When I applied to law school some 20 years ago, there were things I knew and things I didn’t know. I knew that the law could offer a path to public service and professional fulfillment. I had gathered, from one movie or another, that law school would teach me to “think like a lawyer.” I had no idea what that meant, and even less of an idea where a law degree would lead me. Nor did I know that what I learned in law school would yield dividends far beyond my chosen profession — in virtually every decision, in every boardroom, on every committee, in every situation that I have faced since. I had no idea then that law school would transform the way I thought and how I would spend the rest of my life.
Twenty years later, I can tell you that transforming my life is exactly what law school did for me. And that is what it can do for you.
There is no better place to experience that transformation than the University of Virginia. UVA Law is a unique institution. It combines the highest level of scholarly and teaching excellence with an unparalleled student experience suffused with humanity, collegiality and diversity. From admissions through career placement and everything in between, our faculty and staff see our mission as ensuring that all of our students not only excel but thrive as whole people.
Our resilience has been tested — and proven — in the past year as the Law School both adapted to a pandemic and strengthened our commitment to diversity, equity and belonging. I am proud of how the school was able to offer classes in person and online while promoting the health and safety of the UVA Law community. With protests nationwide spurring a new reckoning on racial justice, the school is hiring a new associate dean for diversity, equity and belonging in addition to taking other steps that build upon existing efforts. The commitment of students, faculty and staff to supporting each other throughout whatever comes our way is both heartfelt and heartening.
We have had to shift the format of our classes this year, but our central mission remains very much the same: to challenge you intellectually, set you on a path to a meaningful career, and make sure that you have every resource you will need to succeed. Our curriculum accomplishes those lofty goals by providing you with three very different types of learning that are essential to the lifetime of success and leadership that is a hallmark of our graduates. First, and most fundamentally, we will teach you the analytical reasoning and blackletter law of “thinking like a lawyer.” Second, we offer a wide range of skills-based courses, clinical programs and personalized externships that provide you with the practical skills and real-world experience you need to enter the workforce practice-ready. Third, we provide a broad toolkit of extralegal perspectives — from history to psychology to jurisprudence to economics — that will enable you to see the bigger picture, to take ownership, and to think not only about what the law can do, but what it should do.
To give you a sense of this exciting mix of analysis, experience and perspective, think about the following: If you are interested in criminal law, you will learn to apply concepts from criminology and forensic psychiatry while also enjoying the opportunity to take clinics in defense and prosecution, as well as our nationally renowned Innocence Clinic. If you are interested in a career in public service, you can study public law, political theory and constitutional history, and participate in a broad array of pro bono and public interest programs and fellowships. Our Program in Law and Public Service offers an intensive and tailored curriculum and provides mentoring and career advice from some of our many graduates who serve as elected or appointed officials, or in nonprofit organizations.
Our innovative and sophisticated business law curriculum provides training in the basics of business analysis alongside the foundational legal topics. It also brings business executives into the classroom to provide insight into the thinking and objectives of business clients. In addition to learning the law of corporations and securities regulation, you will be exposed to law and economics at a theoretical and empirical level and the nitty gritty of accounting and finance.
The professors who teach our courses are among the finest anywhere. They are deeply committed to our students’ success and to an intellectual environment that is simultaneously challenging and supportive. Their doors are open, they hold classes in their homes, and they value frequent and meaningful dialogue with our students.
The Virginia faculty are also among the brightest minds in the legal academy. They are leading scholars who define and redefine fields as disparate as patents, policing, privacy, comparative constitutionalism and insurance law. Our faculty is as varied in experience, outlook and background as their scholarship is pioneering. We claim long-time practitioners in both private and public law — including former high-level officials in the EPA, the IRS, the Solicitor General’s Office and the State Department. Equally at home here are interdisciplinary legal scholars with extensive expertise in related fields such as economics, philosophy, political science, history, psychology, literature and sociology.
UVA Law's curriculum and culture help make our students among the happiest and best educated. Our graduates emerge adept at legal analysis, as well as armed with practical skills, the big picture, and the ability to work collaboratively with colleagues and clients — making them highly desirable to legal employers and unusually successful in their careers.
No fact better demonstrates how highly our students value their time at Virginia than this: In 14 of the past 15 years, more than 50 percent of our living alumni have made gifts to the Law School, a substantially greater percentage than at any other top law school. That fact speaks volumes about the quality of the experience our students enjoy here, the fulfilling careers this place makes possible for them, and the intense loyalty that experience generates.
You come to Virginia with a wide set of interests, backgrounds and ambitions. But you all come ready to be transformed, and you will be, both intellectually and personally. You will make great friends during your three years here, and you and your colleagues will emerge as great lawyers, great leaders and great public servants. You will leave law school with a broad intellectual outlook, an enhanced ability to analyze and persuade, a more developed sense of character and integrity — and a twinge of sorrow for the end of three wonderful years.