William and Mary Law School

Class of 09 Tours Colonial Williamsburg, Learns About Law School's Historic Roots

Not even the rain could stop William & Mary’s newest law students from touring Williamsburg to learn about the historical roots of their law school, the first established in America.

The Aug. 31 evening tour was designed to teach law students about the history and ideals of the Law School’s founders.

“It’s very important that the people going to the Law School understand its deep roots in American history,” said Law School Dean Taylor Reveley of the tour’s purpose. “I believe firmly that when you can see something, it takes on a life it wouldn’t otherwise have from just hearing about it.”

The history of the Law School was brought to life with the help of Colonial Tours guides and re-enactors from Colonial Williamsburg.

Outside the George Wythe House, Thomas Haye, the colonial supervisor of the capital courthouse and jail, addressed the Class of 2009 in full colonial attire.

While talking about Wythe, William & Mary’s – and America’s – first law professor, Haye noted that before William & Mary Law School existed, most lawyers learned the practice through apprenticeships. Wythe worked as an apprentice for his uncle, Stephen Dewey.

“In a way, all of us owe a debt to Mr. Dewey,” said Haye, describing how Wythe was unsatisfied with the training he received from Dewey. “It was [Dewey’s] neglect of Wythe that led him to recognize the need for a system of legal education.”

After telling the 1Ls about men like Thomas Jefferson and John Marshall and their great influences on the Law School, Hayes encouraged the new class to get to know the stories about Wythe and his famous students.

“You are part of [Wythe’s] legacy,” he told the 1L class.

Following the tour of Colonial Williamsburg, the students went to the College’s Wren Building, the oldest academic building in continuous use in America, where Reveley told the class about the importance of becoming citizen lawyers.

In addition to making sure its students become “skilled practitioners of law,” Reveley reminded the class that the citizen lawyer mission means creating lawyers who feel responsible for the leadership and betterment of society.

“You will want to believe you made a difference for the better,” he said. “That’s what we mean by being a citizen lawyer.”

Reveley also said that when the students earn their JDs from William & Mary, it will be important for them to have a sense of pride about their school and its mission.

“You can be profoundly proud of your law school,” he said. “The people who created it were brilliant leaders.”

Kristen Clardy, a 1L who attended the tour, called the tour “interesting and informative,” but said she was motivated by what she heard inside the Wren Building. “I was inspired by Dean Reveley’s speech on becoming a citizen lawyer,” she said. “I plan to keep that in mind during my time at William & Mary.”

President and co-founder of the George Wythe Society, H. Van Smith, a third-year law student, spoke about his organization’s role in helping student achieve the citizen lawyer ideal. “We’re trying to develop a program to encourage people to do public service and to be leaders within their communities,” he said. “It’s part of the dual mission of the Law School.”

Following the speech, students congregated in the Wren Building for refreshments and discussed what they had seen and heard during the tour.

“I think when you go to William & Mary, you’re signing up for this citizen lawyer ethos,” said 1L Jason Wool. “The ethics that we are learning about [in our classes] have their source in the history of William & Mary, and I think that it’s important to learn about.”

Alumni Affairs Director Kathy Pond said she was pleased with the response from the 1L class, and plans to continue the citizen lawyer tour for future incoming law classes. “It’s becoming a tradition,” she said of the event.