‘Admissible’ S3 E3: What Law Students Do in Charlottesville

Brian Cameron
October 13, 2023

Second-year law student and Double Hoo Brian Cameron joins Admissions Dean Natalie Blazer ’08 to discuss how UVA Law students interact with the Charlottesville community. From civic engagement to pro bono work to nature hikes, breweries, live music and more, Cameron shares how students make the most of their three years in Charlottesville.


BRIAN CAMERON: Yeah. So during COVID, I really enjoyed getting out on the reservoirs to kayak. Although one time, my kayak started sinking on me as the UVA rowing team--


BRIAN CAMERON: --overcame me from behind. And their coach was like shouting through the bullhorn, "get out of the way. Get out of the way." Meanwhile, I can't steer because this thing has gotten so waterlogged.

NATALIE BLAZER: Oh, my God. Got to get the right equipment.

BRIAN CAMERON: Yeah. Beware of Facebook Marketplace.

NATALIE BLAZER: This is Admissible, I'm Natalie Blazer, Dean of Admissions at UVA Law. Today's episode is rather special because the topic came to us as the result of our first ever submission contest that we conducted through the Admissible podcast Instagram page.

So for those who don't, normally, I just come up with topics and invite guests, who I think will make a great fit for that topic. This time, I asked you, the listeners, to come up with a topic for me.

I ran this contest for our Instagram followers in the spring for a chance for them to have their idea turned into an episode of Admissible. We got so many amazing submissions that we actually had to do a runoff vote of the top three ideas.

And from that runoff vote, the winning show topic was--


--what do law students do in Charlottesville? Huge shout out to our very own first year law student Emily Kostanecki for submitting that idea and winning our contest before she was even a student here. And then when I looked up who the winner was, I saw that she was an incoming one. So thank you, Emily. I hope you're listening, I hope you will learn from this podcast what law students do in Charlottesville.

Having said all that, I'm super excited for today's guest, a second year law student who knows a thing or two about what to do in Charlottesville. Brian Cameron is a Virginia native and attended the University of Virginia as an undergraduate.

While in college, Brian worked for the UVA office for sustainability, was a radio host for WXTJ student radio, a UVA student Council representative, and a student bus driver, which we are going to talk about a little bit.

Following his graduation from UVA, Brian stayed in Charlottesville, first, working for UVA parking and transportation, and later for Habitat for Humanity Virginia as a member of AmeriCorps VISTA.

Around that time, we were lucky enough to interview and admit Brian, and actually get him here to stay in Charlottesville as a law student beginning in the fall of 2022. Welcome to the show, Brian.

BRIAN CAMERON: Thank you for having me, Dean Blazer. It's great to be here.

NATALIE BLAZER: So I've been doing the same icebreaker this year for our guests. And so I will ask you what are you currently reading for fun?

BRIAN CAMERON: I'm honestly not currently reading anything for fun. I'm reading more hours of the week than I'm even able to keep count of. So once I get to Thursday afternoon and my classes are done.

NATALIE BLAZER: I totally get that what's your favorite like course-related reading?

BRIAN CAMERON: Yeah. So for the Urban Law and Policy Seminar that I'm taking, we are reading The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs, which is like an urban theory seminal work, which I've been meaning to get around to reading for a long time. And I'm glad that class gives me a good excuse to take a crack at that right now.

NATALIE BLAZER: So it's not technically for fun, but it's still something that you're--

BRIAN CAMERON: Definitely, feels like pleasure reading.

NATALIE BLAZER: That's great. Well, before we get into the topic of today's show, I have to mention something about Brian. A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to lead a personal statement workshop on main grounds over here at UVA. I fielded so many questions. People have so many questions about how to approach the personal statement.

What to write about? What the tone should be? I mean, you could not believe how many questions they have. Well, in the usual course of preparing for this episode, Brian, I went back and I read your entire application. If I could just hold up your personal statement in a workshop, put it up on the screen and say, this is how you do it, I seriously got chills reading your statement all over again.

It was so well done. It shows your empathy, your dedication to service, sense of humor, work ethic. It was just very well done. And I need to say that.

BRIAN CAMERON: That is extremely kind of to say. And I'm glad that the hard work paid off. I poured hours into that thing and many, many, many iterations on it.

NATALIE BLAZER: And that just goes to show what a task the personal statement is because it felt effortless. It felt like just kind of sat down and spoke your mind. And now that I've said all this, everyone out there listening is going to think what did he write about. So can you say in one sentence like how you approach the topic, or what you decided to write about?

