Graduation Awards: Four in the Class of 2007

June 12, 2007

This year's graduation awards honored a number of outstanding law students — including Khang Tran, Ajeet Pai, Kelly Voss, and Porter Wilkinson



Khang Tran, during a class session of the Supreme Court Litigation Clinic

Khang Tran
James C. Slaughter Honor Award

Hometown: Fairfax, Va.

Education: B.A., University of Virginia, Government and Foreign Affairs and Economics, 2004

Why you wanted to be a lawyer: In high school, I took an after-school job as an assistant in a small law firm. I worked with a great lawyer who really enjoyed her job and found it challenging and fulfilling. After working with her for a couple of years, I got hooked on the law — both the big picture and the minutiae.

Favorite law school experience: Being a peer advisor. I loved the opportunity to meet dozens of new students, some of whom have become close friends. It's also rewarding to see students who start off overwhelmed and astonished by law school make it through their first year.

Scholarly interests/specialties: Bankruptcy law is at the top of the list. I've also really enjoyed federal courts/procedure and complex statutory law: immigration, tax, ERISA, and Article 9.

Favorite class: My first, and still favorite class, was my small section of Civil Procedure with Professor Dudley. Since you can't choose your Civil Pro class, I would recommend anything with Professors Abrams or Doran.

Best learning experience: The Supreme Court Litigation Clinic — sometimes frustrating and always challenging, but mostly a lot of fun and a wonderful way to cap three years of law school.

Activities at the Law School: Peer advisor; executive board, Center for the Study of Race and Law; articles editor, Virginia Tax Review; Conference on Public Service and the Law; treasurer, Law Democrats and SBA Graduation Committee

Future plans: Clerk, Judge Robert G. Mayer, U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. Then I'll join Hogan & Hartson in Washington, D.C.

Best summer experience: I spent my second-year summer at Hogan & Hartson doing some phenomenal pro bono work. I remember two projects in particular. One was representing the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in a school redistricting case involving the Omaha Public Schools. Another was helping a former U.N. special representative of the secretary-general for children and armed conflict get his green card based on a lifetime of extraordinary achievements.

What you wish you could do over: No regrets at all. It could never be as good as the first time around.

Favorite spot on Grounds: Scott Commons, having lunch with friends and chatting with people who walk by.

Favorite spot off Grounds: The wallyball and racquetball courts at Slaughter and North Grounds. There's no better way to work off stress than to knock around a wallyball or smash a racquetball with a few good friends.

I knew I wanted to go to Virginia when: I drove across Grounds for Admitted Students Weekend and sat in on a Property class with Professor BeVier, ate barbecue in Spies Garden, and watched the Libel Show, all in one weekend. The combination of talented and dedicated faculty and incredibly friendly (and talented) students sealed the deal.

Advice for entering students: Slow down. Don't cheat yourself out of a great law school experience by merely trying to survive the semester or final exams or fall interviewing. All of that will fall into place. Instead, take advantage of your time here to make some friends, learn from amazing professors, participate in whatever interests you, and enjoy the beautiful grounds. Three years will go by so much faster than you ever imagined.

Ajeet Pai
Margaret G. Hyde Award; Z Society Shannon Award

Hometown: Las Vegas, Nev. (Yes, there are people from Las Vegas!)

Education: B.S.E.E., Rice University

Why you wanted to be a lawyer: I became interested in intellectual property when I was studying electrical engineering at Rice. But I was already interested in the law in a more general way before college; although it might have come from watching too much "Law and Order" with my grandmother, lawyers have always seemed to me to have an enormous power to get things done.

Favorite law school experience: I really loved the PILA auction every year: no matter what you bid on, you can always justify it later as supporting public interest fellowships. Winning Professor Coughlin's graduation dinner this year with five of my friends was definitely the highlight for me. Every year she donates a dinner at her house for six graduating students and their entire families. It's an incredible way to spend the night before graduation, and it certainly beats trying to fit everyone in at a crowded restaurant.

Scholarly interests/specialties: Intellectual property (particularly patent law) and federal courts.

Favorite class: I had so many great classes that I end up changing my answer to this every time someone asks. At the moment I'd say Constitutional History II with Professor Klarman.

Best learning experience: Working with the Notes Department of the Virginia Law Review. Critically reading dozens of student-authored papers every semester was eye-opening — I constantly felt like I was getting a crash course in unfamiliar areas of law. The notes development editor also gets to write the problem for the first-year writing competition, which the nine academic journals use to select their new editorial boards. It was at once a great learning experience (since I got to explore a number of unsettled legal questions as potential topics) and little terrifying (since about three hundred first-year law students would find any mistakes I made).

Activities at the Law School: Virginia Law Review notes development editor, APALSA mentor, inter alia photographer, Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program volunteer. I spent a fair amount of time going to see speakers that organizations brought to the Law School. It seemed like every week there was a can't-miss talk: journalists, federal judges, general counsels, the solicitor general, public interest lawyers speaking on current topics.

Future plans: I'm going to spend next year clerking for Judge Paul V. Niemeyer of the Fourth Circuit in Baltimore.

Best summer experience: I had great summers doing patent litigation work at firms in Austin and San Francisco. My most memorable experience had to be a three-day firm-sponsored whitewater rafting trip. The office in general was pretty athletic (or at least way more athletic than I am), but things still managed to get completely out of hand. Our guide made high-danger and combat zone documentaries for a living, and he was just filling in as a favor for a friend who ran the rafting company. He would calmly tell us the most astonishing stories about his recent trips to Columbia and Iraq, and then suddenly we'd hit rough water and he'd fly into action. We all had a lot of fun, but various members of our party also ended up with a broken ankle (requiring emergency evacuation), a broken wrist (ditto), a near out-of-boat trip down a Class IV/V rapid, and some miscellaneous knee-and-joint injuries that I can't remember. My older brother came along for the trip and was a little wild-eyed at the end of it. I briefly considered trying to convince him that every summer event was like that.

