Working with Mandela: The Constitutional Process in Post-Apartheid South Africa

by Phillip Lecky, Class of 2015

The William and Mary Law School, through the International Law Society (ILS) in partnership with the Black Law Student Association (BLSA), was honored to welcome Justice Albert “Albie” Sachs of South Africa on March 31, 2014 for a talk and book-signing. Born in South Africa in 1935 of Lithuanian parents, Justice Sachs was instrumental in fighting against the oppressive white-dominated rule in South Africa. Due to the large numbers of people interested in hearing Justice Sachs speak, his talk had to be relocated to a larger room, and still there was standing room only! His talk was entitled Working with Mandela: The Constitutional Process in Post-Apartheid South Africa.

albie sachs

As Justice Sachs began to speak, it was clear that all in the audience were intently focused on what he had to say for he had an uncanny ability of keeping people hanging on his every word. Whether he was speaking about how he first became involved in the fight against oppression as a juvenile; his memories of the trial which caused Nelson Mandela to be imprisoned for almost three decades; how he lost part of one arm and sight in one eye as a result of a bomb; his activity in regards to crafting a new Constitution in which all South Africans would be treated equally; or his role on the Constitutional Court, his energy and passion for the causes he stood for was more than evident.  What a man! What a legend! I, and, I think it is safe to say, the rest of the William & Mary community collectively thanks Justice Sachs for gracing us with his presence and all that he did to make this world a better place!

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What They Have to Say: A Faculty Q & A with Professor Griffin

by Scott Krystiniak, Class of 2016

One thing I will always remember about my 1L year is the perpetual feeling of being awestruck by the brilliance and cleverness of all my professors.  What is also fascinating is that these intellectual titans have also gone through a similar chapter in their lives.  In realizing this, I’ve often wondered what all my professors were like as law students or what they experienced during their three years of law school.  Then I decided that I would just ask them and learn exactly what they have to say.

clgriffinjrI recently had the pleasure of corresponding with William & Mary Professor Chris Griffin, a graduate of Yale Law School (he’s also my Property professor).  I prompted him with a few questions that were geared towards his experiences as a law student and now as a law professor.  He was gracious enough to offer his insights and memories, many of which have an apt analog to the various opportunities and offerings here at William & Mary.   Here it is:

What was the most memorable experience or moment you had while you were in law school?

There were countless such moments. The law professor in me would point to a spirited, organized debate one afternoon between two giants of law and economics: Judge Guido Calabresi and Judge Richard Posner. But the former law student in me would cite the three Law Revue skit shows I attended. Each one was held on the last day of classes and lampooned life in law school with all the wit of a great Daily Show or SNL episode. During 2L year, my schoolmates set their sights on our rivalry with Harvard Law School and then-Dean, now Supreme Court Justice, Elena Kagan with great panache. In my final year, a video cameo by Sam Waterston of Law & Order fame brought down the house. (We’ve all been sworn to secrecy, or I would say more!)

What was your favorite class in law school?  Why?

A seminar called The Civil Rights Revolution with the legendary Bruce Ackerman. The course combined the great 20th Century cases that paved the way for race equality with relevant statutes, legal scholarship, and historical accounts. The course offered a chance to pull back the curtain and understand how the Supreme Court arrived at landmark decisions like Brown v. Board of Education. We discussed what was inspiring about them and even identified how they still often fell short in ensuring full equality under the law for all citizens.

Was there any law school class or topic that stuck out in your mind as particularly challenging?

It might sound strange, but I would single out Remedies, a course I now teach at William & Mary. When I saw it listed in the catalog as a student—for the first time in twenty years apparently!—I knew it sounded practically useful and intriguing. It was as if the class would provide a magic key to unlock the secrets of many courses taken in the first year. It turned out to be just that. With that reward, however, came much challenging but no less stimulating reading and lecture time. Now I thoroughly enjoy passing along those insights to our students.

What do you miss most about being a law student?

Thankfully those memories are not too far in the past for me! And while I enjoy being on my side of the podium, I do think fondly about learning directly from great legal minds in the classroom. The most enduring part of the experience, though, remains the camaraderie with fellow law students: commiserating over a paper in the student lounge, source-citing for a journal into the late hours, and of course “law school prom.” My classmates made the three years a genuinely exciting and uplifting time, easily the best educational experience of my life.

