Unraveling the “Citizen Lawyer” Concept

K KoballaBy Kasey Koballa, Class of 2018

On the first day of law school at William & Mary, Dean Douglas encouraged students to embrace the mentality of a “citizen lawyer”—a philosophy grounded in the history of William & Mary Law School. He described the “citizen lawyer” mindset at the opening convocation as the notion that lawyers should not only try to be excellent in the legal profession, but should also be strong citizens and leaders in the communities around us, while advocating for legal justice.  The portrayal of the concept continued throughout Law Week, as a first-year student, and into my second and third years.  However, the philosophy carried a mystique, seeming as a though it was merely a lofty concept that was unattainable.  I found myself asking “what is a citizen lawyer?” and “what can I do to make the decisions of a citizen lawyer?”  This concept became lucid after taking the Citizen Lawyers Seminar offered to second- and third-year students at William & Mary.

Alan Rudlin, an adjunct professor at William & Mary and Partner at Hunton & Williams, taught the course using the book Dereliction of Duty, by H. R. McMaster, the current National Security Advisor.  Professor Rudlin led the class through the book explaining the leadership lessons that can be garnered from the Vietnam War.  He focused not only on the outcome and statistics of the war, but also on the smaller decisions that were made on a daily basis and, more importantly, on the decision-making process.  We discussed how former President Lyndon Johnson made questionable decisions and did not listen to his Joint Chiefs of Staff, detailing the numerous tactical mistakes that led to the increased fatalities in Vietnam.  Professor Rudlin pulled out lessons from this history to explain how we, as students and future lawyers, can be “citizen lawyers” and make better decisions to better our nation—such as embracing ideals of those who challenge us, making sure to gather all details, and understanding how some statistics can be misleading.

Throughout the course, he brought in speakers including William & Mary’s President W. Taylor Reveley III and Justice John Charles Thomas of the Virginia Supreme Court. Each speaker would highlight on the mistakes that these leaders made during the Vietnam War while bringing in their own perspectives.  Justice John Charles Thomas’s speech hit home with the concept of the “citizen lawyer”.  He is the guest speaker at William & Mary Law School’s opening convocation, and he introduces the concept of the “citizen lawyer”.  His speech bound this concept and completed the full notice.  Not only do we, as students and lawyers, need to be successful and sound lawyers and understand the law but we need to see the bigger picture and be tactful, taking into account the perspectives of others.

To tie the concept back to Vietnam, our leaders needed to have a better understanding of what was going on in Vietnam, how the Vietnamese people were living, and what the Vietnamese people wanted, rather than focusing our political agenda on the next election, struggles at home, or an overarching goal of “gradual escalation” that was entirely miscalculated. William & Mary Law School charges it’s students with this challenge so that we can become better lawyers, help to better this nation, and prevent history from repeating itself.  After this course, I now have a complete understanding of the concept of a “citizen lawyer” and how to put that ideal into practice, to see the bigger picture and to promote justice for all, in my legal profession.

Election VOTELine

A KaiserBy Alyssa Kaiser, Class of 2019

The 2017 Election in Virginia was contested in a number of different races, and the state election gained national spotlight. As it turns out, the gubernatorial election was not all that close, but after the election, the results in some races were so close that there are still contested seats in the House of Delegates, as issues arose specifically surrounding voting administration and polling place errors. It will be interesting to see how the recounts play out and if there is a meaningful remedy.

William & Mary’s Election Law Society set up a VOTEline on November 7th so that voters all over Virginia could call in and ask any questions that presented themselves on Election Day. The voters could ask any questions, but the most expected were in regard to proper polling places and verifying the proper use of photo ID.

The coordinators of the VOTEline were Matthew Catron (1L) and Alannah Shubrick (2L), and they were very organized and helpful to all of the volunteers. I was excited about the election and volunteered to field questions through the VOTEline on Election Day. After some training the day before, mainly using guidance documents, I was excited to assist voters!

When I arrived to work my shift, I was updated on some issues that arose earlier in the day, specifically regarding students and their voter ID, and also voters that appeared on the inactive voter list. In some of these situations, voters were offered to vote provisionally by poll workers. However, a provisional ballot is rarely ever counted, so this was a problematic remedy. Indeed, given the recounts, provisional ballots will be a hotly contested issue.

I was fortunate to speak with a voter that needed his polling place identified and to know the candidates on the ballot in his voting district. Although relatively easy to do with the tools that I was provided, it was helpful to the voter.

The VOTEline was a fun and interesting project to be involved in and was truly helpful to those voters who had questions. It is nice to know that the Law School provides a service to the Virginia community, especially regarding something as important as the right to vote.