BRIAN CAMERON: Sure. So I wrote my personal statement about becoming a student bus driver in my last year of college as an undergrad kind of what inspired me to take on that seemingly unconventional role. And then what being on the job taught me in my last semester of college.

NATALIE BLAZER: Yeah. And it ties in so well, I think, to today's episode too because it seemed to me that you really did it as a service to the community, to the community that you live and study in.

So I'll start by saying most applicants who apply to UVA Law, they haven't had a ton of experience with Charlottesville, necessarily, unless they went to UVA undergrad or came to Monticello on like a class field trip maybe when they were in fourth grade.

So I always tell applicants, we talked about this in a previous episode of Admissible, obviously, come visit. Don't just take our word for it. Especially if you're admitted, come visit. But today, I want to cover sort of two subtopics on the general theme of Charlottesville.

The first being what can law students do in terms of just getting involved in the community, whether that's volunteering, whether that's sitting on a board, pro-bono work, some type of service, or getting to the Charlottesville community outside of the student community. And the second is going to be focused more on what law students do for fun. So we'll get to that at the end.

So let's start with the Charlottesville community. From your bio at the top of the show, we know you were involved a bit in the local community even just through your studies, your research, and things you were doing. So tell us about that experience.

BRIAN CAMERON: Yeah. So when I first got to UVA as a first year student, I got involved in a couple of environmental activism student groups. And those provided opportunities for me to get out to like community forums, community hearing events out in the broader Charlottesville region on topics like some of the proposed natural gas pipelines.

And then in my third year of college, I took a year long community engagement course called All politics is local. We attended some of the local board and commissions meetings in Charlottesville and kind of documented what was going on at these meetings, who the power players were, just learning a bit more about what the local political scene in Charlottesville looked like.

And then kind of the culmination of that class, we got in groups together and put together kind of educational resources, mostly targeted towards our fellow students, but also like could be resources about local history, local politics for the broader Charlottesville community.

My student group did a report on affordable housing and student housing in Charlottesville, and then that set me up for my last year of college to write my thesis on kind of the history of segregation and affordable housing in Charlottesville.

NATALIE BLAZER: Just hearing all of that, I mean, college students, typically, they're sort of in this little college bubble. Like you're going to class, you're going to parties. You're not really understanding necessarily what's happening in this town, or city around you. So I think all of that is so great.

BRIAN CAMERON: And I think it's really important for whether it's college students or law students to take it upon themselves to learn about the communities that we're in. I mean, oftentimes, you are just like a transient member of a college town. You pass through for whether it's four years undergrad, three years law school.

I think learning about the history of the community you're in, it's really important. And even like a town as small as Charlottesville, like it has been shaped and acted upon by national policies, national trends, that by learning about in your temporary community, educate you about how those policies and trends have shaped whatever community you end up in after school too.

NATALIE BLAZER: And it has such a rich history, Charlottesville.

BRIAN CAMERON: Definitely.

NATALIE BLAZER: And talk about a little bit, I know you have like some musical interests and you were a radio host. Like what was that like? And how did that kind of get you more involved in the community?

BRIAN CAMERON: That was also a really great way to get to young community members who were non-students. So I was in a band called Sorority Boy when I was in undergrad. We started my second year and we played a lot of shows in Charlottesville, a couple in the broader Virginia region like Richmond and Harrisonburg, also have really thriving music scenes. And then even one summer, we did a short one-week tour up and down the East Coast, which was fun.

NATALIE BLAZER: Oh, you toured. That's awesome.

BRIAN CAMERON: I mean, Charlottesville has a number of really good live music venues. We have the Southern, which brings in a lot of smaller live music acts. The Jefferson is more medium-sized. And the Pavilion on the downtown mall brings in some larger acts. And of course, you even get like the super big acts that come to like John Paul Jones Arena.

NATALIE BLAZER: So last night, my husband and our friends went to Chris Stapleton.


NATALIE BLAZER: At John Paul Jones. I was supposed to go, but I'm 40 now. And so a school night is hard for me.

BRIAN CAMERON: There's something for everyone in the Charlottesville music scene.

NATALIE BLAZER: That's right. So from your vantage point as a student, Brian, after your four years here in undergrad, what were your biggest takeaways about the non-student Charlottesville community?

BRIAN CAMERON: I mean, my biggest takeaway is that it was a great place to live. And I think that fed directly into why I didn't want to move away even though I was graduating from college. Even though ostensibly, it's like a smaller town, I just found there's so much to do. There are a lot of really great people who care a lot about learning, who care a lot about improving the community.

And that really drew me to stick around after I graduated. And it definitely tied into helping me stick around further when I decided to go to law school here.

