2021 Grad With Highest GPA Says Don’t Pass Up Opportunities

Balance, Bonding With Faculty Shaped Avery Rasmussen’s Success
Avery Rasmussen

“I could wrap my head around some complex legal topics only thanks to my study groups, brilliant clinic teams and impromptu hallway conversations after class,” Avery Rasmussen said. Photo by Julia Davis

September 28, 2021

Avery Rasmussen has earned the Faculty Award for Academic Excellence by graduating with the highest GPA in the Class of 2021.

Rasmussen, of Pensacola, Florida, is currently clerking for Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III ’72 of the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. She will clerk for U.S. District Judge Dabney L. Friedrich of the District of Columbia for the 2022 term and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh for the 2023 term.

At UVA Law, Rasmussen was a Karsh-Dillard Scholar and William R. Lucas, Jr. ’80 Memorial Scholar, and won the 92nd William Minor Lile Moot Court Competition with teammate Matt West ’21. She earned the Jackson Walker LLP Award, given to the student with the highest GPA after four semesters, and the Carl M. Franklin Prize for having the highest GPA after two semesters. Rasmussen was also articles development editor of the Virginia Law Review, a Supreme Court Litigation Clinic participant and a research assistant for Professors A. E. Dick Howard ’61 and Saikrishna Prakash.

Before law school, she majored in commerce and political philosophy, policy and law at UVA.

Rasmussen recently answered some questions about her experiences and tips for success at UVA Law.

What are some of your secrets to academic success?

There’s no secret — it’s all thanks to the people around me. I’ve been blessed with enthusiastic mentors who have given me great advice and encouragement. My class was also chock full of supersmart people who asked questions I had never thought of and talked through my own questions with me. I could wrap my head around some complex legal topics only thanks to my study groups, brilliant clinic teams and impromptu hallway conversations after class.

I’m also grateful to my family, none of whom are lawyers, who always help me keep things in perspective. Their military service has instilled in me a deep desire to work hard to contribute as a public servant, and their favorite joke that I’ve been through 19 years of school to become a “clerk” — which to them, sounds like a secretary — certainly keeps me humble.

What advice do you have for current students?

First, broadly speaking, is find balance. Law school can be very demanding, but the best part about UVA Law is the opportunities it affords for enrichment outside of the classroom. If you take plenty of time to play softball, go to bar review and explore the beautiful surrounding area, you’ll have so much more energy for your legal studies.

Second, get to know your professors. Take them to lunch, stop by their offices, do research with them. For me, those relationships have drastically shaped my path so far — my clerkships, for example, are 100% thanks to them — and will stay with me throughout my career. More importantly, the professors are just great people!

Last, on a more practical note, take time to digest class material at the end of each week. Whether you make a mini-outline, consolidate your notes or just talk things over with a study group, staying on top of the material will save so much time later on. For example, try succinctly explaining that week’s concepts to a classmate — that exercise will quickly highlight what you do and don’t understand. Finally, don’t underestimate the helpfulness of putting your theoretical knowledge to the test by taking practice exams.

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

COVID-19 hitting during 2L spring was out of everyone’s control, but moving to online classes really underscored the benefits and joys of in-person learning. During those online semesters I really missed running into people in the hallways, discussing interesting points with friends while walking out of a lecture or lunchtime talks on topics outside my comfort zone. I encourage current students to not take those small joys for granted.

Tell us about your current and future plans.

Right now, I am very fortunate to be clerking for and learning from Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III on the Fourth Circuit. Next, I’m off to D.C., where I’ll get the exciting opportunity to clerk at the District Court for Judge Dabney L. Friedrich. The following year I’ll be with Justice Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court. When that’s all said and done, I hope to work for the government in some capacity.

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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