Coulda Shoulda Woulda: Getting Involved in Law School

For the month of October, we’ll be bringing you the Coulda Shoulda Woulda series – blog posts by current students on topics they wish they would have known more about, and tips and tricks for the tough parts of law school research.

Emily O'Hara, a 2L, writes about getting involved in law schoolEveryone enters law school with the primary goals of studying hard and getting good grades. At William & Mary Law, the community also emphasizes getting involved in extracurricular activities. Joining a trial team can help you practice your oral advocacy skills. Joining a journal can help you improve your writing and editing skills. You can help improve the William & Mary Law community by becoming a member of the SBA, our student-run government. By being a member of the Children’s Advocacy Law Society, you can learn more about issues impacting children and raise awareness for a cause you feel passionate about. You can also audition for Law Cappella, the law school’s acapella group, to meet new people and do something you enjoy to relieve stress. These are only a few of the many activities you can participate in as a law student. By joining an organization, you are able to gain skills, further your interests, learn new things, and take a break from studying.

There are more than fifty student organizations at William & Mary Law School. Most of these organizations participate in the school’s annual involvement fair that occurs at the end of Law Week. The law school lobby is filled with tables, and new students are able to talk with members of the various groups, learn more about the organizations, and place their names on a general interest email listserv. During the first few weeks of classes, many organizations will hold general interest meetings where students can learn more about the organizations’ missions and events.

At the end of Law Week my first year, I, like many of my classmates, attended the involvement fair. After four days of academically-oriented presentations, I was glad to think about becoming involved in activities outside of the classroom. While walking around the lobby, it was very easy to talk with students and learn about organizations. Through this process, I was able to learn more about the William & Mary Law School Honor Council – an organization that I had great interest in joining. After the involvement fair, I attended one more informational meeting before applying. I was then interviewed before being offered an Associate Chair position.

I became interested in joining the Honor Council after learning about William & Mary’s Honor Code, and the important function it serves in maintaining William & Mary Law’s unique, supportive culture. Here, the law school strives to maintain a supportive and collaborative community where students are free to build professional relationships without fear of unfair competition or advantage. Because of this, students are able to share advice and opportunities, and build relationships that can last well into one’s legal career. At William & Mary Law, I feel comfortable leaving my laptop and backpack at my desk when I grab a drink from the cafe. I can take my final exam at a carrel in the library, rather than in my assigned classroom. I feel comfortable texting one of my upper-class mentors to ask for job interview or final exam advice. I never fear that students are untrustworthy, dishonest, or insincere. The Honor Council strives to ensure that this community of trust can remain intact by holding students accountable for actions that diminish this open and trusting environment.

While participating in the resolution of cases is one of my responsibilities as an Associate Chair, I also perform other roles that aim to prevent misconduct and reduce the risk of an Honor Code violation. Such activities include giving presentations to 1Ls about their Honor Code responsibilities, tabling, and holding office hours during exam time to answer any questions about exam rules or paper citations. We also seek to recognize students, nominated by their peers, who have embodied honorable behavior through their conduct and interactions with other members of the law school community.

By choosing to apply for a position on the Honor Council, I have been able to serve my community in a positive way and gain skills that will benefit me as I continue my legal education. However, one of the best parts about being on the Honor Council, or any group at the law school, is developing friendships with my peers. From the moment I attended my first Honor Council general meeting, I felt welcome. Since then, I have gotten to know the other Chairs even better. I am grateful to be able to ask questions and voice concerns to a group of people who understand the stresses of being a law student.

Here at William & Mary Law, I have been exposed to multiple opportunities to get involved in organizations. Due to the law school’s variety of extracurricular choices, I was able to find and join an organization that I feel passionate about. I have been able to meet and make friends that are here to support one another through these tough three years. Although we all come to law school to study, get good grades, and graduate with amazing jobs, participating in extracurricular activities is an equally important goal. At William & Mary, there are plenty of opportunities to feed your passion, serve your community, and make friendships along the way.

