Winding Up At William & Mary: Reflections from a Graduating 3L

B WillisBy Blake Willis, Class of 2018

The Class of 2018 graduated in May, and after having several weeks to reflect on the past three years, I’m finding it hard to sum them up in a simple blog post. William & Mary Law School is a special place – there is no doubting that; however, to try and describe the experience here probably would not give it full justice. As the oldest law school in the nation, it seems obvious to mention the history and tradition the school bolsters; the outstanding faculty; the internship and externship opportunities; or the incredible alumni base of which our students have access. However, as someone who has both read and contributed to the Get Wythe It! blog in the past, I know these topics get plenty of attention.

Rather, it is more accurate for someone like me – a recent graduate – to describe what made my three years here memorable and special. In truth, the best parts of the Law School differ for each person.

From the day you decide to attend William & Mary Law School, you will be welcomed into the community by current students, alumni, faculty and staff. The message is always consistent – what an amazing place this law school is. You would think with a message like that, people would be exaggerating, but the funny thing is the message is entirely founded in the realities that make up the School. You hear about internships and externships; the outstanding alumni who come to speak at the school, sponsor conferences, and host mock interviews each year; the competition teams and numerous student organizations; the first-rate faculty and staff. Truthfully, these words do not fully describe all that is William & Mary or what the School offers its students.

Willis Grad 2018 0083Law school, like so many other things in life, can be whatever you make it. William & Mary is so special because its students are encouraged to pursue their goals, follow their passions, and explore their curiosities. The School, in short, is a community. For many students entering their first year, they know exactly what it is they want to do, what type of practice they want to pursue, the kind of lawyer they want to be; for many others, law school is a blank slate – where they can find their passions and discover something new. I was somewhere in the middle. I knew I wanted to work in private practice, preferably, litigating; however, I did not know what or where I wanted to be. So, in essence, William & Mary was perfect. The community – students, alumni, and faculty – provided the perfect support system and breeding ground of ideas and opportunities, allowing me to discover something that peaked my interest. That interest came in my 2L year when I took classes on Land Use Regulations and Property Regulation. I was fascinated and knew this was the area of law I wanted to pursue. I began working with alumni and faculty to determine a career path and what steps I should take to achieve this goal. The path was not always easy – I was entering a particular field, with little applicable experience or background and I met challenges along the way. However, with the help of my friends at William & Mary and an amazing network of alumni around the country, I found internships, externships, and volunteer opportunities to help me get there. In the end, I was able to land my dream job with a small property rights firm in Norfolk where I will begin working in September, 2018.

This was my path; for some it was easier and some harder. However, with the community support at William & Mary, and a range of career, volunteer and student organization opportunities available at your fingertips, everyone here has a wonderful opportunity to become a leader, find their passions, and discover their path.

Not only does the Law School community recognize and support this ideal, they do an outstanding job of acknowledging student success. Graduation Weekend is just one example. Over the course of a weekend in mid-May, the school, the students, and their families gather to celebrate the amazing accomplishments of the graduates over the past three years. Students are recognized for achievement not only in academics, but also for service to their communities (within the Law School and the Williamsburg area); for their volunteer work; for representing the Law School on competition teams; and for becoming leaders. It is truly a sight to behold. Over the course of our graduation weekend, the parent of one of my classmates remarked to me: “Wow, your class really is quite impressive.” It is true, we are. But we are in very good company at William & Mary.

WM Law Grad 2018 0157So what can I say to someone about to enter law school, or a prospective law student? I would offer only this: attend a school that will support you and where you feel comfortable. Seek out a school that will offer you opportunities not only to learn how to be a lawyer and succeed both academically and professionally, but that will also encourage you to grow as a person. You will be better for it – I know I am.

Q & A for Incoming 1Ls

B Lowellby Brooke Lowell, Class of 2020

Hi Incoming 1Ls!

In a little less than two months, you will be starting law school in Williamsburg! I have just finished my first year here at William & Mary and am currently spending the summer doing research with one of my professors. I remember having a lot of questions before I started here last August, and I hope I can ease your minds by answering a few that stood out for me.

1. How long does it take to adjust to law school-style learning?

For me, the adjustment took a lot longer than I would have liked. My civil procedure professor, Evan Criddle, told our class it would take us about eight weeks to become adept at briefing cases. I would say that was about right. The task was daunting, and for the first few weeks of class my briefs were completely red-lined with edits. The process does get easier; you will get that one case that you finally fully understand, and it will feel amazing. More importantly, do not be stressed about how long it’s taking you! You will get it, and everyone is going through the same process.

2. I feel like I don’t belong here . . . does everyone feel like an imposter in law school?

Imposter syndrome is a real thing that everyone experiences. The unique thing about law school is that you truly don’t know what it’s like until you are here yourself. How do we fix this syndrome that makes us feel like we do not belong at W&M? Be patient with yourself, and know that you belong here. Confide in your friends who absolutely feel the same way as you do.

3. How do I make friends in law school?

I want to take this opportunity to talk about sections. Your section is a group of 10-15 people with whom you have all of your classes for the entire 1L year. My section was small, only 10 people, but that helped bring us all closer. I leaned on my section a lot throughout the semesters. We had snacks twice a week for our writing classes and brought in a full breakfast buffet at the end of the year. Because you are all in the same classes, your section is a great outlet if you’re feeling stressed. A group of my section and I watched The Bachelor together every Monday, and it was a fun way for us to clear our heads. I would not have made it through the year without them. If, for whatever reason, you and your section don’t click, you are sure to find your tribe throughout law week, during your classes, and in the many student organization/activities available to join and participate with others.

4. How scary is cold calling in class?

Cold calling is not so scary after the first time. I had the unique pleasure of being the one law student cold called during law week by Professor Gershowitz during a professionalism lecture. Professors have different teaching styles, and you will adapt to each, as needed. Ultimately, if you try to answer but are wrong, professors are understanding and will guide you to the correct answer. Most important, be prepared and complete the required reading.

5. Will we survive?

Yes! Law school is the most challenging, but most rewarding experience in my life. I ended the year not only a better student, but also a better person, classmate, and friend. The friendships I have made here are ones that will last for a lifetime. With one year down so quickly, I know graduation will come before we know it, just like it will for you. You will not only survive—you will learn more about yourself, gain self-confidence, hone your research and writing skills, and come to know and love the wonderful town that is Williamsburg. One last tip: get the loaded cheese fries at the Green Leafe Cafe!

B Lowell Photo

My sectionmates, fellow, and I after we surprised our fellow with a Valentine’s Day gift of a Law Capella performance.