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.

It’s Law Week at William & Mary Law School


At William & Mary, Law Week is the first introduction that 1L students have to legal practice. The curriculum was designed to ensure that William & Mary Law students are learning about the foundational components for successful lawyering outside of the necessary coursework like Constitutional Law or Civil Procedure. Legal writing, analysis, professionalism, and networking are all vital to being a successful lawyer, as well as a successful law student! Truthfully, it can be a lot of information to take in. Dean Douglas says it best: This week, information can come at you like water out of a fire hose. We do our best to balance the week with fun socials, scavenger hunts, and plenty of ice cream.

Before their first day, the class is divided into small sections of 12 – 14 students that work with an assigned upperclass fellow and a faculty member who specializes in the field of legal writing; this way, there is a more hands-on and personalized approach to the first year of law school, and Law Week.

To give you an idea of what Law Week looks like this year, here’s a quick run-down of a few events.

Monday, Opening Ceremony in Kimball Theateropening ceremony

This is the first time that the incoming class is gathered together, not as individuals from across the country, or even as aspiring lawyers, but as a community. This year we welcomed students from across the country and around the world in the historic Kimball Theater as new citizen lawyers who will take on the rigors of law school together, challenging and supporting each other along the way.

Dean Douglas opens the morning by welcoming the class and highlighting a few of the fun facts that we’ve learned through the admission process (make sure to read last week’s post to find out some of our favorites!). He then introduces the Chair of the Honor Council who welcomes the students into the law school community by administering the Honor Code. At William & Mary, the Honor Code is one of the oldest and most revered traditions, and we ensure that every student who joins our community understands the importance of thecharge, “I pledge, on my honor, not to lie, cheat, or steal.”

Following the Honor Pledge, the Director of the Legal Practice Program addresses the class, followed by the keynote speaker. This year, we had the pleasure of hearing from Barbara Johnson, J.D. ’84. As an alumna, the former chair of the William & Mary Law School Foundation, and a current member of the Board of Visitors, Ms. Johnson’s ties to the William & Mary community remain strong, and her practice in Washington, D.C., is a testimony to her diligence in the preservation of civil and human rights. [Read more…]