What you wish you could do over: Camping and hiking in Shenandoah. I really only started regularly hiking out there during my third year; if I could do it again I'd go much more often.

Favorite spot on Grounds: The wonderful gardens between the Lawn and the Range. I have a good friend who lived on the Range, and heading over to his place for bocce or a barbecue after class is something I'll definitely remember.

Favorite spot off Grounds: I'm pretty fond of La Taza Coffee House in Belmont, where I ended up having breakfast or coffee two or three days a week. It draws a pretty quirky crowd, and in good weather the patio is hard to beat.

I knew I wanted to go to Virginia when: I visited and was struck by how well the faculty knew the students on a personal level. Over the rest of the weekend (which was sunny, of course) I thoroughly fell in love with Charlottesville.

Advice for entering students: You'll hear it a lot, but it's absolutely true: pick professors, not just classes. A professor you really like can make anything interesting. And branch out a little from the usual restaurants on the Mall and the Corner. Some of the best restaurants in town are in Belmont or up 29, but they're easy to miss if you're not looking for new places to try.

Kelly Voss

Kelly Voss
Herbert Kramer/Herbert Bangel Community Service Award

Hometown: Severn, Md.

Education: I went to undergrad at Belmont University — a small school in Nashville, Tenn.

Why you wanted to be a lawyer: I came with the goal of becoming a legal aid lawyer. I have always felt drawn to speak out against injustice, and I believe that direct client representation is the best way for me to do that. Poverty can create unique vulnerabilities to injustice and can significantly impair access to the judicial system. I want to be a voice for the poor in that system.

Favorite law school experience: The PILA Auction. I am probably biased since I helped to plan it one year, but I think it's a great event that really pulls the entire school together around a good cause.

Scholarly interests/specialties: Anything related to poverty law and mental health law. The psych major in me can't resist.

Favorite class: Criminal Law with Dean Jeffries. I know he's a busy man, but it's a shame he can't teach more classes — it was truly a great experience.

Best learning experience: Clinics. I took the Mental Health Law clinic and the Housing clinic and both were awesome. It's absolutely the best way to learn, and you really have a chance to help people. Meeting clients and the great people at the Legal Aid Justice Center is a bonus, as is learning more about the Charlottesville off-Grounds community.

Activities at the Law School: PILA, PILA, and more PILA. What can I say. I love to fundraise. It's definitely my fallback career.

Future plans : I expect to be working in the D.C. area at the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau.

Best summer experience: My first summer at the Legal Aid Justice Center [working on] elder law. There were six interns working in a tiny room at one big table, and it was simply delightful. We were productive, working on dozens of cases, but we had a blast all the while.

What you wish you could do over: 1L year. Despite the trying times of exams, I thought that the year as a whole was quite fun. Meeting new friends throughout the year was quite fulfilling.

Favorite spot on Grounds: Scott Commons. I always tried to study there as a 1L, but it was really just an excuse to socialize while pretending to study.

Favorite spot off Grounds: Downtown Mall.

I knew I wanted to go to Virginia when: I came to visit. It was a beautiful day, and it was the first law school I visited where all of the students I met seemed genuinely at ease with their choice.

Advice for entering students: Grades aren't all that matter — make sure to take the time to get to know Charlottesville and the people around you.

Porter Wilkinson
Thomas Marshall Miller Prize

Hometown: Charlottesville, Va.

Education: University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, B.A. in political science, with highest honors, 2002

Why you wanted to be a lawyer: I worked on Capitol Hill after graduating from UNC. There I observed lawyers in action, and saw that lawyers possessed special skills of articulation and analysis. Law offered a way of understanding government and benefiting society that no other career path can possibly match.

Favorite law school experience: Talking law — and getting away from the law — with my classmates and friends. Virginia lets you do both.

Scholarly interests/specialties: Constitutional Law, specifically separation of powers issues.

Favorite class: To ask for one favorite among a star-studded lineup like the Virginia faculty is tough. All my professors' varied styles and approaches were fantastic, and I probably thought each class was my favorite at that moment shortly before the exam when I realized how all the pieces fit together.

Best learning experience: Reviewing articles with the Virginia Law Review Articles Pool. Reading a large number of articles on a wide variety of topics taught me how to digest material, read critically, identify arguments, and spot weaknesses. I learned so much from the other participants' comments and the way they thought about scholarship.

Activities at the Law School: Virginia Law Review, Student Legal Forum, Federalist Society, Raven Society. During my first two years, I also served as a panelist for the Student Admissions Committee and worked with the Academic Concerns Committee.

Future plans: Next year I will be clerking for Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, whom I admire greatly as a judge and as a person. After that, I plan to practice law in Washington.

Best summer experience: Working for Gibson, Dunn, and Crutcher in Washington, D.C., after my second year. I worked with brilliant lawyers on challenging projects. My fellow summers were a truly impressive group of smart, well-rounded, engaging individuals. I couldn't have asked for a better intellectual or social experience.

What you wish you could do over: Nothing and everything — I had a fabulous experience at Virginia Law and I wouldn't change anything about it, but I would love to have another year to spend time with my friends, have lunch with more faculty members, and take courses in civil rights litigation, immigration law, employment law, and environmental law.

Favorite spot on Grounds: My running route around the University

Favorite spot off Grounds: The Tavern! I always get the same thing — bacon, eggs, hash browns and biscuits!

I knew I wanted to go to Virginia: After I heard graduates and students talk about their invariably positive experiences at the Law School.

Advice for entering students: On graduation day, I realized the three years had flown by. Appreciate the Law School and all it offers while you can. It won't come around again.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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