Why I Chose William & Mary

kaiserby Alyssa Kaiser, Class of 2019

Looking back now, there were many factors at play that led me to choose to attend William & Mary for law school – and I have to say, I am still so happy with my decision. My career and locational goals certainly had something to do with why I applied to William & Mary, as was my interest in constitutional and election law. W&M has an outstanding reputation for my practice area interests and also has great connections into the Washington, D.C. market. So, applying to W&M was an obvious choice for me.

I sent out all of my applications around the same time, but William & Mary was the first school to admit me, just a few days before my birthday! I remember being so excited by the personal note on my acceptance letter, and as my other acceptance letters rolled in, nothing seemed as special as the acceptance from W&M because of that personal touch. Shortly after, I received a phone call from a current student to congratulate me, and then eventually received more correspondence from the Law School – this time with a notepad. I know that it may seem silly, but I really appreciated this extra effort because I am a firm believer myself that extra effort truly does go a long way, and I wanted to go to a law school that had similar beliefs.

I decided to attend Admitted Students Weekend, solidifying my decision. I had the opportunity to speak with professors, current students, and other future students who were also making decisions about law school. I met my future roommate and best friend at Admitted Students Weekend, and it just seemed like all the pieces were falling together.  I wound up buying a W&M Law School sweatshirt after the weekend was over and left with a big smile on my face.

After I got home, reality set in and I still had to make up my mind about where I was going to spend the next three years of my life. One piece of advice that wound up having an impact on my decision was this – law school is stressful enough, choose a place that isn’t stressful. What it comes down to is that William & Mary stood out because of the extra effort they made in the Admissions process, and I believed that this extra effort would be present in my education, too. As a current student, I can honestly say that William & Mary actually cares about every student, and I am so grateful that the overall good vibes from W&M in my decision process led me to become a member of the Tribe!

To learn more about our student bloggers, click here.

Meet the 2016-17 Student Bloggers

The Admission Office is lucky to have a number of student bloggers lending their writing talents to us by posting about their law school experiences throughout the year. 

Learn more about them below!

alsawafI’m Sami Alsawaf, and I am a 3L from Melbourne, Florida where I attended the University of Florida. While there, I majored in Political Science and Psychology. I was involved with College Democrats and worked as a research assistant in the Psychology Department. As a  junior, I had the opportunity to intern at the State Capitol in Tallahassee where I worked in the Office of Economic and Demographic Research. I decided to come to William & Mary because I truly felt like the school cared about my best interest–they weren’t going to let me fall through the cracks. When I visited, everyone was so nice and genuine that I could tell people weren’t putting on a show for me. Everyone here is welcoming and always willing to work together. In addition to the sense of community, I also really loved the Williamsburg area. The area is just so beautiful! I’m also involved in a few activities. I’m President of the Women’s Law Society and an Articles Editor for the Journal of Women and the Law.

grecoMy name is Marc Greco, and I am a 2L from the Bronx, New York. I attended college at Boston University, where I majored in Philosophy and was an active member of the Kappa Sigma Fraternity. At William & Mary, I am a member of Law Review and the intramural softball team. When I am not busy with law school life, I enjoy playing sports, listening to music, and going to concerts.

kaiserMy name is Alyssa Kaiser, and I am a 1L from the small town of Belvidere, New Jersey. I am a 2016 graduate of Seton Hall University in New Jersey, majoring in Psychology and Political Science. Deciding to attend law school was a natural decision for me, as I have always been attracted to the practice of law. Whether it be from my high school days, during which I obsessively watched trials on television, to my undergraduate career, where I had the opportunity to more concretely confirm my passion for the law through internships and research opportunities, my excitement has never wavered. William & Mary stood out to me among other law schools, and I find myself especially impressed by their commitment to create “citizen lawyers.” I am eager to find out what this first year of law school has in store for me and the rest of the Class of 2019!

reidMy name is Eric Reid, and I’m a 2L from Memphis, Tennessee. I attended George Washington University where I double majored in International Relations with a focus on East Asia and Japanese Language and Literature. I began thinking about law school while in undergrad, and after spending some time working in the field, I decided to go to law school. I am interested in many areas of law, including business transaction law, election law, and veterans law. After a summer with LeClairRyan and the William & Mary Veterans Benefits Clinic, I am looking forward to continuing my legal education.

zimmermanMy name is Liesel Zimmerman, and I am a 2L originally from Niagara Falls, New York. I graduated from the State University of New York at Geneseo in 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature. This past summer, I was a Law Clerk at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of New York. I enjoyed my experience so much that it has confirmed my interest in becoming a prosecutor. Here at William & Mary, I am involved in the Christian Legal Society, the Moot Court Team, the Phi Alpha Delta Law Fraternity, and the William & Mary Journal of Women and the Law.

