Class of 2012 Most Qualified, Diverse on Record
by Rob Seal
The Class of 2012 was chosen from the largest applicant pool in Law School history, and set new records for both academic qualifications and diversity, according to admissions data.
The 368 enrolled students have a median LSAT score of 170 and a median undergraduate GPA of 3.85, up from 3.8 for the previous class. About 27 percent identify themselves as minority students, up from 16 percent the previous year. The new class also has the second-highest percentage of females in school history, at 47 percent.
“This is the most qualified and most diverse class on record,” said Jason Wu Trujillo ’01, senior assistant dean for admissions and financial aid. “The Class of 2012 truly has no equal in the history of this law school.”
The students bring a wealth of experience with them. Though many worked at law firms as paralegals and interns, others gained insight into the law working at institutions such as European Parliament, the World Bank, The Hague, the U.S. Supreme Court, Congress and the White House.
One new student is a competitive rifle shooter with extensive international competition experience and Olympic aspirations. Another is a philosophy professor who decided to return to school mid-career to study law.
Eileene Braxton spent much of the year prior to law school working in the rural mountain community of Mullins, W.Va.
After graduating from Duke in 2008, Braxton knew she wanted to take a year off and do some community service work. She decided on Mullins after doing research on nonprofits through AmeriCorps’s VISTA program.
“Most people I knew who wanted to volunteer thought they could only go to the inner city or go abroad,” Braxton said. “They didn’t realize that there are small pockets within the United States that are rural and have higher levels of poverty, illiteracy, and domestic violence than many inner-city communities.”
While in Mullins, Braxton helped community service workers identify the area’s most pressing needs, and helped a proposed women’s center take the first steps toward becoming a reality. Braxton said she saw her role not as an outsider with all the answers, but as someone who could help residents aid their community in ways they deem most needed and beneficial.
“It was up to me to help them determine what they wanted to happen and help get that off the ground, and it’s up to the community to keep it running,” said Braxton, who views community service and volunteerism as individual responsibilities the more fortunate have to others.
Braxton is of Cherokee and Thai descent and spent her early childhood in a rural Appalachian community in North Carolina, where she developed a fascination with the culture. Her next stop after West Virginia, however, was anything but rural.
She participated in a Sponsors for Educational Opportunity program for rising law students from diverse backgrounds who have been accepted to top law schools. The program brought her to New York City, where she worked in the pro bono department at Shearman & Sterling on cases involving issues ranging from the Violence Against Women Act to political asylum.
“It was a lot of fun,” she said. “It made me want to come to law school even more.”
Braxton wasn’t alone in taking some time off between undergraduate study and law school. Her classmates averaged about two years between the two, and only 38 percent of the class came directly from college.
Even by those standards, Andrew Peach’s path to law school was longer than most. To join the Class of 2012, Peach took a leave of absence from Providence College in Rhode Island, where he is an associate professor of philosophy.
Peach found himself drawn to the law as his teaching and research interests in philosophy trended toward practical areas such as ethics in biomedicine and business. “It became increasingly clear to me that my direction was leading toward where logic meets life, as they say about the law,” Peach said. “It just naturally opened the door to law school.”
He wanted an education that would leave all potential doors open to him after graduation — including academia, private practice and public service — and said he felt drawn to UVA Law in part because of its excellence in all those areas.
Peach said both the Law School and Charlottesville communities have been welcoming and accommodating since he moved to Virginia with his wife and three children over the summer. “What I heard over and over again is that UVA is the place to get a humane legal education,” he said. “Charlottesville is a fantastic place to raise children and have a family life.”
The transition from teacher to pupil has been a smooth one so far, Peach said, and he’s found that his classmates make a significant contribution to the quality of the in-class discussion.
“Even though my colleagues are younger than I am, and in some ways I have life experience that they don’t, I find them to be remarkably talented young people. I’ve already changed my mind in class on judgments based upon what students have said.”
To describe his classmates, Peach turned to concepts developed by philosophers during the Middle Ages. “The medievals distinguished between what they called ratio and intellectus,” he said. “Intellectus is the ability to grasp a fundamental insight or pearl of wisdom. Often, the latter takes more life experience. Ratio is more like the ability to move from insight to insight.”
To Peach’s eye, his fellow students in the Class of 2012 have ratio in spades. “They can move all around the avenues of these arguments with great fluidity,” he said. “It’s quite impressive.”
