time talk regarding pro bono work and immigration law, as well as a class lecture regarding legislative and statutory interpretation.

Image result for Judge Robert KatzmannJudge Katzmann has been on the bench since 1999, and has been the Chief Judge of the Second Circuit since 2013. He has published numerous books related to the Courts and Congress and how Courts around the US, especially the Courts of Appeals and Supreme Court approach statutory interpretation – a growing area of scholarship in the law.

As a student, there are few experiences more valuable than listening to a judge, especially one of this esteem, speak about their experiences on the bench. In his discussion related to legislative interpretation, Judge Katzmann spoke with students regarding his theories of interpretation as well as those commonly used by other Judges around the U.S. He also provided insight into his experiences in scholarship and provided tips for students who are aspiring to litigate in their careers. This insight surely did not fall on deaf ears. Students could ask probing questions and interact with the Judge in a non-court setting, which is truly a unique experience.

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Paper by Mary Catherine Amerine J.D. ’17 Earns Her Trip to Grammys

This story was originally published on “The Gale,” a blog of the William & Mary Alumni Association.

During a luncheon held in conjunction with the Grammys in February, entertainment attorney Ken Abdo recognizes Amerine as one of four finalists in a writing competition sponsored by the Grammy Foundation’s Entertainment Law Initiative.

William & Mary Law School has given Mary Catherine Amerine, a third-year law student, a strong commitment to her chosen field of intellectual property law. Amerine came to the Law School with a goal to protect the rights of writers, artists and other creators.

“Many of my friends in the arts world were constantly having issues when they would create something, and then see it online the next day or on a postcard that was sold by a major company. It happened so often that I wanted to do something about it,” says Amerine, who graduated from Catholic University, summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa and with a B.A. in English.

Her passion for writing, coupled with her goal and success as a student has translated into benefits outside of the classroom. Earlier this year, she won the Virginia State Bar Intellectual Property Writing Competition and the American Intellectual Property Law Association’s Robert. C. Watson Award. Amerine also attended the 2017 Grammy Awards in February as one of four finalists in a writing competition sponsored by the Grammy Foundation’s Entertainment Law Initiative.

This past summer when Amerine was working for the Harry Fox Agency, a music licensing agency on Wall Street in the heart of New York City, one of her supervisors encouraged her to apply to the Grammy Foundation’s Entertainment Law Initiative. Her paper on the de minimis exception in music sampling placed her among the finalists in the competition, resulting in a scholarship, publication in the ELI Tribute Journal, a trip to Los Angeles to receive the award at the ELI luncheon and a trip to the Grammys.

Throughout the weekend, Amerine and the other finalists enjoyed a whirlwind of luncheons, cocktail receptions and presentations. Amerine most enjoyed meeting attorneys whom she had cited in her papers, including Don Passman who wrote the book on music law, and gaining a behind-the-scenes perspective on the prestige and complexity of the Grammys.

“It was so much fun—a very surreal experience,” Amerine says of the weekend she spent in Los Angeles.

Amerine’s experiences haven’t been inevitable. Although she applied to law schools with a goal, the obstacle of tuition loomed overhead.

“When I was applying to law schools, I wanted to go, but I had made a bargain with myself and said ‘I’m not going to go if it’s going to get me into insane amounts of debt,’” Amerine says.

Amerine was awarded a scholarship from the Law School, made possible by the Ann C. and R. Harvey Chappell Fellows Program.

Amerine has appreciated interacting with professors who initially drew her to the law school—particularly those who have influenced her intellectual property thinking, like Vice Dean Laura Heymann and Professor Sarah Wasserman Rajec. The size of the Law School creates a community atmosphere that she values, and the proximity of the Law School to the main campus enables her to stroll along the Sunken Garden when she needs a study break.

“I’m really grateful that all of my experiences at W&M have been so wonderful,” Amerine says of the adventures on which her scholarship has taken her. “I’ve had a great time here. I’ve been able to focus on something that I love.”

Read the original article here.

Finals at William & Mary Law

alsawafby Sami Alsawaf, Class of 2017

As a 3L student, I’ve taken plenty of exams over the last three years. While the classes and the exam content always change, one thing never does—the camaraderie between students studying together. I just ended my fifth semester of law school, and I honestly cannot remember studying for a single exam all by myself. I’ve always had a study buddy to help me sort through the material, which has made the last three years much easier.