What extracurricular activities or organizations were you involved in and how did they contribute to your legal education?

I was most actively involved in journal work, serving as an Editor of the Yale Law Journal and Editor-in-Chief of the Yale Law & Policy Review. I learned a tremendous amount about the world of legal scholarship as well as working closely with classmates to produce each issue. I also participated in the work of the American Constitution Society and our Latino Law Students Association chapter. Even though I didn’t share their ethnic heritage, my Latino/a friends encouraged me to be involved and help advance diversity initiatives, which remain very important to me today.

What do you enjoy most about being a law professor?

Without a doubt: the “ah-ha” moment, when I can tell that a student has put together pieces of a doctrinal puzzle. As I see it, my job in the classroom is to deconstruct the rules into manageable pieces and then reassemble them into a coherent whole. I mostly teach first-year students in Torts and Property, so I know I’m doing something right when those “ah-ha” moments occur early in one’s legal education. I also deeply appreciate the freedom of my scholarly pursuits, which involve statistical study of how the law affects us socially and economically.

If you were to give one piece of advice to incoming law students, what would it be?

My advice to the law school applicant, well before he or she hopefully comes to William & Mary, would be: take some time off after college. Thinking about how a law degree will fit within one’s professional goals can only enrich the three years working toward it. I know this from my own experience and those of former classmates and current students. There are so many avenues one can take, and law school is a smorgasbord of options and opportunities. Working for a year or two and reflecting on how best to use the J.D. will make you a much more informed student and allow you to hit the ground running with a purpose. 

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Learn About William & Mary’s Federal Tax Clinic

by Bridget Claycomb, Class of 2016

It’s getting to be that time of year again: Tax Season. While that might have some of us groaning, the students in the William and Mary Tax Law Clinic are probably ecstatic! The admissions ambassadors had a chance to talk with two students, Jack and Natalia, who took the Tax Law Clinic during Fall Semester . Both third year law students highly recommended the clinic to other William and Mary law students.

Natalia is from Russia and transferred to William and Mary Law School for her second year. She worked as an accountant for four years before she decided that she wanted to pursue law instead of accounting. She hesitated to explore tax law, but after an internship with the IRS, she realized tax law was just the kind of structured challenge she was looking for. She decided to sign-up for the Tax Law Clinic.

Jack is from North Carolina and chose William and Mary for its history and its reputation as being a great law school. He decided to sign-up for the Tax Law Clinic after taking the Federal Income Tax course during his second year of law school. The director of the clinic, Craig Bell, came in to encourage students to apply, and Jack thought it sounded like a great opportunity to gain practical experience and help clients who really needed it.

Craig Bell, Adjunct Professor of Law & Managing Attorney William & Mary's Federal Tax Clinic

Craig Bell, Adjunct Professor of Law & Managing Attorney William & Mary’s Federal Tax Clinic

Natalia and Jack couldn’t say enough good things about Director Craig Bell. Natalia said, “Craig is a nationally recognized tax attorney who has been practicing tax law for thirty years. Learning from him is an invaluable experience for students interested in tax law.” Jack agrees, “Craig is a great teacher that fosters corroboration between the student teams and seeks to build the class into a firm. Craig is also a successful attorney that has a wealth of practical experience to convey to the students which take the clinic.”

The clinic has both classroom and practical elements. Students are taught strategies and knowledge that they can apply to their cases and clients. Both students stressed how valuable it is to participate in clinics during law school. Jack said, “Some people complain that law school lacks the practical experience necessary to practice law; taking a clinic is a great way to gain practical experience in law school.” Natalia agrees, “ The Clinic gave me real perspective and showed me how I would apply the knowledge and theory I am learning in class to the real world.” “I met and conferenced with a client. I had a real opportunity to help a real client with a real problem,” says Natalia. Jack adds, “The clinic allows us to help people in need of legal services that otherwise would not be able to afford said services.”

For more information on the tax law clinic, click here.