Peach isn’t the only member of his class to enter with impressive academic credentials; 43 of his classmates already have a graduate degree. Many others previously served in the military or worked for federal agencies or think-tanks. Only one, however, is an Olympic hopeful in competitive air rifle shooting.
Meghann Morrill was an NCAA Division I athlete at the University of Nevada, Reno, who hopes to continue her competitive rifle shooting career while obtaining her law degree.
Morrill began shooting BB guns with her dad in the back yard when she was six, but didn’t start competitive shooting until she noticed her high school’s rifle team at an activities fair for incoming freshmen. “I picked up a flier, and I went and tried out for it because it was a winter sport. They told me I was really talented. They exaggerated a bit, but I spent the next few years working to improve my skills,” she said.
Her efforts led to a scholarship offer for competitive shooting, one of only two collegiate sports in which men and women compete against each other. Morrill has also been part the U.S. national team, and traveled extensively for international competitions. Last year, she competed in World Cup events in South Korea, Italy, China and Germany. “I racked up the frequent flyer miles,” she said.
In international competition, which is separated by gender, Morrill competes both in small-bore rifle — or .22 caliber — and her specialty, air rifle. Though she joking refers to her air rifle as a “glorified BB gun,” it’s anything but childlike. Custom built in Germany, her Feinwerkbau rifle uses compressed air to propel a .177 caliber pellet. Air from a SCUBA tank fills the air rifle cylinder, and contestants wear suits specially designed to neutralize any influence the shooter’s pulse could have on trajectory.
Morrill tried out for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and after three days of competition finished sixth in her event out of a field of about 70. Only the top finisher made the team. Unsatisfied with the outcome, she plans to continue training while in law school in the hopes of securing a spot for the 2012 games.
Morrill said she has always felt drawn to the law, and that she decided on Virginia after visiting several law schools during the spring break of her senior year in college. “I visited here, and I took one of the student-guided tours and sat in on a class,” she said. “The students sold me on the school; it felt like home. The students who gave the tour were really friendly, and even during the class four or five students came up and asked if I was a prospective student. They said ‘You’d really like it here.’ It just felt like it was a good fit for me.”
Morrill majored in accounting as an undergraduate, and said she’s interesting in areas such as tax, estate planning and corporate law. As for shooting, she’s already made arrangements to train at a nearby rifle range — she uses a special electronic target that uses sound to pinpoint impact location— and plans to begin a five-day per week training regimen this fall in anticipation of an international competition later this year.
“There’s no doubt that it’s going to be challenging, but I like being busy and I like being involved in different activities. When I get tired of the books, I can go shooting. And when I get tired of shooting, I can go back to the books.”
Morrill’s fellow members of the Class of 2012 come from 10 foreign countries and 40 different states, as well as Washington, D.C.
Ben Massey is originally from Atlanta, and worked for a variety of law firms in Washington, D.C., before beginning law school this fall. Despite this, no one could have convinced him during his junior year at Princeton that law school was in his future.
“At that time, law school was explicitly crossed off my list of activities after graduation,” he said. “Part of it was this image of lawyers as ambulance chasers, or people who use slimy technicalities to get around things. But I think what converted me to a more positive view of the legal industry was the connections I made in my independent work on political issues.”
A political enthusiast, Massey found himself drawn to the legal underpinnings of policy arguments. As an undergraduate, he researched and wrote independent papers on the government’s power to seize land through eminent domain and on a Florida law that repealed the duty to retreat, a principle of self-defense law that requires the victim to flee in the face of a potentially deadly attack.
Then, for his senior thesis, Massey researched and wrote on the growth of the power of judicial review from the founding of the country through the present. “So I looked back on the eminent domain paper, the self defense paper and the judicial review tome, and it was kind of obvious that I was going to law school,” he said.
After graduation, he worked for over a year as a paralegal in the Washington, D.C., office of a law firm that was among the victims of the economic downturn. After being laid off, Massey found himself working for a libertarian public interest law firm on an issue close to his heart from his undergraduate days: eminent domain. He worked to help educate community members opposed to their state or local government’s plan to seize land.
“We’d go through and help them organize and help them learn the law of the state, county or city, and help them figure out what the process is and help them fight it,” he said.
When searching for a place to study law, Massey said he was interested in finding a top school where he would get a quality education, but also be able to work and learn in a friendly and collegial atmosphere.“One of the things I wanted to find in a law school was an environment that was cooperative, friendly and congenial, a place where people work together,” he said. “After a visit, I thought ‘If I come here, I’ll be happy for the next three years,’ even with the rigors of law school.”