willisMy name is Blake Willis, I am a 2L from Eastford, Connecticut. I attended Seton Hall University in New Jersey, where I studied International Relations. I was an active member of the Zeta Psi Fraternity and graduated from SHU in December, 2014. I came to William & Mary Law School because of its commitment to creating “citizen lawyers” and the active community that the school embodies. At W&M, I am involved in the Student Bar Association as a 2L class representative, the Federalist Society, Election Law Society, and the Bill of Rights Journal. I spent my 1L summer at the Virginia Department of Elections in Richmond.

zaleskiI’m James Zaleski, and I am a 1L from Midlothian, Virginia. I completed by undergraduate studies at Virginia Tech in 2014 where I received my Bachelor of Arts in Spanish with a second major in International Studies. I spent the past two years teaching Spanish in rural South Carolina as an AmeriCorps member with Teach for America. I chose William & Mary Law School because of its vision of developing citizen lawyers and its strong commitment to public service. I am currently serving as the Public Service Admission Ambassador, and I look forward to beginning my legal studies at the oldest law school in the country!

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Welcome Class of 2019!

Photo by Colonial Photography

by Elizabeth Cavallari, Senior Assistant Dean for Admission

William & Mary Law School welcomed its newest students on August 15. The 236 members of the J.D. Class of 2019 were selected from a pool of 4,243 applicants, hailing from 38 states, the District of Columbia, the US Virgin Islands and four different countries (China, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom). Additionally, six students hold dual citizenship with the United States and Canada, Ecuador, Ireland, Panama and the United Kingdom, and one is a dual citizen of Canada and France. The Class of 2019 has a median LSAT of 162, the 85th percentile, and a median undergraduate GPA of 3.75.

In addition to the first-year J.D. candidates, 52 students have joined William & Mary Law School for one year of study in the American Legal System Program as LL.M. degree candidates. These new members of the Law School community are citizens of Cameroon, China, India, Italy, Iran, Japan, Jordan, Russia and Saudi Arabia. The Law School also welcomed one transfer student and two exchange students continuing their legal studies.

“The size and strength of our applicant pool is a tribute to the Law School’s reputation,” said Faye Shealy, Associate Dean for Admission. “Our incoming students are an accomplished group of individuals and aspiring citizen lawyers, and we are truly impressed that these highly qualified individuals seek legal education at William & Mary. We have many reasons to believe they will contribute to the Law School community and legal profession in ways that continue the William & Mary traditions we value so highly.”

The first-year class received undergraduate degrees from 156 different undergraduate colleges and universities, 15 in Virginia and 141 in other locations. The leading undergraduate schools are the University of Virginia and the College of William & Mary. There are also three or more members of the Class of 2019 from (listed in alphabetical order) Cornell University, Elon University, Florida State University, George Washington University, North Carolina State University, Pennsylvania State University, Princeton University, Trinity University (Texas), the University of Florida, the University of Maryland–College Park, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Wake Forest University and Washington and Lee University.

first yearsPolitical science, history, international relations, English, economics, psychology and philosophy are the predominant majors studied by 62 percent of the 1L class. Fifty-four members of the class graduated summa cum laude, and 23 have been honored with membership in Phi Beta Kappa. Eighteen members of the class have master’s degrees (one has earned two, and another has earned a master’s and a doctorate) in fields such as art history, construction engineering, economics, education (secondary and special), history, philosophy, public administration, and religion.

Jacob Cain is a First Lieutenant in the United States Army and was last stationed in Anchorage, Alaska. Cain is originally from Oakman, Alabama, and earned a bachelor of science, magna cum laude, majoring in civil engineering from Alabama A&M University and a master of engineering in construction engineering from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. His work experience began at NASA in Huntsville, Alabama. “I was responsible with my team in testing all materials that would leave this planet. That includes astronaut underwear to the most advanced computers,” Cain says. “We tested to see how these items would react in different environments in space.” He left NASA to begin a military career where he was the head environmental engineer for the Army in Alaska. “Being responsible for all EPA and OSHA regulations for 8,000 soldiers and 14,000 airman located in Anchorage, I had incredible opportunities to travel the state of Alaska and to visit places only accessible by jumping out of planes.”

He states that he has been “privileged with the opportunity to see the military justice process first hand. Seeing how a Judge Advocate can assist soldiers, commanders and the whole Army motivated me to want to be that person, a Judge Advocate that would help our nation’s Army be even stronger.” He is looking forward to joining the JAG Corps upon graduation from William & Mary Law School in three years.

Cain is one of 12 that have served in the military, and three (including Cain) are attending law school under the auspices of the highly selective Funded Legal Education Program (FLEP).

Thirty-three members of the Class of 2019 have taken advantage of study abroad programs. The most popular locations were England, France, Spain, Italy and China, with the rest of the class studying abroad in 24 other countries. Six speak three languages, and one speaks four languages fluently. Two were Fulbright Scholars.