When I first started looking at law schools, I assumed that the exam period would be a “survival of the fittest” type atmosphere, as usually the final exam is the only grade you have all semester. I started school prepared to study alone and never work with anyone else—everyone always told me law school was so competitive. But at William & Mary, I can tell you that’s not the case.

When exams start, everyone rallies together—students form study groups to review notes from the semester, work on practice exams together, and compile questions to ask at review sessions. If you want to study with someone, there’s someone there for you. Working together during exams helps you understand the material better and makes the process much more fun. After all, you can only laugh at your own torts jokes so many times.

Exam time at William & Mary Law is a great snapshot of what our school culture is like. Your classmates and the faculty all want you to succeed. If you miss class because you’re sick, someone will send you the notes ASAP. Professors hold ample office hours and often hold review sessions at the end of the semester. Many student groups hold “de-stress” events at the school, and there’s plenty of free snacks roaming around for when you want to take a study break. Exams aren’t easy, but the William & Mary Law culture helps make this time period easier. While at school, your classmates are like your family, and there’s always someone looking out for you.

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Military Mondays

austin military mondays2015-16 student blogger, Austin Swink, was featured on the cover of Williamsburg’s Next Door Neighbors, a local magazine. The November 2016 edition focused on campus connections, and Austin shared his experiences with the Law School’s Military Mondays program.

Click here to view the magazine and the article.


Reading Groups Make for Lively Discussions Among Faculty and New Students

by Vinayak Balasubramanianvinayak, Class of 2019. Blog post reproduced with permission of the Communications Office.

There are many fears that are common among incoming law students. For some, there is nothing scarier than an unsolicited interaction with one of those incredibly smart law professors at the front of each classroom.

But that was not the case at Chowning’s Tavern in Colonial Williamsburg, where six 1L students gathered with Professor Thomas J. McSweeney on a hot August day to discuss “The Return of Martin Guerre” by historian Natalie Zemon Davis. The book explores a legendary sixteenth-century French legal case.

As they sipped on cold beverages and enjoyed some appetizers, the group engaged in a lively chat about various themes presented in the book, including the French legal system in the Middle Ages, the role of women during that time period, and the growth of state power over the church. Over the course of that discussion, the students connected with the professor and got to know each other.

“One of my goals was to get people talking to each other, and I thought that went very well,” McSweeney said, reflecting on the meeting. “There were interesting questions and reactions, and the conversation was very lively and collegial.”

Professor Thomas J. McSweeney, second from left, and 1L students discussed "The Return of Martin Guerre" during a get-together at Chowning's Tavern.

Professor Thomas J. McSweeney, second from left, and 1L students discussed “The Return of Martin Guerre” during a get-together at Chowning’s Tavern.

McSweeney’s group is one of 14 led by faculty that make up William & Mary Law School’s 1L Reading Group Program. Among the books chosen this year by participating faculty for discussion were “The Autobiography of an Execution” by David R. Dow, “Gideon’s Trumpet” by Anthony Lewis, and “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. (See this year’s list of books and faculty discussion leaders.) According to Rhianna Shabsin, Senior Assistant Dean for Admission, there were 159 1L participants this year (more than two-thirds of the new class).

Over the summer, all incoming 1L students were sent an email inviting them to sign up for a group. Professors then reached out to the students in their groups to schedule a time and place to meet. Many groups met at restaurants or at professors’ homes.

Vice Dean Laura Heymann said the program was launched in 2015 to provide new students with an opportunity to get to know the school’s faculty and to expose students to legal topics in a casual setting.

The reading groups covered a large array of legal topics, including legal history, religion, terrorism, race, criminal justice, and feminism. They were all designed to help students think about the law and to prompt discussions about important legal and social issues.

For example, McSweeney said he chose “The Return of Martin Guerre” because it helps provide a framework for students to understand legal texts. He said that the story is constructed using facts from depositions that later permit the judge—and by extension the reader—to draw conclusions about the heroes and villains.

“It helps us understand how legal actors become characters in a story,” he said. “Events may not have significance at the time of occurrence, but they must come together in the end to tell the story.”