NATALIE BLAZER: So lucky for us. So as you mentioned, after you graduated, you did stay in Charlottesville to work. And we mentioned in your bio first, for parking and transportation.

BRIAN CAMERON: That's right.

NATALIE BLAZER: Then for Habitat for Humanity as part of AmeriCorps VISTA. So what was it like? So I feel like when I moved back to Charlottesville for a job, I was really worried that living here as a non-student, it would kind of just feel different and not in a good way. That has not been my experience. But tell me what was it like to be here for three years as a non-student.

BRIAN CAMERON: I think it was great. I mean, it was kind of-- it was a unique time to be living in Charlottesville because about two out of those three years was peak pandemic. So it was a lot more hunkered down. I think that is probably part of what gave me an appreciation for Charlottesville too is like we have so much great natural space, green space in our immediate community, and a little further out in like Shenandoah and the Blue Ridge Parkway.

So definitely, during the pandemic, like I appreciated having access to those natural resources a lot. Even before that, though, kind of the seven or eight months from when I graduated until the pandemic started, it felt more seamless than I was expecting going from student to community member.

I think part of that is I moved out of like the direct [INAUDIBLE] student neighborhoods. That plays a big part. Like I don't live right in the kind of traditional student community, student enclave. I don't live right by the law school. I live closer to the downtown mall. I find having that kind of school-life balance is very helpful to me. Helps me take advantage of the parts of the city social scene that I enjoy being more a part of.


BRIAN CAMERON: I mean, UVA is huge in Charlottesville. But like students aren't a majority of what makes up the town. Also, we have two to three mini downtowns in Charlottesville as well. And like one of them is really geared toward the University. That's like the corner.

But we also have the downtown mall which is like the more major one that's about a mile and a half, two miles away from the University. So that really just-- that just feels like Charlottesville, that doesn't feel just like UVA. And like the Belmont neighborhood too.

I mean, obviously, I encourage students to take advantage of those places. It's a great way to get outside of the UVA bubble. It's not the UVA bubble, on the mall and in Belmont, which is really great.

NATALIE BLAZER: Yeah. What I love about Charlottesville, it feels like yes, UVA is a big part. And I love seeing storefronts where everyone is rooting for UVA. And sports is really fun. Going to a football game, going to a basketball game, you see students, you see faculty.

I saw George Guice, this absolutely brilliant contracts professor, who everybody loves standing up for the entire football game a couple weekends ago. Just really into it. And I love that aspect of our community.

BRIAN CAMERON: Definitely. Yeah. I mean our basketball program is great. And the arena is walking distance to the law school. So it's very easy to get to. The games are usually at good times if you want to take Tuesday night off from studying and go watch a game with some friends.

NATALIE BLAZER: Yeah. It doesn't overtake the student experience. It's just fun. It's a great way to sort of take a break.

BRIAN CAMERON: I'll also give a shout out. I think it's Peter Lee Hamilton who does fun club, where-- because we have a lot of other really great sports programs too. Like both of the soccer teams, lacrosse, field hockey, baseball, softball. And again, all those fields too, they're right by-- there right at North grounds, which is like a 10-minute walk from the law school.

NATALIE BLAZER: Peter Lee Hamilton, formerly, also a guest on Admissible, talking about his JD MBA.

BRIAN CAMERON: A living legend.

NATALIE BLAZER: And you're so right. And the track and field, and all of the women's sports that are super, super fun and always exciting to watch. You're right. You walk there from the law school in less than 10 minutes. It's just fun.

So let's get to your time as a law student at UVA. So you decided to stay in Charlottesville and come to UVA Law when I know for a fact you had many other very enticing options at top law schools in other cities that are also very nice.

So I can gather from your previous answers, but tell us what factors really led to you, ultimately, deciding to stay at UVA?

BRIAN CAMERON: I think being in a place like Charlottesville is a great place to be a student. I think it sets students up for success really well, being in a college town like Charlottesville. There is plenty to do and you will never feel bored, but you also-- you're not feeling as overwhelmed as you would in like a major city.

And getting to your classmates really well too, I think, in larger cities, there's more of a temptation to just kind of show up to school and build your community outside of school. Whereas at UVA, people really form good bonds with each other.

I think when I was applying to law school and trying to decide on where I was going to go for law school, I think what I'll now call a myth that I heard was that it's better to go to professional school in like a major city where the employers directly are because you're in professional school to land that job, to meet future employers. And so the closer you are, the easier that's going to be.