Dorronda Bordley came to William & Mary Law School from Felton, Delaware, and earned a bachelor of arts degree, magna cum laude, in sociology from Wake Forest University as a first-generation college student. Following her graduation, Bordley traveled to Taitung City, Taiwan, as a Fulbright Scholar under a one-year grant to teach English. “Through games, music and other activities, I tried to inspire my students to celebrate themselves while also embracing diversity as global citizens.”

Bordley then worked at Legal Services of the Hudson Valley through AmeriCorps VISTA. “With a focus on combating poverty, I spent the year creating legal presentations for veterans and service providers on basic civil legal issues such as housing, debt, veterans’ benefits and family law. Through these experiences, both as a Fulbright Scholar and an AmeriCorps member, I learned the importance of bridge building to better communities and have committed myself to serving my community, both globally and locally.”

While at Wake Forest University, Bordley co-directed a gospel choir, was a tutor, and was active in the random acts of kindness group. She is excited to join William & Mary Law’s Class of 2019 because she was “looking for a school that emphasized community lawyering and provided opportunities to advance in the field.”

Like Bordley, her 1L classmates are quite willing to share their talents with others. More than 65 percent of class members have strong experience volunteering and engaging in community service. Three have served as missionaries, and five have participated in alternative break service trips. They have done everything from acting as a captain for a Relay for Life team, volunteering as museum docents, serving as a guardian ad litem, working with Habitat for Humanity, advising a prison entrepreneurship program, serving food at local shelters and soup kitchens, teaching GED classes, working as an EMT or firefighter, raising money for charity through dance marathons, and volunteering at animal shelters. Five students in the class are Eagle Scouts. Several are active in environmental organizations.

Many in the J.D. class found time to get involved in extracurricular activities that demonstrated their leadership skills. Seven members of the class were part of student conduct boards with one as chair. Nineteen were active in student governments, and two served as student body presidents of their undergraduate institutions. Involvement in political organizations was also important for many class members, with 11 participating in College Republicans or College Democrats. Three served as president of their organizations. Thirty-three participated in mock trial, moot court, debate, or Model UN, and nine were captains.

The Class of 2019 took advantage of opportunities to explore their chosen profession as summer interns for law firms, political campaigns, Commonwealth and District Attorneys, the Democratic National Committee, LGBT and transgender law centers, strategy consultants, the Department of Justice, domestic violence organizations, lobbying groups, governors, the foreign service, members of the House of Representatives and the Senate, judges (local, state and federal), police departments, probation offices, public relations firms, the Republican National Committee, the White House and state legislatures, among others.

Matthew Sarfan of Hampton, Virginia, graduated from James Madison University in May. He earned a bachelor of arts, summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, as a justice studies major with a concentration in crime and criminology. Sarfan spent the summer of 2014 interning at the Newport News Public Defender’s Office and “saw how vital defense is for those who cannot afford counsel.” During the academic year, he was research assistant for New Bridges, an immigrant resource center in Harrisonburg. On campus at JMU, Sarfan was a leader in his fraternity, serving as recruitment chair, judicial board head and recording secretary.

Growing up along the Chesapeake Bay, Sarfan has always known of William & Mary, and he “chose William & Mary because of its dedication to shaping citizen lawyers. I am confident after my three years I will be prepared to use my education to give back to my community.” Additionally, internships “led me in the direction of William & Mary to further my studies and prepare to help clients with the complex legal issues they face.”

Along with Sarfan, 51 have participated in Greek life. Two have served as presidents of their fraternities, two have served as presidents of their sororities, one founded a fraternity on campus, and one was president of the Panhellenic Association. Six students were active with Equality Alliances, and another led the Black Student Alliance. Many members of the class participated in student-led newspapers, political magazines and academic journals. Five members led as editors.

first years 2Twenty-three members of the Class of 2019 were involved in pre-law organizations, with four acting as president or vice president and another three as secretary. Many volunteered on political campaigns, and 37 incoming 1Ls completed research with faculty.

Three were Teach for America Corps members, one was a Peace Corps member, seven were AmeriCorps members, and eight others have teaching experience. Overall, 52 percent of students in the new class have full-time work experience, some as paralegals, legal assistants, policy researchers and legislative aides.

Whitney Nixdorf hails from Blue Springs, Missouri, and has been a high school English teacher and community college English instructor since her graduation from Missouri State University,summa cum laude, with a bachelor of science in education and English. Nixdorf also holds a master of arts degree in curriculum and instruction, with an English emphasis, from the University of Missouri–Kansas City. “I’ve been a teacher for the last eight years,” Nixdorf says, “and I decided to study law because I felt it was time for a new challenge. I always encouraged my students to explore all of their interests and push themselves to be greater. I began to realize that I needed to take my own advice.”

She was incredibly active in her school and local community. Nixdorf advised the National Honor Society and Habitat for Humanity, was the lead developer of a new curriculum, and mentored other teachers for secondary communication arts.