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Getting to Know Faculty

by Liz Berry, Class of 2016

IMG_7257After two semesters at W&M, I’ve had eight different professors (six doctrinal, one Writing Practice, and one Adjunct). With larger classes than at my undergraduate institution (not that it was hard to do…I had classes of four people sometimes), I was expecting that I wouldn’t really get to know my professors. Luckily, I was wrong. All of my professors have been so open and willing to meet with each and every one of their students. Some professors schedule brown bag lunches (and supply Extraordinary Cupcakes) to get to know their students, while others are willing to walk over to the Blue Talon/Trellis/Cheese Shop in small groups for a more intimate lunch. Coffee meetings are also eagerly welcomed (and really, how can you turn down coffee in law school?). In any case, the professors at W&M want to get to know the students just as much as the students want to get to know them.

The Public Service Fund auction (where students and faculty auction off activities) really proves my point. Professors auctioned off dinners, cocktail hours, Mad Men season premier parties, and even game nights. The proceeds went to PSF, but students get to spend the time they purchased with their professors. And the professors were happy to do it. You can tell that students love their professors when they buy time with them for $400 (although I think the professors would do the same type of things for free!).

So. Moral of the story? Don’t be afraid to reach out to a professor and ask to get lunch, coffee, or even a cupcake together. They’d be more than willing to do so.

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A Day in the Life of a 1L

by Liz Rademacher, Class of 2016

Now that I’ve finished the first half of my first year of law school at William & Mary, I feel like I’ve started to settle into a routine. My schedule’s a bit different each day, but here’s a glimpse into a random Thursday in the life of a 1L:

7:00 a.m. My alarm clock goes off. Time to wake up!

7:09 a.m. Okay, so I hit the snooze button just once. Waking up for real now! Time for me to shower, eat breakfast, and pack up my things for the day before I make the ten-minute commute to the law school for my first class this morning.

8:30 a.m. Time for Legal Practice! My Legal Practice class meets three times a week, twice with a legal writing professor and once with an adjunct professor who teaches my class other legal skills. Some weeks, we’ll have lectures with the law school librarians instead of meeting for class. Today my class is reviewing the basics of persuasive legal writing. I have class with my Legal Practice firm, which has only 13 other people in it.

10:00 a.m. Now I need to go to Contracts, my largest class. We’re learning about which kinds of promises are legally enforceable in a contract today (it’s more exciting than it sounds).

11:30 a.m. Time for Property, where we’re learning about adverse possession. Just a little over an hour until I’m done with all my classes for the day!

12:45 p.m. All finished with classes and now my favorite part of the day, lunch hour, is finally here. The law school purposefully doesn’t schedule classes during this time of the day to give students a chance to go to events or meetings and to eat lunch. Today, I’m going to a panel of guest speakers the Office of Career Services has organized to hear about legal careers within local, state, and federal government offices. Like most events that OCS plans during this time of day, there’s free pizza!

2:00 p.m. Time to hit the books. After the OCS event ends, I grab a snack from Greenberry’s, the law school café, and head to the law library with some of my friends. We grab a table in the sunny reading room on the first floor with a view out the window of some trees. I unpack my books, queue up my favorite study music playlist, and cozy into a reading for my Constitutional Law class.

4:30 p.m. After finishing up my reading and taking some notes, I head to a Public Service Fund meeting. I’m on the general board of PSF, so I help to plan events and fundraisers throughout the year. This meeting is about PSF’s annual fundraiser auction, which helps to raise money for students who work in unpaid public service internships over the summer. We meet for about an hour to talk about food, entertainment, and decorations for the big night.

5:30 p.m. I head home where my roommate and I like to unwind after a long day by eating dinner together. I warm up a bowl of soup as we chat about our days, and then we watch an episode of Scrubs before hitting the books again.

7:00 p.m. More reading.

9:00 p.m. I take a quick break and call my mom to say hi before I start to write a cover letter for a summer internship. Tomorrow I’ll bring it into OCS to ask one of the career services deans to review it for me—they give awesome feedback!

9:30 p.m. Done with work for the day. I surf the web for a bit and send a few emails before shutting down my laptop and curling up in bed with a good book.

11:00 p.m. Bedtime!

And there you have it—a day in the life of a 1L.

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Learn About the Appellate and Supreme Court Clinic

by Bridget Claycomb, Class of 2016

How many law students can say that they have represented real clients, in front of real Federal Circuit Court Judges, against seasoned attorneys? Students in William and Mary’s Appellate and Supreme Court Clinic can! The Public Service Admissions Ambassadors sat down and talked about this unique opportunity with Skyler Peacock, Brittany Sadler, and Andrew Steinberg –all third year law students—who are currently enrolled in the year-long clinic. Like most clinics, the students receive three credits each semester and learn valuable practical skills.

