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Experiential Learning

3L at Washington & Lee Law

Law school had always been the dream. "If only…" was the phrase that permeated my thoughts for the years preceding my acceptance to Washington & Lee Law. "If only I could score well on the LSAT." "If only I could get into ANY law school." "If only I could get into Washington & Lee Law." Those "ifs" eventually became my reality as I accepted W&L's offer of admission in January 2012. At this point, I was just happy that I was going to attend a good law school that had an excellent national reputation. But, as those "ifs" became realities, I began to ponder the next "if." "If only…I could be a good lawyer." The question became, how? How could I become a good lawyer, someone tasked in protecting a citizen's most basic right, someone tasked in serving a client who has brought their biggest problem to my office and expected me to fix it?

I began my law school career in the very traditional caselaw classes. "Ms. Wilhelm, can you tell us the facts of Hawkins v. McGee?" A recitation of the hairy hand case would follow. The Socratic Method used to analyze appellate cases is important for the study of law. As many of my professors said, we had to have our thinking broken down and deconstructed, so that it could be built up again to think like a lawyer. No doubt exists that my mind was broken down. It crumbled to the floor into dust, blown away forever by my law professors. Every law student needs this process to occur, and this breaking down process seemed to take only about one year. After the second year of law school, we all had become fully functioning Socratic methodized law students. We knew how to highlight important parts of the case; we knew what questions professors would ask; we no longer feared the Socratic Method.

But, what's next? Lawyers are not Socratically asked about past appellate cases. Judges do not ask lawyers to state the facts of some infamous contract case. So, this is where your 3L year comes into play, and might be the most practical part of your legal education. Externships, clinics and practica, oh my.

My most learned experiences come from those externships, clinic and practica: the experiential learning part of my legal education. As I interned for a state Supreme Court justice, it was there where I learned what cases could be heard on appeal to the state's highest court. As I interned for a local trial court judge, I witnessed lawyers practicing law in the court room in its essence. I witnessed the good opening statements, the bad opening statements. I comprehended the local procedure accepted by the local bar. Similarly, students wishing to litigate have interned for the prosecutor's office, where they try cases in their entirety, with only the supervision of the prosecutor's office. One day of experience can easily outweigh a year of reading.

Experiential learning gives law students the practical knowledge of how to practice law. In addition to this practical aspect, it also gives law students the confidence they might need to effectively go into that courtroom or law office, successfully and confidently advocating for their client. For these reasons, I am thankful Washington & Lee Law emphasizes this experiential learning to its students. Our entire 3L year is full of these externships, clinics and practica, all of which are pushing us to be better practitioners.


Great Blog and I thoroughly agree. Like Washington & Lee, Brooklyn Law School has a great clinical program and it is those experiences that really help law students prepare for the job market!


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