“Knowing that I wasn’t just going to any law school, but William & Mary specifically, made the decision to change my life a lot easier. The beauty and historical significance of the place gives a certain weight to the endeavor. My impression of William & Mary is that people here want students to be successful and to find fulfillment in their work. I have felt genuinely welcomed by the people of Williamsburg, and the faculty, staff and students at William & Mary are warm, bright, and intellectually curious. I am certain that this was the right choice for me, and I am thankful to be a student again.”

Like Whitney, many were involved as mentors and have served as coaches for youth sports teams, big siblings, youth group leaders, Girl Scout troop leaders, peer advisors, teaching assistants, camp counselors, relationship abuse organizations, Special Olympics volunteers, and writing and academic tutors.

The Class of 2019 has been active in intramural and adult recreation sports, with 29 having participated in varsity sports (six were captains). Of these, one played professional baseball, one played professional basketball in Europe, one was a semi-finalist for track in the Olympic trials and holds seven school records, and one was a four-time academic all-American. Others have been involved as members of a cappella groups, choirs, jazz bands, marching bands, theater productions, dance companies and improv comedy groups. Two were choir directors, and others have been music and dance instructors. One founded a student hip hop group, and two play three or more instruments. Several are active in mixed martial arts with two achieving their black belts.

Additionally, the Law School’s LL.M. Program draws students from all over the world to continue their legal studies in Williamsburg. Ruian (Grace) Guo and Satam Alshammeri are two of these students.

Satam Alshammeri received his LL.B. degree in law from Kuwait University. While Alshammeri was raised and educated in Kuwait, he is from Saudi Arabia. He is interested in business and international law and would one day like to own and run his own business. Law is his passion, and Alshammeri “felt that my social skills, passion towards justice and my perception of local laws would help me to excel in my study of law in order to become an acclaimed lawyer, working to ensure that justice is served in my local community.”

Grace Guo joins the LL.M. class from Shanghai, China. She received a LL.B. in international economic law from Shanghai University of Political Science & Law and was an exchange student at Auburn University for a semester and studied abroad in Prague, Czech Republic for a summer. Guo is interested in commercial arbitration law. She chose William & Mary “not only because William & Mary is the oldest law school in America but also the uniquely designed study program for LL.M. students where we are able to have the opportunity to study with JD students.”

Reposted from William & Mary Law School news.

How to Find the Right Law School for You

rhiannashabsinby Rhianna Shabsin, Senior Assistant Dean for Admission

How to Research Law Schools

One of the most important and most often overlooked steps in the application process is to thoroughly research the law schools you’re considering. Whether you’re just getting started in your law school search or are about to press “submit” on your applications, the right research can go a long way in ensuring you find a school that’s just right for you.

Getting Started: What to Consider In the Beginning

No two law schools are exactly alike, and the qualities that make one school perfect for one person may be the very things that make it the wrong choice for another. Here are some things to think about as you begin your law school research:

What are your career goals?

intl lawDo you want to work in public service? Land a job at a large firm? Work at a federal agency? The number and variety of jobs available to lawyers are vast, but different schools will have different programs available to meet your specific career goals. Look for things like clinical opportunities and externships, and take note of those places that have an active and engaged career services office. You may also want to consider the area of law you would like to practice in and look over each schools’ curricular offerings in that area. If you’re unsure what kind of law is for you, look for schools with well-rounded course offerings that will allow you to get a wide range of subjects under your belt before graduation.

Where do you want to practice relative to the school’s location?

Law schools are typically thought of as “national” or “regional.” National schools draw students from across the U.S., and they tend to have alumni in most states. These schools may have concentrations of alumni in specific areas of the country, but, generally speaking, their reach is nationwide. Alumni from regional law schools tend to be concentrated in one region, state, or even in one specific area of a state. Which type of school is right for you will depend on several factors, including the geographic region in which you want to practice after law school (if you know) and your financial situation and the relative costs of each school.

In what type of school environment will you thrive?

For the most part, law schools today are a far cry from the ultra-competitive environments portrayed in films like The Paper Chase and books like One L. But each law school has its own distinct personality, and the degree of collegiality will vary from one school to another. In addition, some schools will offer more interaction with and access to professors than others. Think about the type of environment that works best for you, and don’t be afraid to ask questions of admission offices and current students!



Now that you have an idea of some of the things to look for in a law school, it’s time to begin gathering that information. A great place to start is the LSAC website. It has information about law schools, preparing for the LSAT, and dates of law school fairs across the country. The resources on the LSAC site can help you as you work to narrow down the list of schools you’re interested in.

Next, look around on the websites of the various schools you’re considering. You’ve already thought about what you’re looking for in a law school – which schools offer the programs and environments that appeal to you? If you are still an undergrad, your school’s prelaw advisor is another great resource.

Finally, once you have your top schools narrowed down, consider attending a law fair or, if you’re able, visiting schools in person. Admission officers are happy to answer any questions, and most schools will set up a campus visit so you can get a firsthand look at daily life in law school. In fact, if you’d like to arrange a visit to William & Mary, we can do that for you right here!

