Class of 2024 Sets Records in Academic Strength, Diversity

Meet 5 First-Year Students
UVA Law students

Michael Martinez, Julie Mardini, Biruktawit “Birdy” Assefa, Tom Harrigan and Sam Bennett are members of the Class of 2024. Photos by Jesús Pino

August 18, 2021

The University of Virginia School of Law is welcoming a first-year J.D. class with the strongest academic numbers and the most racial diversity in the school’s history.

The 300 members of the Class of 2024, who began classes Wednesday, came from 133 undergraduate institutions and were selected from a pool of 7,080 applicants, representing a 29% increase in applications over last year. Students in the class set new records in median undergraduate GPA and median LSAT, with 3.91 and 171, respectively. (Full Class of 2024 profile)

Within the class, 51% of students are women, 36% are people of color and 11% self-identify as LGBT. They come from 39 states and the District of Columbia, with the most common states being Virginia, California, Texas, Florida, Maryland and New York. The J.D. candidates also include citizens of South Korea, India, Canada, Ethiopia and China. The percentage of women is second only to last year, which set a record with 53%. There are nine veterans and active-duty members in the class, representing the Air Force, Army and Navy.

“We selected the Class of 2024 from an exceptionally large and competitive applicant pool, as the 2020-21 cycle saw an unprecedented volume of highly qualified law school applicants,” said Natalie Blazer ’08, assistant dean for admissions and chief admissions officer. “Each member of this incoming class exhibits not only academic excellence and dedication to legal service but also the strength of character that embodies the spirit of a Virginia lawyer.”

The Law School spoke to five of the incoming students, who said they are excited about where their legal training can take them.

Meet the Students

Birdy Assefa

Biruktawit “Birdy” Assefa was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and emigrated to Arlington, Virginia. She earned a bachelor’s in political science from Yale University and a master’s from the Yale School of Public Health. She helped launch Yale’s SEICHE Center for Health and Justice, which promotes health and well-being for people affected by mass incarceration.

Assefa is interested in exploring antitrust law and appellate litigation with an eye toward pursuing impact litigation in her career.

“I chose to go to UVA Law because these are areas the school thrives in,” she said. “At UVA, I knew I would be able to work with professors who are leaders within these fields. The variety of clinics around these topics, such as the Appellate Litigation Clinic, also appealed to me. I was further drawn to the small size of the school and the tight-knit community UVA Law is known for.”

She said noticing economic inequity growing up and studying the issue with a professor led her to attend law school to learn more about how courts can be used to boost the social safety net and economic equity.

Sam Bennett

Sam Bennett, of Rochester, New York, graduated from Yale University with a bachelor’s in history. Before law school, he helped manage communications and draft legislation as a legislative aide for San Francisco Supervisor Catherine Stefani.

He called UVA Law “the ideal training ground” for any students interested in public service, either with the government or nonprofit sector.

“Between diverse clinical opportunities, dedicated career development and focused courses of study, when it comes to preparing students to effect change through the law, you can’t beat UVA. And everyone seems to truly enjoy their time here,” Bennett said. “I’m thrilled to be able to spend the next three years learning from this incredible faculty and classmates who have been, and will continue to be, leaders in their own communities.” 

Bennett said he grew up in a working-class family and attended Yale on scholarships and Pell Grants, so he wants to ensure others from similar backgrounds have the same opportunities. A legal education would be another tool to make a difference in the community, he added.

Tom Harrigan

Clear Lake, Texas, native Tom Harrigan earned a B.S. in petroleum engineering from the University of Oklahoma and has been a field engineer for two energy companies. In his most recent position, he worked as a production foreman and oversaw all operational spending.

The Law School’s academic culture, camaraderie and alumni network made choosing UVA “an easy decision,” he said.

“Throughout the process of researching schools, as well as in my interactions with faculty and current students since being accepted, I have been consistently impressed by UVA Law’s commitment to preparing students for the working world while providing a world-class legal education,” Harrigan said. “I am leaving an industry plagued by boom-and-bust cycles, so finding a school with a strong career services department was a significant factor for me. The level of dedication shown by the Office of Private Practice and the involvement of career development-oriented student organizations is very confidence-inspiring.”

Harrigan, an Eagle Scout, said he is most interested in the structuring and financing of transactions between energy companies, and hopes that a legal education will allow him to participate in facilitating those deals.

Julie Mardini

Julie Mardini, of Terre Haute, Indiana, earned a bachelor’s in American studies and Spanish from the University of Notre Dame. She formerly worked as a consultant with Booz Allen Hamilton, coordinating staff communications at a Walter Reed National Military Medical Center directorate.

Mardini said UVA Law shines beyond its impressive employment statistics.

“Before I ever stepped foot on Grounds, I felt like I had people in the community, from alumni to professors to current students, who were already in my corner,” she said. “It is an honor to be surrounded by people who believe that we all do better when we support each other.”

She said she looks forward to finding truth for her clients by lining up facts.

“And those facts really matter — the law is not just an exercise in word play; it can be an avenue for equity and justice,” Mardini said.

Michael Martinez

Michael Martinez, of Miami, earned a bachelor’s in religious studies and political science from the University of Miami and was formerly marketing director for a construction company. He also has served as a youth pastor who spoke weekly to grade-school and college students, and coordinated annual youth retreats.

He said he’s excited to join and contribute to the Law School community.

“UVA Law is known around the world for its stellar academic reputation and intellectual life,” Martinez said. “When speaking to alumni, it became abundantly clear the community is filled with talented, driven and passionate individuals seeking to make a difference. The prospect of being surrounded by people who will challenge and push me to be the best version of myself drew me to the Law School.”

He said legal study appeals to him because he cares deeply about his country and his community, and a law degree will provide him with an opportunity to help others.

The experiences other members of the class bring to the Law School include serving as a deputy White House liaison at the Environmental Protection Agency, a college English professor, a Navy lieutenant, an award-winning documentary filmmaker, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and a high school math department head.

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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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