Tillman J. Breckenridge --Adjunct Professor of Law & Managing Attorney William & Mary's Appellate and Supreme Court Clinic

Tillman J. Breckenridge –
Adjunct Professor of Law & Managing Attorney William & Mary’s Appellate and Supreme Court Clinic

“It’s the best thing I’ve done in law school,” says Brittany. “I get to practice real legal skills. I’ve been able to present oral arguments to a panel of 6th Circuit judges and  represent a client who needed my help… and I am not even a [bar certified] lawyer yet.”

Skyler, Andrew, and Brittany all came to William and Mary Law School with a goal to give back to their communities. Skyler wanted to make a difference by becoming a prosecutor. Andrew’s focus was public interest, and he was fascinated by the role that public institutions played in American Society. Brittany gravitated toward constitutional law and immigration. Each student pointed to their scholarships and the supportive student community as reasons why they chose William and Mary Law School. In fact, both Brittany and Andrew said it was testimony from upper classmen that helped them decide to do the Appellate and Supreme Court Clinic.

The students also say that the clinic’s director—Professor Tillman Breckenridge—is a big reason why they chose to apply for the clinic.  Skyler says, “He’s a great person and attorney. He really shows us the art of appellate advocacy.”  Andrew agrees, “ Professor Breckenridge is excellent. I appreciate his practical insights.”

The clinic members we spoke to all said the Appellate and Supreme Court Clinic is a beneficial part of their law school experience. Clinics give law students a chance, as Andrew said, to advocate for more than just a grade, but for real people with real legal issues.

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De-Stress During Finals

by Liz Berry, Class of 2016

helpinglawyersFeeling stressed, over caffeinated, and a little bit sleep deprived? No worries, so is every other law student in America. One of the great things about W&M is that people actually care that you’re stressed. And they want to help.

Lawyers Helping Lawyers (LHL) sponsors a De-Stress Day during midterms and finals. The student organization spoils the law students with all day coffee, tea, snacks, candy, and anything else you think you could need while you hibernate in the library. And if you decide you need a break from your life in the library, they even host yoga in one of the classrooms.

So yes, exams are a little stressful (especially for a 1L who isn’t exactly sure what curveballs are going to be thrown her way). But knowing that we’re all in this together (cue music here), and that people give out free coffee and cookies two full days every semester, makes this life I call law school so much better.

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Law School Finals — Study Help

by Lauren Bridenbaugh, Class of 2016

The 1Ls here at W&M Law are anxiously preparing for our first law school finals. Finals start the second week in December and last for two weeks. In your first semester at W&M, you take finals in Criminal Law, Civil Procedure, and Torts. We finished the semester of Legal Practice before Thanksgiving break, so we only have to worry about doctrinal classes. Luckily, W&M provides lots of useful services to help everyone get ready.

Each section has their own Teaching Assistant (TA), a 2L or 3L student, who conducts review sessions periodically throughout the semester to go over the material the professor has covered in the class. I have found the review sessions very helpful to help summarize the topics in the class and understand the overarching concepts better. Additionally, the TA’s have office hours every week if a student would like to meet with them individually and they are always available via email. Many upperclassmen are also often willing to provide 1Ls with their outlines and recommend other study materials that they found helpful when they were in their first semester.

Another useful feature are the old exams that are available via the Law Library website. If your professor has old exams uploaded they can be useful in helping study for your own exam. The Law Library also features access to a variety of study aids and guides either through their website or physically in the library. Their 1L graduate fellows also conduct reviews of different study aids for different 1L classes so you can find out what your classmates think is most useful. I have found this particularly useful in determining the value of different study aids. Also, through your law school subscription to services like WestLaw and LexisNexis, you have access to even more study aids for free.

Exams are stressful at any level of schooling but W&M provides myriad services to help make the process as helpful as possible. It has certainly helped me avoid getting too stressed (so far!).

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Learn About the Coastal Policy Clinic

by Bridget Claycomb, Class of 2016

William and Mary has a variety of legal clinics available to law students who have completed the first year required courses. Most clinics are worth 3 credits/semester and give students an opportunity to gain practical skills. Most legal clinics have a public service/public interest component as they help people and organizations who otherwise might not be able to afford legal representation.

