About the J.D. Program at W&L
The First Year
At W&L Law, as the smallest of the nation's top law schools, with a total enrollment of 374, we strive to create a first year experience that is not only challenging, demanding and stimulating but also personal, collegial and humane. We work hard to create a friendly and supportive environment in which students are free to pursue their intellectual curiosities and questions in and out of the classroom. Our dynamic and distinguished professors are accessible and learning at W&L is very much a collaborative experience. The cutthroat competition so often associated with law school is simply not a part of life at our law school. Students work together as they grapple with the challenging legal problems and issues they encounter in their first year courses. And if they still have questions, our faculty are here to help.
And with a 10.2-to-1 student to faculty ratio, there is no arm's-length teaching at W&L. During your first year, your largest class will be approximately sixty students, and you will have a small section of twenty students in which you learn a substantive area of the law as well as legal writing from a professor. You will be expected to do a lot of writing and a lot of rewriting even in the first year, but not without feedback from a faculty that is consistently rated among the country's best teaching law faculty.
What courses will you take? Everyone takes the same first-year courses, creating a shared intellectual experience and a true sense of collaboration that carry throughout the years at W&L. All first year courses are required, to give you a broad perspective of legal issues: American Public Law Process, Civil Procedure, Professional Responsibility, Criminal Law, Contracts, Property, Torts and Transnational Law.
The Second Year
As a result of our third year curricular reform, each year of study now has a distinct and defined purpose at W&L Law. Just as the first year lays the foundation upon which the remainder of your legal education will build, the second year at Washington and Lee requires students to engage in an even more advanced and challenging course of legal study and identify and pursue their own interests in particular areas of the law through the scheduling of electives. Washington and Lee is very much a "liberal arts" approach to legal education and at no point during your three years at the law school will be expected to pick a track, specialization or commit to the intensive study of only one area of the law.
There are just two courses you must complete during your second year of study at W&L Law: Constitutional Law and Evidence. The remainder of the second year is comprised of electives, at least one that requires research and writing and many of which set the foundation for the third year. Washington and Lee School of Law offers a vast array of electives, and this considerable selection gives you considerable freedom in structuring your program of study for the second year. The range of courses and special research seminars open to second-year students is considered remarkable for a law school the size of W&L's.
The Third Year
The third year at W&L is entirely based on learning through engagement - combining practicum courses, practice simulations, client interactions, the formation of professional identity and the cultivation of practice skills. Third year students move beyond the learning process of the first and second years of law school to prepare for the transition to professional practice.
Students will build on the lessons and law of the first and second year curriculum to pursue a mix of courses that engage them in lawyering, legal clinics and externships. This emphasis on lawyering and expressing professional judgment will serve as a true capstone for a W&L legal education, producing future lawyers that will be ready for practice from day one.
For more information about our third year, please feel free to consult our new third year webpage, as well our more detailed examination of the third year curriculum.
Washington and Lee University School of Law has witnessed many changes in the years since its founding in 1849. In the Law School's earliest days, Judge John White Brockenbrough was the sole faculty member, and the course of study was short. Yet the Law School made a difference in the life of the nation almost immediately, educating countless Governors, State Supreme Court Justices across the country, a Supreme Court Justice and Solicitor General of the United States, ambassadors, cabinet members, legislators and distinguished members of the bar.
Though the profession and legal education have changed over the years, the Law School today remains a vital part of the national scene. Our graduates sit on federal and state benches throughout the nation, practice law in large corporate firms and small family practices, prosecute and defend criminal cases, represent the government at the national, state and local levels, lead businesses, advise corporations, advocate on behalf of public interest groups and serve in the myriad of ways that lawyers have served society since the beginning of our nation.
One of the greatest things about a law degree is that you can do many—and very different—things with it. Whether you elect a multinational firm with headquarters on Wall Street, small-town practice on Main Street, a prosecutor's office, legal services to indigent clients, lobbying on Capitol Hill, a judicial clerkship, an in-house counsel position with a corporation, an advanced degree or any of the other possibilities open to Washington and Lee graduates, your job search will benefit from the expertise, support and guidance of the law school's Office of Career Planning (OCP). Staffed by career planning professionals with legal backgrounds, OCP assists students with the logistics of the job search, such as preparing resumes and cover letters, honing interview skills and developing a search strategy.
They also work to educate students about the variety of practice options. For some, a large corporate firm in an urban setting representing Fortune 500 clients in large-scale transactions is exactly the right environment, and many of our graduates choose that path. For another, it may be a position with the public defender's office, with the Federal Communications Commission or a judicial clerkship. No two job searches are exactly alike, and at Washington and Lee, students meet one-on-one with an OCP professional to match the hundreds of opportunities available with their goals, interests and qualifications. It's not a "one size fits all" program. You set the agenda, and we help.
For more information on placement, visit the Office of Career Planning's webpage.