Alumni Weekend 2009

One of the traditional highlights of Alumni Weekend is Saturday's State of the Law School review with the Dean and the "Marshall-Wythe Generations" gathering that follows, during which alumni trade stories of their time here. This year's event was no exception.

The State of the Law School

In her State of the Law School review, Dean Butler recapped what has been a busy and exciting year here.

On the faculty front, an oil painting of Professor Dick Williamson now hangs in the Law School's North Wing , a reminder of the long-time faculty member who died in 2007, after a distinguished 37-year -career at William & Mary. The Dean recalled that he would be remembered for his contributions as a professor, vice dean, and counselor to the College, and for his famously "quick wit" and "sense of humor that could stop a conversation."  (Click here to read about the painting's unveiling.) She shared the news that Professor Jim Moliterno will join Washington & Lee's faculty in July, where he will help develop its new third-year curriculum. Jim was among the founders of the Law School's award-winning Legal Skills Program. (Click here to read about the Law School's farewell gathering for Professor Moliterno.)  Scott Dodson from the University of Arkansas joins us in July.  A rising star and well-published scholar, Dodson will teach Civil Procedure and Federal Courts, among other courses. Butler noted that she will put down the reins of her administrative duties this summer, having served as vice dean and interim dean for the past decade. She said she looked forward to being back in the classroom in the fall and to a year's administrative leave beginning next spring during which she will concentrate on research.  Among faculty achievements, she noted that three law faculty - Nancy Combs, Neal Devins, and Davison Douglas - were among the 20 College faculty chosen to receive inaugural Plumeri Awards.  "These awards are given to faculty who are excellent teachers and scholars ... Having three of the twenty be law professors is an amazing feat," she said.  Later in her remarks, she underlined that the law school has critical needs in two areas: increasing the size of the full-time faculty to forty and expanding financial aid for our students.

On the admissions front, the Law School has received almost 5,000 applications for next year's 1L class, an approximately nine percent increase in applications from last year.  The Dean also reported that a record-setting 192 admitted students attended Admitted Students Weekend.  She noted that the Law School's goal is to recruit a class of approximately 200 students, and that its reputation as a "good deal in terms of tuition and fees and  a great deal in terms of quality" is especially attractive in these uncertain economic times. The economy has made it tougher for the third-year class to secure jobs. She praised the Office of Career Services staff for their vigorous efforts to help students navigate the tough hiring market.

The Dean spoke about the expansion of our clinical program which now includes a Veterans' Benefits Clinic and a Special Education Advocacy Clinic. Patty Roberts '92, who is now a Clinical Assistant Professor of Law, directs both our Legal Skills Program and our Clinical Programs. She directs the Special Education Advocacy Clinic, which has benefited enormously from the contributions of Pamela and Pete Wright, now adjunct professors at the Law School, who are among the leading experts in the field. Two veterans among our alumni, Stacey-Rae Simcox '99 and Mark Matthews '99, serve as the managing attorneys for our veterans' clinic. Butler noted that the Class of 1974 has dedicated its reunion gift to raising money to support the clinic, a project they have taken on, she said, in memory of their classmate Lewis Puller '74. Puller was the author of the memoir Fortunate Son and attended law school after serving in Vietnam. She added that she and President Reveley have advocated for a one-time federal appropriation to support the clinic's future.

Butler noted that the student body has enjoyed national recognition for their achievements this year.  "Our Black Law Students Association was selected as National Chapter of the Year," she told the alumni gathering, an honor previously held by the Harvard Law School chapter. (Click here for announcement.) In addition, our Moot Court and Trial Teams have enjoyed great success. A William & Mary moot court team took second place at the ABA Regional Tournament, moving to the national competitio, and W&M trial team took first place in the prestigious Gourley Trial Advocacy Competition, with one of our students also garnering Best Oral Advocate honors. The teams' achievements, said Butler, help significantly to "increase and enhance the school's reputation before attorneys and judges."

In recent years, she said, the physical plant has undergone a wonderful transformation, becoming a "warm and inviting" facility. Over the coming summer, two renovation projects will be underway. The first will re-invent room 239 to serve as dedicated clinic space and will include two large conference rooms; the second involves closing in open space under the North Wing to create an attractive office suite for our admissions staff.  Prospective students will enter the suite via the hallway between room 120 and room 124. This hallway previously housed our students hanging files.

Marshall-Wythe Generations

Director of Reunion Giving Laura Beach introduced alumni who had volunteered to "get the conversation going." They included Steve Horvath '84, Neal  McBrayer '89, Dave Delk '94, Francine Friedman '99, Carter Clements '04 and Latoya Asia '09 (representing our soon-to-be-graduates).