Kelly Ann McCarthy, a 1L student in McSweeney’s group, said that she participated in the program because she thought it would be a good opportunity to get to know a professor outside of class, as well as an excuse to read something other than a legal casebook.

“It was interesting to see how students applied what we were learning in class to non-class materials, and how different aspects of the law met in one place,” she said. “It was also interesting to see how records of legal proceedings provide a window into a different time.”

Heymann said that she had received very positive feedback about this year’s program.

“Both students and faculty seemed to have really enjoyed the experience,” she said. “I’ve heard from some students that the books they discussed caused them to see things in new ways, both within and outside the classroom.”

Supreme Court Preview Provides a Special Look at the Future of Election Law

willisby Blake Willis, Class of 2018

The news lately has been full of different election law issues. While it is a presidential election year, with plenty of news-worthy stories, there have been numerous court cases from around the country in recent months which are appearing to reshape the way that the legal community looks at election laws. William & Mary is known for having one of the oldest and strongest Election Law Programs in the country. This year, the Supreme Court Preview, hosted by the Institute of Bill of Rights Law (IBRL), featured a high-powered panel which focused on the Court’s possible future in this highly charged area of the law. Moderated by Professor Rebecca Green, the Chair of the Election Law Program at the Law School, the panel featured four of the most prominent Election Law experts in the country, including: Paul Smith (Jenner & Block), Paul Clement (former Solicitor General) , Pam Karlan (Stanford Law School) and Lyle Denniston (SCOTUSBlog).

One of many panels that occurred as part of the Supreme Court Preview.

One of many panels that occurred as part of the Supreme Court Preview.

These experts focused on a number of different election issues including racial gerrymandering, the Voting Rights Act, race and politics in elections, voter suppression, different types of court review, and whether or not the court should even be involved in this area of the law. One thing they all certainly agreed upon, was that this area of the law is incredibly exciting and one of the most volatile areas of legal study occurring right now.

This is but one example of many from the Supreme Court Preview this month. The Preview, which takes place every September, features a Moot Court demonstration by some of the nation’s leading appellate advocates, and sessions focused on criminal law, civil rights, the Court and the 2016 Election, Business Law, Race and the Legal system, the legacy of Justice Scalia, and the current Supreme Court with only 8 members. Each year, the Preview is attended by numerous students, faculty, legal experts and practitioners from around the country and members of the public. It is one of the most popular events at the school and definitely something to look forward to each and every year, especially in years like 2016, where there is no shortage of legal debate around the country.

Click here to learn more about the Supreme Court Preview.

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1L Perspective- The First Month

zaleskiby James Zaleski, Class of 2019

Just like that the first month of law school has come to an end! It has been a month filled with stress, late nights, and exhaustion but I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Now is a good time to reflect back on the first month of this crazy transformative experience we call law school.

Classes have consumed the majority of my time this first month. All 1Ls take the same classes during the first year. The classes I am taking this semester include: (1) Criminal Law, (2) Civil Procedure, (3) Torts, (4) Legal Writing, and (5) Lawyering Skills. One of the rumors about law school that I quickly found to be true is the copious amount of reading! Law school professors assign multiple cases for each class. The readings are complex and often the main point of the case is not particularly clear. I frequently find myself reading the cases multiple times. However, after just one month of practice, I know my classmates and I are increasing our proficiency and are on our way to becoming savvy case readers.

The professors are some of the most brilliant and accomplished instructors I have had in my academic career. As a former high school teacher, I have an appreciation for excellent teachers. All of my professors are experts in their field; they have a passion for teaching their material and challenging students to think critically about the law. One way professors cultivate this atmosphere of learning is through the Socratic Method. I received a personal introduction to the practice during the first week of classes. My classmates and I have found that the rumors regarding the Socratic Method to be overblown. The Socratic Method ensures everyone comes to class prepared. It keeps the class engaged and challenges students to arrive at key insights. While everyone was nervous the first week, I feel most people have become accustomed to the method and enjoy the rigorous discussion it provides.

