2019 Grad With Highest GPA Shares Secrets to Success

Exam Practice Makes Perfect for William Hall
William Hall

“I spent a lot of hours in professors’ offices, and in library study rooms with my friends, asking questions,” said William Hall ’19. Photo by Julia Davis

September 18, 2019

William Hall has earned the Faculty Award for Academic Excellence by graduating with the highest GPA in the Class of 2019.

“Getting the chance to enjoy everything the Law School and Charlottesville have to offer is, in my mind, just as valuable as another hour in the library,” he said.

The Palo Alto, California, native also had the highest GPA after five semesters, winning the Z Society Shannon Award at graduation, and after four semesters, winning the Jackson Walker LLP Award in 2018. He won the Carl M. Franklin Prize in 2017, having earned the highest GPA at the end of his first year.

Hall served as lead executive editor of the Virginia Law Review, a teaching assistant to Dean Risa Goluboff and a research assistant to Professor Saikrishna Prakash, and was part of the Supreme Court Litigation Clinic and Health Law Association.

Before law school, he earned a bachelor’s in history from Carleton College.

Hall recently answered some questions for UVA Law about his path to the top of his class, his advice for preparing for exams and what the future holds after law school.

Congratulations on earning the top GPA among the Class of 2019. How does it feel?

Thank you! I feel humbled and very grateful to the school, my family and my friends. Everyone at UVA is brilliant, and I could not have done anything in law school, let alone succeed academically, without the help of many people.

You obviously worked hard. To what, specifically, do you attribute your academic success?

Again, I’d have to say it’s because of the people I met and worked with here. I knew coming into law school that I’d learn best if I talked through difficult concepts with other people. Fortunately, the school is filled with incredibly smart people who are also very generous with their time. I spent a lot of hours in professors’ offices, and in library study rooms with my friends, asking questions.

I’m also grateful to my parents, who taught me a lot about how to write and how to think. They always emphasized that you should be skeptical of your own reasoning and not just accept your first line of thought. Double-checking my thinking on a subject throughout the semester really helped me prepare for exams.

What advice do you have for current students?

Toby Heytens told my class a few days into law school to make a brief outline at the end of every week. I found that to be a really valuable exercise. Although I can’t say I did it my entire time in law school, in the first year, outlining each week was a really useful way to reflect on what we had covered. Through that process I saw pretty quickly (and frequently) what I hadn’t understood in class. I then had a lot of time left in the semester to go to my professors or friends and talk about the material.

I’d also try to read through a sample law school exam answer early on in the term. When I came into law school everyone kept telling me we would have to “apply the law to the facts.” I had no idea what that meant until I looked at a sample answer for one of my classes. Seeing what we would have to produce at the end of the semester really helped me adjust my preparations during the lead-up to exams.

Last, I think it’s always a good idea to do things besides study, whether that be participating in an organization or just getting some exercise. In my case, I was lucky to meet a couple of people early on who like running as much as I do. We spent a lot of time driving out to country roads in Albemarle County and going on long runs. Those runs are not only some of my favorite memories, but I also think they really helped with all the work we had to do.

What would you have done differently as a law student if you had to do it over again?

I had a great time in law school, so there’s not much I would change. I’m especially grateful for the time I spent as a teaching assistant to Dean Goluboff and as a research assistant to Professor Prakash. I’d strongly recommend working closely with a professor if possible.

But if there’s one thing I would change, it’d be to have more time to experience everything the Law School has to offer. There are a lot of demands on your time during the three years and finding the right balance can be challenging. I definitely wish I could have taken classes with Professors Rachel Harmon, Michael Gilbert, Anne Coughlin, Aditya Bamzai and Micah Schwartzman. I also know a lot of people who had great experiences in the Prosecution and Appellate Litigation clinics. While I really enjoyed my time in the Supreme Court Litigation Clinic, I think it would have been great to participate in one of those other courses as well.

Where are you working currently, and what are your future plans?

I’m very fortunate to be clerking for Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton on the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. It’s a terrific experience that I’d encourage everyone to consider. I’ve learned a tremendous amount in a very short period of time. As for the future, my plan is to return to New York to work at Cravath, Swaine & Moore. I had a great experience there as a summer associate, and I’m excited to put into practice what I learned at UVA.

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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