What do alumni from different classes talk about when they get together?

Here's a sampling:

Neal McBrayer '89 got the conversation, and laughter, going with this observation: "I want to say one thing that has not changed. I noticed when Professor Butler was speaking that I was still avoiding eye contact. I could sometimes look her in the eye, but not completely. Because there's a risk that I could be called on. I have to say, as charming as I've come to know that she is outside the classroom, she scared me more than anything. I don't know what it was," he said.  To great laughter he mused "it must have been the subject matter."


M-W Generations

The beautiful April weather in Williamsburg prompted Steve Horvath '84 to recall that spring at the Law School was "the single worst time of the year. Between Easter and Mother's Day the weather is so beautiful, the fish are biting, basketball outside on the court finally, softball ... golf. I still don't have any idea how we actually studied for exams in the springtime. ... It is mornings like this, that make this a wonderful place to go to school."

Francine Friedman '99 recalled that a big shift in technology occurred while she was in law school.  She recalled that Dean Reveley asked her if students would be "receptive" if he communicated with them via email. She recalled that she told him "absolutely not. You have to put everything in their hanging files. .. and that was ten years ago. Now my Blackberry is next to me 24-7."  She also recalled an additional detail - that the majority of students hand wrote their exams and you needed special permission to use a laptop.

Today at the Law School, the Dean said, a special room is set aside for anyone who wishes to handwrite their exams and the main classrooms are for those taking exams by laptops.

Among the observations that Carter Clements '04 shared was that the "school looks so much better than it did even five years ago." The most dramatic change she said was the new Wolf Law Library. She recalled that when she was a student here the library building seemed pretty tired looking. She knew that the professors were excellent, and that the faculty mattered far more than a library that looked a "little rough."  Among her memories of the old library: signs hanging from chains for the journal section and a poster of two lions reading a book which was on display in a case.  The poster inspired her to have philanthropic musings, she thought "if I had any money I would donate it to the school and ask them to take that poster down."  Her reminiscences of the old library were met with appreciative laughs from fellow alumni.

Several alumni reminisced about earlier renovations of the original library. "There weren't any plugs," one alumnus remembered, "and I don't recall that the chairs had any padding. Six hours a day in plastic chairs was one of the most uncomfortable experiences."

The Dean urged alumni to take time to find the "hidden room" on the library's first floor which boasts pool and ping pong tables.

"My experiences here have been wonderful," Latoya Asia '09 told the gathering. She said that the Law School provided a very supportive atmosphere and related her enthusiasm for her experience in the Summer Program in Madrid, the Black Law Students Association, and the Public Service Fund.

An alumnus asked Asia what she thought was the greatest need of the Law School. She gave as a positive example of how students' requests were being met by recounting the story of how a new course was added in Labor Law this year, when a small group of students petitioned for its addition.  She said that students want really small things, such as, for example, a new coffee shop in the student lounge.

One alumnus wistfully noted that he didn't see the Elvis lamp. No, said Butler, it's gone.

When asked about changes in the greater College and in Williamsburg, the Dean spoke about the College's numerous construction projects. These include two recently opened dormitories on Barksdale Field and the new Science Center, as well as new homes currently under construction for the Mason School of Business on Jamestown Road and the School of Education on what was formerly the site of the old hospital.  In addition, a new Career Services center will be built to serve undergraduates that will be integrated into the football stadium complex.

She also commented on the great amount of development that has occurred in Williamsburg and York and James City counties including, for example, New Town (which occupies what used to be farmland near the intersection of Ironbound and Monticello roads).

Dave Delk '94 commented that now "there's no reason to leave the Law School. It's so nice." He also joked that fifteen years ago things were really different. For example, there was a computer lab in which "you had to pull the holes off the sides" of the paper when you printed your briefs.

Butler told alumni about innovations in teaching such as students submitting their exams electronically via Blackboard, a "classroom type website." "Every class has a website that is created in Blackboard ... where you can post documents like your course syllabus or handouts. " She noted that some younger faculty incorporate it extensively into their teaching using it, for example, to conduct on-line discussions and field questions from students.

As a closing observation Neal McBrayer '89 said "... it is always good to come back to my second home. I sort of sense that feeling with the other classes as well and I'm really pleased to see that. So I say bravo to ... should I call you Dean?...."

Butler responded, "You can call me whatever you want now. You've got a grey beard." Her response prompted a great deal of laughter from the group.

 McBrayer continued, "... bravo to Dean Butler and your colleagues for doing such a wonderful job keeping the ethos of ... Marshall-Wythe alive. "