The Columns

Why W&L Law: 1L Brent Phipps on the W&L Community

— by on November 6th, 2014

We asked several of our 1L students to discuss their decision to attend W&L Law. Brent Phipps, a graduate of George Washington University from Washington, DC,  explains how the W&L community made his choice an easy one.

After spending the winter agonizing over applications for several schools, I found myself with a big problem: options. I had spent so much time worrying about getting into law school, that I had not spent enough time considering what I wanted from a school. As result, I needed to make a decision between several schools with great reputations and a host of statistical reports promising that each school offered a top flight legal education. On paper, the schools looked so similar that I had no plan to evaluate each possibility. After talking with my family and friends, I decided to attend Washington and Lee because I am at my best when I am on a team, in a group, or working for somebody that is watching out for me too. Washington and Lee offers that kind of community.

The community here impacts every aspect of the school. When professors greet you in the hall by name just to say hello, the classroom experience is different. The alumni network reacts differently because of the community. And more broadly, law school is less stressful and more enjoyable when you are with people that treat you like a friend, even if you barely know each other.

Of course, no law school will claim their students are unfriendly or the professors are cold, distant, and uninterested in their students. And in my application cycle, I found most everyone was pleasant for the time I interacted with them. But W&L was just intuitively different. When I visited W&L during an admitted student’s weekend, I had lunch with Professor Joshua Fairfield. We had never met before. We weren’t assigned to special group session. We met only because he said hello and asked about my day. We spent most of lunch talking about the school, video games (part of his research), and a dozen other topics both serious and not. Professor Fairfield did not interview me, pitch the school, or pontificate about the importance of legal education—he talked to me like a person that he was genuinely interested to meet. I am happy to report I found that to be a common feature among the professors here. They show a genuine concern for the students and go the extra mile. Earlier this semester, my Civil Procedure professor, Susan Franck, taught class until 6 p.m., knowing that she needed to drive several hours to Delaware that same night. This is hardly exceptional unless you know that the class was not part of her job; it was an optional class with the sole purpose of allowing students to ask questions about Civil Procedure. Donating time like that is just one example of the way professors here contribute to the community atmosphere of the school. I have also had a professor offer to review my resume and invite me to lunch. I have tons of similar stories and I have only been in school here for a couple of months!

The giving spirit of the professors is also reflected in the alumni network. When I was applying I asked to speak with some alumni. Fortunately, I was living and working in D.C., which hosts a fairly sizeable alumni group, and I was able to talk with members of the alumni, many of whom work at top firms in D.C. I was amazed at how quickly folks responded and how generous they were with their time. I do not want to think about what those conversations would have cost if they billed me. One gentleman worked a few blocks away from me and offered to meet for lunch. At lunch, I got some really practical advice about attending law school and a resounding endorsement of the school. W&L is truly a beloved institution. The alumni remember what it was like here, and they are protective about that legacy.

I have been in school for only a short time, but I already love it because it is such a friendly, welcoming place. When I walk through the library, people say hello and stop to chat. When I heard that friend missed a day of class because he was sick, I sent a text to see if he needed anything. Later, he told me that I was one of fourteen different people to check-in with him. The students here are very supportive of each other. When I am a having trouble understanding something I read, I just find a classmate or two, and we talk it through and come to some understanding. Nothing helps me learn more than trying to answer a hypothetical legal question with a group of classmates, regardless of whether I asked the question or I am trying to answer it. It is a collaborative environment that I don’t think is common in law schools. Of course, the law school has plenty of quiet corners if you like to study in peace and solitude. Just be sure to come out occasionally because your classmates will be great.

If I could offer only one piece of advice to a prospective student, it would be to meet the people here. Everyone—students, staff, faculty—shares a common bond of courtesy and friendship. That bond is what sold the school for me and I don’t have any regrets about it.

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