Three in the Class of 2003 (Graduation Award Winners)

Posted June 27, 2003

This year's graduation awards honored a number of outstanding law students--including Melissa Arbus, Elaina L. Blanks and Set Wood--who all took a break from BAR/BRI to reflect on their experiences at Virginia.

Robert E. Goldsten Award for Distinction in the Classroom
Law School Alumni Association Award for Academic Excellence

ArbusWhy you wanted to be a lawyer? I've always been interested in legal topics, from about high school on. I can probably attribute that to my father (who is also an attorney)—I think he definitely deserves a lot of credit for my career choice.

Scholarly interests/specialties? Constitutional law, criminal law, first amendment, civil rights law

Favorite class? Civil rights litigation

Favorite professor? Professor Coughlin (although that is a hard one!)

Best learning experience? Probably serving as Notes Development Editor of the Law Review

Activities at the Law School? Law Review, tutoring

Future plans? Next year I will be clerking for Judge Diana Motz in the 4th Circuit; in fall 2004 I begin my clerkship with Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.

Best summer experience? Working for Judge Peter Messitte (District Court judge in Greenbelt, MD) my first summer—I think working for a judge is one of the best ways to spend your first summer because it gives you great exposure to the entire legal process over a wide range of subjects.

What you wish you could do over? There are a number of classes, and in particular, professors that I never got around to taking. I wish I could do that over.

Favorite spot on grounds? Spies Garden

Favorite spot off-grounds? Bodo's (bagel shop)

I knew I wanted to go to Virginia when: As soon as I met the students...

Advice for entering students? Take advantage of your three years here and enjoy yourself—they go by way too quickly!

Thomas Marshall Miller Prize

Why you wanted to be a lawyer? My love of the law began back early during my grade school years. My parents and family were extremely devoted to making sure that, as an African-American woman, I knew the true history of this country and its affect on African-Americans. They informed me of their own struggles and challenges in receiving a fair education and the obstacles and successes that they have endured as a result of the changing laws in this country. It is the combination of those two educations, formal and family, that ignited a desire for me to enter the legal field and become a lawyer. That desire remained strong throughout college and thankfully, continues to this day.

I am thankful that God has allowed me to achieve the goal of receiving a law degree and pray that I will use my education and training to help those in need in my community.

Favorite Law School experience? Planning and hosting Judge Roger Gregory from the 4th Circuit. The thing that made it most special was the enormous amount of support, encouragement and aid from the faculty and staff. Their support summed up my experience at this law school—dynamite! The best part was that Judge Gregory himself noted the faculty support and commented on how special it was compared to other law schools that he's visited.

Scholarly interests/specialties? I have this "itch" for tax law and policy that doesn't seem to want to go away. I think that it has something to do with my degree in Mathematics. :) I am particularly interested in trusts and estates but also have a desire to pursue more corporate tax issues and policy. I also have a strong interest in trial litigation (which is completely opposite of tax law).

Favorite class? This sounds like a cop-out, but there were many classes that I enjoyed for various reasons: I loved Trusts and Estates class both for the professor and for the subject matter, especially based on my interest in trusts and estates. I loved Criminal Investigations both for the professor and the subject matter of 4th and 5th Amendment rights. I loved Race and the Law both for the professor and subject matter. I enjoyed Products Liability mostly for the outrageous cases that we read. I truly enjoyed Trial Advocacy because of the different teaching format and the interactive learning environment and also the dynamite judge.

Favorite professor? Professor Mildred Robinson and Judge Peatross

Best learning experience? The best learning experience I had occurred at firms that I worked at over the summers. I am very happy that Virginia Law has equipped me with the tools to succeed in practice. The summer experiences put all of that training to use, which enabled me to use what I had learned for real situations. Until those summer experiences, I was unsure of my ability to succeed as a summer associate.

Activities at the Law School? Black Law Students Association (President, Vice-President, First Year Representative); North Grounds Softball League; Virginia Tax Review Association (Articles Review Board, Editorial Staff Member); Student Bar Association (Class Representative); Omicron Delta Kappa; Virginia Tax Assistance Program; Legal Aid Justice Center; Shelter for Help and Emergency; Peer Advisor Program (2001-2003); Lile Moot Court Competition (Completed Second Round; Judge for 2nd years); Law Christian Fellowship

Future plans? My future plans are to: 1) Take and pass the Virginia bar! :) 2) Begin as an associate at Kaufman & Canoles, P.C. in the Commercial Practice Group. After that, I have no idea what will transpire.

Best summer experience? My best break experience was a combination of Spring Break and the Summer of 2001. For Spring Break, 15 law school students (including myself) went to Miami, Florida and had a wonderful time bonding with each other, enjoying the sun, and relaxing. In August of that same year, my mother, sister and I went to the Bahamas on a cruise ship.

What you wish you could do over? Take all of my first year exams over again now that I've had BAR/BRI Review for those subjects. The stress level that existed then would be de minimus now! :)

Favorite spot on grounds? The Softball Field :) I've enjoyed getting to know many students while playing ball.

Favorite spot off-grounds? Humpback Rocks—Climbing it was definitely a challenge but it was completely worth it to see the beautiful view at the top.

I knew I wanted to go to Virginia when: I came to visit and Cindy (the receptionist) provided the warmest welcome I had ever received from any law school visit. In addition, seeing the softball field directly across from the school let me know that this school, while very academic, is probably less stressful than others.

Advice for entering students? Get to know as many people (i.e. professors, students, staff, administrators) as possible. The amazing amount of talent and experience at this law school is dynamite. Each person has a unique and colorful story to share and they're more than willing to help you in any way possible. My experience at this law school became 100% more pleasurable as I began to make friends out of the professors and staff and administrators in addition to the students.

Law School Alumni Association Best Note Award

Why you wanted to be a lawyer? I wanted to attend law school because I enjoy writing, arguing, and examining the structures that frame and organize society (laws, constitutions, etc.).

Favorite Law School experience? Working on the Managing Board of the Virginia Law Review.

Scholarly interests/specialties? I feel a bit reluctant to say I have any kind of specialty, but I guess I'd have interests in civil procedure/class actions, election law, legislation, and legal history.

Favorite class? Civil Rights Litigation

Favorite professor? Dean Jeffries and John Harrison

Best learning experience? Spending two semesters working with Professor Walker on an independent study.

Activities at the Law School? Law Review, Federalist Society, Libel Show, Law Christian Fellowship, Jefferson Society, writing for the Cavalier Daily

Future plans? I'm heading to Houston for a one-year clerkship with Judge Jerry Smith (5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals). After that, I am available for other job opportunities...any interest?

Best summer experience? Getting to sit in on faculty workshops while working as a summer research assistant.

What you wish you could do over? Relaxing a bit more.

Favorite spot on grounds? Any of the new, comfortable chairs located in the "study" lounge in Scott Commons.

Favorite spot off-grounds? Starbuck's at the Corner

I knew I wanted to go to Virginia when: I confirmed that this school has (1) smart people; (2) who do not have nervous tics or other psychological disorders

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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