I also spent a lot of time this past week preparing for my first law school exam. While most law school classes only have final exams, several professors offer midterms. These midterms help relieve some of the anxiety over final exams because they serve as a good introduction to the law school exam format. In preparation, I reviewed my class notes and I completed my first outline. The professor also provided a hypothetical that I used to practice responses. The most challenging aspect of the exam was the time crunch! My classmates and I are anxiously awaiting the results.

student orgsOutside of class, I have found myself busy attending interest meetings for many student groups. I have attended meetings for the Immigration and Law Service Society, the Military and Veterans Law Society, Alternative Dispute Resolution, Mock Trial, and the Latino Law Student Association. These meetings are great opportunities to learn about the organization, to meet new people with similar interests, and to learn how to become involved as a 1L. A nice perk is all of them provided lunch!

The first month of law school has been a demanding experience. However, after just one month, I can already tell I am receiving a valuable education, and I am on my way to becoming an excellent attorney.

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Hixon Center for Experiential Learning and Leadership

To be completed in the spring of 2017, the James A. and Robin L. Hixon Center for Experiential Learning and Leadership building will provide an additional 12,000-square-feet to the Law School.

The Center for Experiential Learning and Leadership will serve as headquarters for our clinics and practicum, which give students opportunities to
represent real clients in actual cases. It will also be home to our highly regarded Legal Practice Program. For three semesters,
students gain the writing, oral communication, and professional skills they’ll need to be great lawyers.

Students, faculty, and staff signed their names and left messages of good will for the new wing on the last piece of steel, and this piece of steel was installed on August 18.

building 1

building 2










Visit the construction website to see the latest pictures.

Professor Jay Butler Joins Faculty

by Jaime Welch-Donahue, Blog post reproduced with permission of the Communications Office.

Top Medieval Law Scholars Explore Magna Carta’s Legacy at BORJ Symposium

On Friday, March 18, the William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal (BORJ) hosted “After Runnymede: Revising, Reissuing, and Reinterpreting Magna Carta in the Middle Ages.” The day-long symposium explored Magna Carta’s impact between its issuance in 1215 and resurgence in the seventeenth century.

Professor Thomas McSweeney, William & Mary Law School’s resident specialist in the early history of the common law, said that although 2015 represented the 800th anniversary of the foundation of the original document, King John’s death the following year led to important revisions that make 2016 an equally significant anniversary in its formation.

“2016, in a sense, kicks off the anniversary of the later development of Magna Carta, the process by which a failed peace treaty was transformed into a charter of liberties, which became part of both the English and American constitutional traditions,” McSweeney said.

Elaborating on those developments, the symposium offered four panels with world-renowned scholars in medieval legal history from the United Kingdom and North America.The first session, “Magna Carta’s Dissemination,” featured Janet Loengard (Moravian College), Richard Helmholz (University of Chicago), and Paul Brand (University of Oxford), and addressed Magna Carta’s influence upon such topics as the widow’s quarantine, the English Church, and the diffusion of texts in the thirteenth century.

The second panel featured Professor McSweeney and Karl Shoemaker (University of Wisconsin-Madison) delving into the religious dimension of Magna Carta.

The next panel explored the later history of the Charter of the Forest, featuring Ryan Rowberry (Georgia State) and Sarah Harlan-Haughey (University of Maine).

Prof. Tom McSweeney

Prof. Tom McSweeney

Charles Donahue (Harvard University), Anthony Musson (University of Exeter), and David Seipp (Boston University), rounded up the day with a discussion of Magna Carta in the later Middle Ages. Topics included an investigation of the transformation Magna Carta from law to symbol, and Magna Carta’s role in the “lawless” fifteenth century.

Students appreciated the opportunity the symposium held in providing a glimpse into a significant aspect of legal history.

“History not only helps us to understand why the law is what it is today, but it also forces us to think about what the law can be tomorrow and what role attorneys can play in shaping it,” said Alyssa D’Angelo J.D. ’18. “We learn that the law has never been—and will likely never be—divorced from people, economic systems, and governments.”

D’Angelo added that she is confident that “this lesson will serve us well in practice, where we will be forced to confront the law in context.”

D’Angelo’s classmate Breanna Jensen concurred. “Events like the Magna Carta symposium are important for law students because they provide that historical background that we don’t always have time to cover in class.”

The event was sponsored by William & Mary’s Bill of Rights Journal. Since 1992, the BORJ has published important scholarly works on constitutional law. Published four times per year, the journal is ranked the third most-cited student-edited constitutional law journal by Washington and Lee’s Law Journal Rankings Survey.