If you are interested in environmental law then William and Mary’s Virginia Coastal Policy Clinic (VCPC) might be the opportunity for you. Admissions talked with Erica Penn (3L) and Jason Kane (2L) about their experience with the clinic so far this semester. Both students knew from a young age that they wanted to attend law school. William and Mary’s supportive community attracted Penn to Williamsburg, while Kane felt W&M’s location and prestige would open up networking and career opportunities. They participate on the Environmental Law and Policy Review and have an interest in environmental law. Kane is the Co-President of the Environmental Law Society.

Kane points out that “Law school courses require students to think a lot about theory,” but the clinics allow for a practical experience. “The clinic allows students to develop their research, writing and advocacy skills,” said Penn. Kane agrees, adding, “Professor Jones treats the clinic like a firm. We push each other and work together. If one project has a field trip, we all go. If someone has a question about their project, we discuss it.”

Shana Jones, Director, Virginia Coastal Policy Clinic

Shana Jones, Director, Virginia Coastal Policy Clinic

Penn and Kane both sing the praises of Professor Shana Jones, who teaches the clinic. “We meet twice a week for class and get a crash course on the different areas of our projects,” says Kane. “I work with a local non-profit investigating the impact that animal feed operations have on the Chesapeake Bay.” Penn also enjoys the opportunity to help solve real issues in Hampton Roads. “My main project this semester is to write a whitepaper that will provide the Secure Commonwealth Panel Sub-Panel on Recurrent Flooding with guidance as they tackle the effects of sea-level rise at the state level,” said Penn. “The clinic does require a significant time commitment, but the work is truly rewarding.”

“I would recommend VCPC to all current and future students that have an interest in environmental law and grassroots advocacy,” says Penn. “This clinic offers a unique law school experience because you get to be the expert as a student,” Kane says. “You will know the law surrounding your project better than anyone.”

Click here if you are interested in learning more about the Virginia Coastal Policy Clinic and the other clinics offered at William and Mary.

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Learn About the Innocence Project Clinic

by Jenn Watson, Class of 2016

Innocence is not a subject addressed in depth in Criminal Law and related courses, so students in the Innocence Project Clinic begin by learning about where innocence petitions and remedies fit into criminal justice through an academic review of cases of wrongful convictions. They have the opportunity to listen to and speak with guest lecturers such as retired detectives and pro-bono lawyers, and they learn through examining real problems and attempting to solve them.

maipThe largest part of the course allows students to act as investigators. The Innocence Project Clinic works with the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project (MAIP) to investigate cases in order to determine whether there is merit to the innocence claims. The clinic is allocated cases by MAIP, and then the students work to build the case files. In any innocence case, the burden is to prove innocence.The standard for innocence claims is quite high, and it is not enough to simply retry the case. New affirmative proof must be found, and this can be done through DNA testing and biological methods in some cases. However, in the majority of cases, there is insufficient DNA evidence to rely on and the entire case must be re-investigated, which can be quite challenging as these cases tend to be older, and witnesses and information can be difficult to find.

Students who begin a case will start by reviewing the original trial to see how the case was built and determine whether there were substantive things that the lawyers did not do or address. Students may even get to interact with the attorneys who worked the cases and access their materials. In some cases, witnesses subsequently recanted and need to be questioned again. In others, the police may have committed some misconduct or coerced a confession.

When students build a case file, they will access case documents and records that may be located in a variety of places, such as police departments, clerk’s offices, and forensics labs. All of this information has to be reviewed and analyzed in order to see whether it can be integrated into an innocence claim. In addition, students will find and interview witnesses who may be difficult to reach or not inclined to cooperate, and they correspond with clients and may even visit them in jail.

In cases where there is biological evidence, the DNA can be tested. Students in the Innocence Project Clinic learn about DNA testing and get certified through a government course. However, finding that the DNA is not the client’s is generally insufficient, and the DNA evidence must further show that there was an unknown contributor to the crime scene DNA.

There are three types of conclusions that the student investigators can reach. First, that the claim has merit, in which case it moves on to the MAIP to be pursued further. Second, that the guilt of the petitioner is confirmed, and the case is dropped. And lastly and most commonly, that there is not enough information to determine whether the petitioner is guilty or innocent, and that conclusive information may be impossible to obtain. Although the first outcome is the ideal one, it is also the least common, but when it does happen, students may have the opportunity to assist with actual trial preparation.