This is a series written by the admission staff at William & Mary Law School about the admission and application process. The posts in this series will be published in no particular order and are not inclusive. The series is designed  to provide information and advice to our applicants as they apply to law schools!

Reprinted from October 31, 2013.

Recommendations for Law School and for Life

fayeshealyby Faye Shealy, Associate Dean for Admission

Recommendations are an important part of William & Mary’s whole file review and are effective because they detail what makes the applicant stand out and paint individual pictures of each applicant. William & Mary Law School requires two recommendation letters and welcomes more. Don’t underestimate the importance of these letters which may address your intellectual development, aptitude for independent thinking and research, analytical abilities, writing skills, leadership and/or creative qualities. After all, William & Mary Law School is an academic environment and a community that values each member. We read recommendations. Many are powerful components of our decisions. They provide insights that cannot be gleaned from transcripts and test scores alone.

Who to Ask? 

groveProspective law students are expected to make contact and establish relationships with professors and others. Consider faculty members, administrators, internship/program supervisors, coaches, employers, and mentors. You will rely on them to write recommendation letters that will land you a place in the professional school of your choice, as well as for employment, organization memberships, and life’s opportunities that are important to you.

You do not want to seek out your university’s most prestigious professor or your state senators unless they know you. Readers will recognize the writer’s passion for your future that is not conveyed in a letter that begins “even though I do not know this candidate, he/she is one of my constituents and I recommend them.” Find those who can comment specifically on who you are as a person, prospective law student, and future lawyer. We know your grandmother and other relatives love you and support you for admission…but no, the required letters should be from non-family members.

How to Ask? 

killingerThere are good and bad ways of approaching those you want to help you gain admission, land the job, obtain that prestigious scholarship, or the nomination for that board position or become a member of the bench. Time your request. Don’t ask at the end of class with twenty others present, interrupt activities, or make your approach in the parking lot. Be sure to make “the ask” well in advance of the due date. I suggest at least three weeks, at a minimum.

Request an appointment, explaining that you’d like to discuss something important to you. Prepare to make the official ask and related explanation during the meeting. Specifically ask the individual if he or she would be able to write a meaningful and positive recommendation for you by a certain date. Pay attention to their response including what they say and their demeanor. If you sense reluctance, pause, or hear words doubting they have information or time to do so, thank them and proceed to others on your list. Don’t spend your valuable time fretting over a “no”…that person may have personal problems or work issues that prevent them from saying “yes” even if they could and would write a glowing letter for you.

How to Help the Recommender Help You? 

robertsYou ask recommenders for a favor – no one has to write recommendations for you, and no one has more to gain from terrific letters than you. Help your referees by providing all the necessary information with an organized presentation. A folder with all documents hand delivered during the meeting or attached to one follow-up email can be very helpful. Don’t assume what they do/don’t know about you. A cover sheet highlighting salient details, your resume, transcript(s), perhaps a copy of the paper you wrote for their class, admission essay, or written statement of career/professional goals on how this next step is relevant/important to you. Do not be modest. Your participation in competitive admission processes is one of the times that self-promotion is entirely appropriate and expected. Of great importance, include clear directions on how the recommendation is to be submitted.

You, more than anyone, can influence the contents and effectiveness of the recommendation letters. Make sure your references fully understand your goals and the importance placed in your request. Trust me, writing good recommendation letters takes serious thought and time. The more prepared you are when making the request, the easier their task will be and…the more effective the product should be. Make sure to provide your name as identified on your application (fine if they personalize with your nickname as long as official identification is a match with your application as submitted to the school), your telephone number and e-mail address, in case they need further information.

To Waive or Not to Waive Access? 

Many recommendations (including those submitted though the LSAC’s CAS process) require you (the individual being recommended) to decide whether to waive or retain your rights to see your recommendation. Many assume confidential letters tend to carry more weight with admission committees. Many writers prefer their letters be confidential. Do not infer that as negative. For example, the person writing the letter for you may be receiving the same request from your peers and friends and may fear what is written will be shared and compared. The letter writer  may have superior comments for you and associated reasons for the product not to be circulated for reasons very positive in your favor. Hopefully, you will identify individuals as your recommenders that you have full confidence in supporting you. That said, if you want access to what is submitted, exercise your option by not signing the waiver. FYI: Many individuals may provide you with a copy of their letter, even if it is submitted to the school confidentially.

To Follow-Up or Not To Follow-Up? 