Emily O’Hara is a 2L from Syracuse, New York who earned her honors degrees in English & Textual Studies and Political Science in 2017. As a student, she serves as a member of the William & Mary Law School Honor Council, and a staff member on the William & Mary Law Review. Last summer, she worked at the Legal Aid Society of Eastern Virginia while simultaneously working with Professor Allison Larson as a graduate research assistant.

Coulda Shoulda Woulda: Applying to Law School

For the month of October, we’ll be bringing you the Coulda Shoulda Woulda series – blog posts by current students on topics they wish they would have known more about, and tips and tricks for the tough parts of law school research.

Lowell_Brooke EIt was just two years ago last week that I visited William & Mary for the first time. I instantly fell in love and applied immediately after, getting my acceptance just a few weeks later. While I know I made the right choice in selecting a school, there a few things I would have done differently while going through the application process. Don’t worry; you can do it! 

Deciding When to Take the LSAT 

This is, of course, can be the most intimidating part of the law school process. Do not fret! Once you tackle the LSAT, you will be ready for the rest of your application. I took the LSAT the June after my junior year of college. When I wanted to retake it, my only choices were the September or December tests my senior year. If you don’t like to feel rushed in how you study, try to plan when you take the LSAT far in advance. Senior year of college is busy and for me, was not an ideal time to retake the LSAT. If I could go back, I would have taken it earlier in my junior year. That being said, do what works best for you and your timeline.  

I gave myself three months to study so I didn’t have to cram before, but everyone operates differently. There are books and online courses that lots of people use – Khan Academy now has a FREE study course through LSAC that anyone can access! Try out different study habits and programs to see what works best for you. 

Deciding Where to Apply 

Honestly,  I wish I had visited more campuses. You can read about a school all you want, but the most telling sign for me was how I was treated by students and faculty when I visited William & Mary. If you are like me, and you didn’t have the time or means to visit everywhere you apply, make sure you reach out to current students to hear about their experience.   

In line with visiting campuses, I recommend applying to schools outside of your comfort zone. I am from a small town in Maine and for 21 years of my life spent very little time outside of New England. I chose to apply to William & Mary to explore a new area and I ended up falling in love with it. If I hadn’t taken a chance on Virginia, a state I had never been to before, I would never have ended up at the right place for me.  

Application Materials 

The most challenging part for me in terms of supplemental application materials was writing my personal statement and deciding who should write my letters of recommendation. When you start to work on your personal statement, stay true to yourself. The best advice I can give is to write about your genuine reason for wanting to go to law school – that is something admission officers cannot get from your resume or transcript. For me, it was a revolutionary Supreme Court case (Obergefell v. Hodges), but for you, it may be that you have always wanted to help a certain group of people or have dreamed of drafting contracts. Tell your story!  

Letters of recommendation can be tricky, especially if you haven’t had many professors more than once. I asked a professor who I had more than once and had done well in his class, but I did not have a natural connection with him. The professors who you click with will know you the best and be able to speak to your character, personality, and work ethic. Don’t try to force relationships just for a letter. If you’ve only had a professor once but you are close with them, try going to their office hours and talking to them about why you want to go to law school. I always had my professors that were writing my letters read my personal statement so they were able to learn more about me. 

Waiting to Hear Back  

So you have figured out where to apply, written a beautiful statement, and secured letters from your two favorite professors: now what? Relax! You have just accomplished a tremendous task. Applying to law school is a stressful process and waiting to hear back even more so. Lean on your support systems and know that you will end up where you are supposed to. And, as always, reach out to current law students who went through the same process. Whether you need advice about William & Mary or the application process in general, Student Admission Ambassadors are here for you! 

Brooke Lowell is a 2L from Rockland, Maine. She attended Simmons College and earned her degree in Political Science in 2017. She is currently a member of the Public Service Fund and serves as the Vice President for Equity Alliance. She also works as a member of the Bill of Rights Journal staff. Last summer, she served as a graduate research assistant for Professor Evan Criddle at William & Mary Law School and will continue to work at the Legal Aid Society of Eastern Virginia as her externship for the year.