The Clinic has found cases with merit, but none yet have been outright pursued or granted. Individual students may have two or three files open at different stages of investigation, and a particular case may be delayed if it is difficult to get ahold of a key witness, or a case may suddenly develop when a lead pops up unexpectedly. Some students may choose to take two semesters of the Clinic instead of just one, as this allows them to spend more time working on their cases and developing their files.

innocence5For students interested in Criminal Law, the Innocence Project Clinic encourages them to consider a new perspective. One student currently in the clinic said, “Any student interested in being a prosecutor or defense attorney can benefit from the clinic, because it challenges preconceived notions about our criminal justice system and forces students to look at cases from different angles.”

Even for students not interested in pursuing Criminal Law careers, the Innocence Project Clinic can teach valuable skills. Another student said, “The hands-on investigation is very different from most externships or other clinics, and you really learn how to talk to clients or witnesses who may be uncooperative or trying to deceive or manipulate you. This type of contact can’t be simulated, and anyone going into law should have the opportunity to get these kinds of experiences.” In addition, having the opportunity to review and analyze cases in depth can also be highly relevant for students interested in appellate work or trial advocacy.

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Gideon at 50: Half a Century of Public Defenders

by Graham Bryant, Class of 2016

Many students considering William & Mary Law have a passion for public service, and the public defender appears as an archetypal citizen lawyer: accepting low pay and long hours to serve those whom no one else will help. It’s hard to imagine the American criminal justice system without a defendant’s right to counsel, but that right has only been around for fifty years.

In 1961, a Florida court refused to provide Clarence Earl Gideon with court appointed counsel. Gideon tried, and failed, to defend himself against larceny charges and was sent to jail for a crime he didn’t commit. There, writing on prison stationary, Gideon drafted a petition of certiorari to the Supreme Court arguing that denial of counsel violated the 14th Amendment right to due process of law. That handwritten petition would forever change the landscape of American criminal process.

The Supreme Court issued an opinion in Gideon v. Wainwright in 1963, establishing the uniform right to counsel for indigent defendants. Gideon is a decision worth celebrating, and W&M Law did not let the occasion go unnoticed.

To commemorate the anniversary, three W&M Law student organizations—the American Constitution Society, the Institute of Bill of Rights Law: Student Division, and the Criminal Law Society—sponsored a series of events in early November including a showing of Gideon’s Trumpet and a panel discussion about the past, present, and future of indigent defense.

photo 1Longtime public defender James Hingeley opened by telling attendees about the challenges Virginia public defenders faced during the formative years following Gideon. In addition to a prevalent social stigma (that defenders employed tricks and exploited technicalities to get bad guys off the hook), even as recently as the late 1990s, Virginia public defenders received the lowest compensation of any state.

Things have gotten better. Panelist Lorrie Sinclair, W&M Law alumna and former Virginia prosecutor, stated the current indigent defense situation succinctly: “We have made significant improvements, but we still have a long way to go.”

Specifically, public defenders still face a certain degree of social ostracism. Rob Poggenklass, a 2010 W&M Law graduate and Newport News public defender, told attendees, “The system has changed, but public opinion has not.”

The reason for this sluggish change in public opinion, according to Hingeley, is that few laypeople are receptive to the plea to pay lawyers more. But when public defenders like Poggenklass are handling between 150 and 200 cases at a time, and court appointed attorneys receive $90 an hour and are capped at five hours per case, indigent defense in Virginia is still very much a “system predicated on sacrifice,” as Hingeley put it.

So what’s the take-away for an aspiring law student? For one, the Gideon events show that W&M Law’s student organizations are not only passionate about current legal issues, but are also eager to collaborate in raising awareness about them. Having the chance to learn about the development and challenges of Virginia indigent defense has helped me become a more well-rounded student, especially as a member of the Criminal Law Society considering a career in criminal law.

After all, as Hingeley said, “it’s not all about guilt and innocence.” Law is a human endeavor. “Defendant” is more than a label, and because of one determined defendant named Gideon, every criminal defendant now has the right to counsel. Part of being a citizen lawyer is learning to see past the labels, and at W&M Law, I’ve begun learning to do just that.

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