As the deadline for your application materials approaches, you need confirmation that your file is complete. William & Mary provides that communication through the on-line status checker and via email. Plan a follow-up with the recommender if the deadline approaches and you do not have confirmation that the recommendation has been submitted.

thank youIMPORTANT: Be sure to send a thank you note or email message expressing your sincere appreciation for the support extended to help you progress along your professional school and career goals. This is a thoughtful gesture. This is also smart. You will need another such letter or assistance later from references that help you now. Speaking from over 30 years of experience writing letters and providing references for students, graduates and former employees, I always appreciate hearing the results of the process from the applicant. When I have written letters (now mostly for employment of our students/graduates), I am interested in the outcome and sincerely appreciate the individual sharing that outcome and their related excitement about what’s next in their career and life. I want William & Mary students and graduates to succeed. I want deserving employees to progress. I am delighted to help them and ecstatic in celebrating their successes.

What Next?

Check off this step in the application process. Hopefully, you have a reason to proceed with confidence that each recommendation submitted for you is exactly what you have earned and another reason to take pride in your hard work and accomplishments.

This is a series written by the admission staff at William & Mary Law School about the admission and application process. The posts in this series will be published in no particular order and are not inclusive. The series is designed  to provide information and advice to our applicants as they apply to law schools!

Reprinted from September 23, 2013.

What Makes an Application Stand Out?

yourphotoby Elizabeth Cavallari, Senior Assistant Dean for Admission

“What makes an application stand out?”  We hear this question a lot from prospective law students, and there are a lot of components to the answer.  At William & Mary there is no magic formula or benchmark that we expect all applicants to reach: we do a full-file review of all elements of your application (GPA, LSAT, work experience and extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation, and personal statement) so we can fully evaluate you as a candidate for admission.  Having said that, there are some traits that really mark potential applicants as people who will become successful law students and lawyers, and the way that these traits show up in applications can really vary!

Oral Communication

The ability to articulate yourself well and persuasively make your case will be important to your success as a student and as a practitioner after graduation.  How can you showcase your oral communication abilities in your application?  A number of activities, including participation in Mock Trial, leadership roles in campus organizations or Greek Life, employment projects, collegiate or recreational sports, and countless others can demonstrate your ability to be a persuasive speaker.  Additionally, oral communication is as much about speaking as it is listening.  Working with clients and co-workers requires listening critically, taking key information from conversations, and utilizing what you have learned.  Think about the experiences that have developed and honed those skills, and make sure we see evidence of that in your application.

Written Communication
library (1)It shouldn’t be a surprise that lawyers and law students have to write often and write well, so we expect a high level of writing proficiency from our candidates: even though legal writing may seem a bit like a foreign language during your first weeks of law school, you should still have a strong foundation from which to build.  Prospective students still in school should take courses that develop your objective and persuasive writing.  Utilize your school’s writing center and other resources at your disposal.  For those in the work force, embrace opportunities to write in your job (beyond writing another quick email); volunteer for projects that require heavy writing and will stretch and challenge you.


Knowing how to utilize case law, statutes, administrative regulations, and other sources of binding and persuasive authority is instrumental in the legal profession.  What research experience do you have?  Your research background does not necessarily have to include research with a faculty member (particularly if you’re not passionate about the topic or subject).  Did a class spark an interest that led to an independent study or thesis?  Have you been driven to learn more about a topic than you learned in a lecture?  Have you started a new project at work that required you to critically examine previous efforts?  Make sure your application reflects the research you have done and indicates your ability to successfully transition those skills into the arena of legal research.

While we try to discern these three skills, this doesn’t mean that we ONLY look at those abilities while reviewing your application.  Make sure to highlight your abilities in oral communication, written communication, and research, but remember that these skills constitute just one piece of the puzzle.  William & Mary Law School would be boring if all of our students were cookie cutter!  We take shaping a diverse and interesting class seriously, and we want to get to know you through your application and see how you can help make it even better!

This is a series written by the admission staff at William & Mary Law School about the admission and application process. The posts in this series will be published in no particular order and are not inclusive. The series is designed  to provide information and advice to our applicants as they apply to law schools!

Reprinted from September 10, 2013.

Let’s Get Personal

fayeshealyby Faye Shealy, Associate Dean for Admission

This is the first post in a series about the admission process. Stay tuned to read more about the W&M Law admission office’s thoughts on different parts of the process.

Although applications are not available for most law schools until the fall, the extraordinarily-organized among you have likely begun to craft personal statements. Our office fields a multitude of inquiries pertaining to the personal statement, so I thought I’d take a moment to address some of the most commonly-asked questions.

What should I write about?

library (47)You! You! You! We will read your GPA and LSAT scores on the LSAC report; the personal statement is your chance to attach a personality to those numbers. We are looking to enroll a dynamic class of people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives. Everyone has a story, and we want to hear yours. Find a way to tell us who you are and what you care about. Convince us that you have something to add to our community. There is no single “right” way of constructing the personal statement. We leave you with an enormous amount of liberty to show us who you are (but do remember that you’re applying to a professional school).

Keep in mind that your extra-curricular and community activities and recommendations will be important parts of your application materials. Your personal statement should supplement – rather than repeat – your credentials. If you want to change the world, tell us why and how. If you want to write about a past experience, explain to us how it affected you. If you want to write about an issue of national or international importance, show us why you are so intrigued. Read your statement aloud before submitting it. Ask yourself if it’s sincere. Ask yourself if it’s you.  We read personal statements submitted with all applications, and we can easily separate essays with a clear voice from essays that are clearly canned.

