2020 Grad With Highest GPA Says Success Was Team Effort
Mariette Peltier has earned the Faculty Award for Academic Excellence by graduating with the highest GPA in the Class of 2020.
“Life is a team sport, and without a doubt, the support of my ‘team’ — family, friends and mentors — was the key to my success in law school,” she said.
Peltier, currently clerking for Judge Julius Richardson on the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Columbia, South Carolina, was an active student at UVA Law. The Houston native assisted on a pro bono project concerning Virginia’s sexual assault laws and served as an executive editor of the Virginia Law Review. She was also a fellow in the Program in Law and Public Service. She worked for the Public Integrity Section of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Criminal Division as a Claire Corcoran Award recipient and at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Texas. Peltier also externed for the Office of the University Counsel at UVA.
Before law school, she graduated from the University of Texas with a bachelor’s degree in business administration (majoring in the Business Honors Program and supply chain management) and psychology.
Peltier recently answered some questions about her experiences and tips for success at UVA Law.
What are some of your secrets to academic success?
My team showed up for me and supported me through all things, big and small, over my three years at UVA. They celebrated when I celebrated, encouraged me when I needed encouragement, pushed me to dream bigger and see the world differently, and, most importantly, reminded me of who I am and why I chose to pursue a career in the law. We are all the products of the people we surround ourselves with, and I would be remiss if I didn’t credit so much of who I am to the people who supported and invested in me throughout my life.
I also thought it was important to have a life outside of the classroom that provided me with the rest, joy and motivation that I needed to keep up with all the work of law school. I tried to carve out time each week to watch the newest episode of a TV show with a friend, go to church on Sunday (and sometimes stop for Bodo’s afterwards!), call or FaceTime my friends and family outside of Charlottesville, and try a new winery or restaurant with my friends from the Law School. Being a part of UVA’s public service community reminded me to not lose sight of the responsibility that lawyers have to leave the world better than we found it. And working on pro bono projects and serving on the board of a nonprofit organization helped me feel like I was doing something that mattered, which gave me the energy and motivation that I needed to focus on my schoolwork. I came to UVA to be a lawyer, but it was equally important that I left a well-rounded citizen of the community. I credit that realization with helping me perform at my best in the classroom.
What advice do you have for current students?
My best piece of advice is to take everyone’s advice with a grain of salt (including mine!) because you know how you work best. I didn’t come from a legal background, so early on I felt overwhelmed by all the ways that law school seemed different from what I had before. Yet, as time went on, I realized that I could rely on the experiences I had before law school to be successful at UVA. Outlining was just making a (massive) study guide. Cold calls weren’t all that different from my seminar classes in undergrad or speaking up in meetings.
Half the battle of law school is maintaining confidence in yourself and your abilities. Don’t forget — you are at UVA Law not only because you are capable of doing the work but also because you are kind, passionate and community-focused. Those traits will help you band together with your classmates to help each other over the finish line.
One practical strategy that served me well was taking the time to review my class notes at the end of each week. I would read through my notes, write comments to myself in the margins and go back to specific parts of the class recording to clarify anything that I didn’t fully understand in class. Although this added time to my class preparation each week, having a complete set of notes ended up saving me a lot of time during the exam season.
I also found that talking through past exams with my classmates was one of the most valuable exam prep tools. Everyone sees the world a little differently, so hearing how my classmates approached difficult questions helped me better understand the course material and see connections between topics that I wouldn’t otherwise have identified. I can already see how those study sessions have served me well in my post-law school career. An important part of my current job is collaborating with my co-clerks to think through thorny legal questions, just like what my study groups used to do in law school.
What would you have done differently as a law student if you had to do it over again?
I really enjoyed my time at UVA Law, so there isn’t a lot that I would change. I am especially thankful for the opportunities that I had to conduct an independent research project under the supervision of Professor Aditya Bamzai, work on a legislation reform team led by Professor Anne Coughlin, and extern for the Office of the University Counsel on Main Grounds. These practical experiences not only reinforced what I learned in class but also helped me deepen my passion for the law. I would highly encourage current students to seek out similar opportunities to learn and explore your passions.
While I was fortunate to take classes from many incredible professors, I particularly regret having missed the opportunity to take a class from Professors Kim Forde-Mazrui, George Geis, Leslie Kendrick, George Rutherglen and Micah Schwartzman. I also wish I had been in one of the Libel Shows. I always meant to audition, but time got away from me!
Tell us about your current and future plans.
I am currently clerking for Judge Julius Richardson, and I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to learn from someone who values kindness and passion just as much as intellect. Next year, I’ll be moving to the West Coast to clerk for Judge Vince Chhabria on the Northern District of California. After that, I hope to become a prosecutor and one day end up back in Texas. Let’s face it, that’s where the best Tex-Mex and BBQ are!
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.