William and Mary Law School

Message from Dean Douglas

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March 6, 2012

Dear Friends of Marshall-Wythe,

Several days ago, twenty-five law students assembled in the legislative chamber of the old Capitol Building at the end of Duke of Gloucester Street in Colonial Williamsburg.  Under the guidance of Senator Tommy Norment, JD '73, who serves as majority leader of the Virginia Senate, these students spent two hours engaged in a mock legislative assembly.  Conducting their business by candlelight, our law students vigorously debated two pieces of legislation: a bill to repeal Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage, and a bill to prevent any citizen of Virginia from being required to purchase health insurance.  (For the story on this legislative assembly, click here.)

In so doing, these law students reinstituted a tradition begun at William & Mary in 1780 when George Wythe began training law students in the art of legislative advocacy.  Every Saturday morning, Wythe would gather about 40 law students into a mock legislative assembly to debate bills then pending in the Virginia General Assembly.  The purpose was simple: to train leaders to serve the new nation.  Many of Wythe's students would go on to serve in the United States Congress or in state legislatures.

It has now been 232 years since George Wythe conducted his first mock legislative assembly.  Wythe could hardly have imagined the world in which we live today.  But despite the dramatic changes of the past two centuries, we remain faithful to our original mission: training citizen lawyers who will use their legal skills for the greater good.  The difference is that our students today will exercise their talents not just in this nation, but throughout the world. Now, more than ever, we are preparing our students to work on a global stage.

We currently have alumni working in more than forty nations.  And many of our current students will spend their careers working or representing clients outside the United States.  In fact, this summer, under the auspices of the Law School's Program in Comparative Legal Studies and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding, many of our first-year and second-year law students will be working for non-profit organizations throughout the world, including the ABA Rule of Law Initiative in Baku, Azerbaijan; the Center for Human Rights and the Environment in Cordoba, Argentina; the Children's Legal Aid Center in Beijing, China; the International Center for Transitional Justice in Johannesburg, South Africa; the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance in Kathmandu, Nepal; and the East-West Management Institute Program on Rights and Justice in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

The vision of George Wythe remains just as vital today as it was more than two centuries ago.  As we train our students for the realities of the modern world, we remain faithful to our extraordinary roots as the nation's first law school, which pioneered the vision of training citizen lawyers.

With best wishes,

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Davison M. Douglas
Dean and Hanson Professor of Law

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