How heavily do you weigh the personal statement in relation to the rest of the application?

We conduct a comprehensive review of your application, and every aspect of the application is important. William & Mary is a small school. When we mail acceptance letters, we are not merely building a class. We are building a community. We pride ourselves on producing Citizen Lawyers, and we keep that mission in mind as we select each class.

Can a strong personal statement compensate for low numbers?

Yes.  Again, we review your application as a whole. Although your academic record and LSAT score are very important factors, each applicant should invest the time and thought necessary to produce essays that impress us.  If your numbers aren’t stellar, the personal statement is your chance to blow us away.

What is the proper length for a personal statement?

As long as it needs to be…and no longer.  We read thousands of personal statements each admission cycle. Your personal statement should be gripping – especially if you choose to write a long piece.

What about the optional essays?

If you have a genuine and specific interest in one of our programs, tell us! We want people who want to come to William & Mary, and we want to know what’s attracting applicants. You can also use an optional essay to tell us about an event in your life of which you are especially proud and couldn’t include in your personal statement.

 Is content more important than style?

No. Both content and style are very important. Most lawyers spend the majority of their days writing. Above all, the personal statement is a writing sample. It demonstrates your critical thinking skills and your capacity for creativity. It demonstrates your ability to organize information cogently and convincingly. The statement demonstrates your attention to detail. Finally, it gives us a glimpse into your character. All these qualities are important to the successful and ethical practice of law.

Any other advice?

Think and then write.  Set it aside for a day or two.  Return for a review prior to submission.  Note that spell checks do not match the name of a law school with your application submission…though we often do enjoy reading why an applicant really wants to go to Yale Law School or has always wanted to study in Boston.

This is a series written by the admission staff at William & Mary Law School about the admission and application process. The posts in this series will be published in no particular order and are not inclusive. The series is designed  to provide information and advice to our applicants as they apply to law schools!

Reprinted from September 6, 2013.

1L Diversity Opportunities

pembertonby Shevarma Pemberton, Class of 2018

The word “diversity” is thrown around a lot. But during my 1L year,  I felt the word take on new meaning, and I grew to appreciate what it represents even more. To put things in context, I think the discourse has made me more attuned to its importance in the legal profession. For one, the profession does not look enough like the population it serves. People feel comfortable when they can communicate with others they relate to. Diversity is not limited to race or ethnicity; it includes women—who are still largely underrepresented in the legal profession—and the LGBT community. But honestly, my law school experience thus far leaves me hopeful. Based on my experience exploring employment and scholarship opportunities, the future of the profession looks promising and will only get brighter.

The combined effort of the Admission Office and the Office of Career Services (OCS) here have been instrumental in highlighting many diversity opportunities. Both offices continue to ensure that students can cast the widest net possible to increase their chances of benefitting from these opportunities. Admissions circulates an email with scholarship opportunities, which is great, because it reduces the time that busy law students have to expend finding these opportunities on their own. I am very impressed at the number of diversity scholarship opportunities that I have gleaned from those emails. I do not have any good news as yet on that front, but I do for my summer employment this year!

I discovered several diversity opportunities through OCS. OCS also assisted with resume and cover letter drafting, interview preparation, and guidelines on follow ups—they essentially covered every step of the process to assist me in securing the job. I have to stress the importance of taking initiative and being proactive. While OCS has been a great resource in helping me seal the deal, I learned of the job opportunity by keeping myself apprised of the American Bar Association (ABA) news. The ABA is one organization that has been very active in its goal to improve the diversity of the legal profession. I applied for a position through the ABA Judicial Internship Opportunity Program (JIOP). JIOP is run in conjunction with several like initiatives, all aimed at producing effective, diverse attorneys to leave their mark on the profession. I am proud to say that I will be interning for a judge over the summer, and while I do not know what the future holds, I do know that I am excited and optimistic because my view of the horizon is very promising.

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Admitted Students Weekend: Making the Right Choice

willisby Blake Willis, Class of 2018

Deciding on which law school you will attend can seem like a stressful choice, but as hard as it may sound, you should try to make it fun. It’s an exciting time in your life, and you should enjoy it as much as possible. While there are certainly many things that you will be considering, one of the most important steps that you can take in making your decision is visiting the schools that you are seriously considering. This will allow you to not only see the school, and its surrounding area, but it will also give you a chance to interact with the students, faculty, and community (and your potential classmates).

This month, William & Mary Law School hosted its annual Admitted Students Weekend. Over the course of the weekend, 174 admitted students and 115 guests visited the Law School, took tours, sat in on panel discussions with faculty and current students, met with admissions staff, learned about student organizations, and learned about the law school experience in Williamsburg.

12525189_1045653408833040_3964775838962883318_oWhile this can seem like a lot (and it is), it’s also an important experience in making your decision. It will undoubtedly give you a genuine feel as to what the law school is like. It’s also a lot of fun. Over the course of the weekend, the Law School is buzzing with activity between all of the visitors, student volunteers, and student activity groups. Admitted Students also have the opportunity to experience the Williamsburg community life on their own or with a host student on Friday night. This year, nearly 40 admitted students took advantage of this program, choosing to spend their Friday night exploring Williamsburg with a current law student.

Ultimately visiting the law school will help you to decide whether or not is the right fit for you, which is the most important part. If you would like to visit William & Mary but cannot visit on Admitted Students Weekend, there are plenty of other, smaller Admitted Students events that will take place on weekends throughout the spring. For more information please feel free to visit the Admissions Website.

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Why W&M Law?

swinkby Austin Swink, Class of 2017

Over the past few weeks, as an Admissions Graduate Research Fellow, I have responded to questions from many admitted students via email and phone calls. One of the recurring questions that keeps coming up is, why did I choose William & Mary Law School?

I chose William & Mary over a number of other great law schools because of the chemistry this school has. I’ve told many admitted students that what I love about W&M Law is what’s in its DNA.

dwyerWe have great professors. They love to teach, and they are always willing to help you develop your understanding of the course material whether in class, office hours, or by appointment. I’ve had many a question answered by a professor in a concise email, and given how busy they are, the response time was reasonable and at times impressive.

We have great alumni, and they love to hear from current students when it comes time to look for internships, externships, and careers. If you look at the nation’s great law firms, government agencies, courts, and non-profits, you will not have to look much further to find our alumni doing great work and fulfilling the ideal of the “citizen-lawyer.”

Our journals are known widely for their scholarship, and they are likely to cover topics you care about. I have found that participation on a journal  at W&M Law is a rewarding experience that not only improves your research skills and methods, but improves your writing, helps develop your work ethic, and encourages you to be an organized professional.

Our town is known for its history. Williamsburg has so much to offer. Beyond Colonial Williamsburg, Historic Jamestown, Yorktown Battlefield, and Busch Gardens there are a seemingly endless number of historical markers and sites that will help you piece together the story of early America.

studentsOur school is a comfortable learning environment. Let’s face it, a large portion of law school is spent in the law school building and library. W&M Law has the comforts and environment that will help you to focus on your studies. Also, a new addition that is beginning construction is going to expand on that.

Our clinics provide great experiences. As a student involved in the Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic, I can attest to this fact. Having the opportunity to work under the supervision of leading clinicians, with the ability to make a real-world impact in clients’ lives, is not something to overlook when evaluating a law school.  No matter which clinic interests you, it will be worth your time, and will develop your understanding of what it means to be an advocate.

Our competition teams compete to win. Whether it’s the Alternative Dispute Resolution Team, Trial Team, or Moot Court, these organizations travel to competitions focused on developing themselves as advocates, and doing so in a manner more professional and competent than the competition.

Lastly, our students enjoy their time here. We are a competitive and academically driven bunch, but we are friendly competitors. W&M Law has a reputation for being a place where students often collaborate in classes by sharing outlines and forming study groups in preparation for exams. We all want an A on the final, but we’re going to pursue that goal with an eye toward making friends and upholding that great W&M tradition, the Honor Code.

Given all these attributes, this is a truly great place to study law.

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JD/MBA Information Session

kingby Garrett King, Class of 2018

On January 28, I attended an information session regarding William & Mary’s JD/MBA joint degree program. In this program, a student can earn both a Juris Doctor and Masters in Business Administration in four years. Usually it takes three years for a JD and two years for a MBA. With the joint-degree program, you shorten the total time, and tuition, required to earn both degrees.

At the information sessions were representatives from both William & Mary Law School and the Mason School of Business. For current law students interested in the program, the curriculum is designed so that you take classes for the first two years at the Law School, the third year at the business school, and the fourth year a combination of courses from both schools.

There are many reasons why a student may pursue a joint degree. Some students attend law school to receive analytical training but intend to work for a business after graduation. For these types of students, a JD/MBA program could strengthen a student’s job profile by giving him the business training necessary to succeed at a corporate position. It’s important to have strong reasons for getting a dual degree as there can be a downside to the joint degree for law students wanting to enter law practice. Our Office of Career Services staff is available to counsel students who are considering also pursuing a MBA.

Although this program would be a tremendous opportunity, this would mean being in school an extra year, which should be viewed as a large commitment. I am currently undecided about the program, but I have a year to decided whether to apply. Regardless of my decision, law students are allowed to take certain courses in the business school and apply those course credits towards obtaining a JD without being in the joint-degree program. These cross listings encourage law students to take classes offered within various William & Mary graduate schools. This interdisciplinary approach would likely be beneficial for a student simply to observe how other graduate schools operate on a daily basis.

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