But starting in January of one year, it is like astounding how all of these like top law firms in the country flock to Charlottesville because they know how great of a school UVA is. And they are coming here to Charlottesville to seek out students.

Like our employment outcomes are totally on par with the schools in more major cities, if not, better frankly, sometimes. That's on the private sector side. And now, I know friends who are going through more of like the public sector, public service recruitment stuff right now. And telling me, I have this interview lined up with a major federal government agency.

So even though we're not directly in a place like DC, our students just do incredibly well with their professional outcomes.

NATALIE BLAZER: I'm so glad you brought up this myth. Because right, it's a nationally known law school. So firms about it and a lot of alums.

BRIAN CAMERON: Absolutely.

NATALIE BLAZER: I know when I was practicing law, any chance I got to come back and recruit at UVA and come back to Charlottesville, I took it.

BRIAN CAMERON: People do love coming back. That's a common theme in like almost every interview I had with UVA--



NATALIE BLAZER: And like what I tell people is very few people start their legal career in Charlottesville. So you're going to be in DC or New York, or Chicago or LA for probably many years. And so it's nice to have three years in law school, where you're not in that big city and where you have your own kind of space.

BRIAN CAMERON: Definitely.

NATALIE BLAZER: So for students who come to UVA Law with no prior relationship to Charlottesville, which is a lot, in what ways does the law school itself help connect students to the community, like our clinics directly introduce-- not all of them, but a lot of them are Charlottesville-based. I don't know. Are you in a clinic this year?

BRIAN CAMERON: So I'm not in a clinic myself. But I have a couple of close friends who either are currently or have done them before. And I totally agree. Clinics are a great way for people to kind of get involved learn more about the local community and like play an integral role in helping address some of the injustices that do exist in Charlottesville.

Like clinics are really great opportunities for that. So I have a friend right now who's in the environmental law and community engagement clinic. So she's working with like the Southern Environmental Law Center, which is an environmental litigation group that has a large Charlottesville office.

I've had friends who've done the decarceration and community reentry clinic. That's really important for helping local folks who are exiting the carceral system navigate the myriad laws that regulate the lives of people leaving prison.

As wonderful a place as Charlottesville is for a lot of people, it is like any community in the country. There are barriers to justice. Poverty is a major issue. And so clinics are a great way to learn more about how those issues face our community and play a small part in helping remedy that.

NATALIE BLAZER: Yeah. OK. So we've talked a lot about the volunteering, working, living in the city. To close out the show, I really want to get to the fun parts. You've mentioned some of it like breweries, restaurants, live music. But when you're not in class or studying, which I know, you are in class and studying pretty much all the time. 2L is a very, very, very busy time of life in law school, I should say. What's your favorite thing to do just purely for fun outside of school?

BRIAN CAMERON: I have a hard time narrowing it down to just one. But I'd say that when I really have time, I love getting on some of the local reservoirs and kayaking. Just getting out to a remote part of nature and being on placid water, paddling around a little bit. That's very restorative.

When I don't quite have that amount of time, and especially like when friends are back in town for the school year, it's just great like finding a new brewery or restaurant and hanging out with friends together, sharing time together. People are really important to me. So I love spending as much quality time with folks as I can.

NATALIE BLAZER: That's great. So we're going to do a lightning round of favorites. OK. So don't give it too much thought. Favorite restaurant in Charlottesville.

BRIAN CAMERON: I'm going to go with Bizou on the downtown mall.

NATALIE BLAZER: Bizou, a classic.

BRIAN CAMERON: Bizou is a great one because I don't really think the firms do events there. So it's still like a little novel enough. There are some places where like by the end of spring, you're kind of like, oh, gosh another event here.

NATALIE BLAZER: I got to go to CNO again. Jeez. Like poor me. But Bizou is great. Bizou is great. OK. Favorite hike or spot to get out in nature.

BRIAN CAMERON: Hike, I'll go for the basic choice. Humpback rock off of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It's easy to get to. It's not daunting.

NATALIE BLAZER: It's a great choice for a reason. I mean, that's a good one. Favorite winery or brewery.

BRIAN CAMERON: I'll go for Mount Ida, which is about 20 minutes outside of town. It has a really great view, really good wine. And they do their own beer on site too. So it has something for everyone.

NATALIE BLAZER: So I actually took the admission staff this summer on our little day long retreat to Mount Ida. And most of us had never been. Oh, my gosh. Even just the drive out there is worth it alone. And then you get there, and you're like, the view is unbelievable. And the food and the wine, totally agree. Favorite live music venue.

BRIAN CAMERON: I'll go for the Southern. I like kind of the smaller, cozier vibes there.

NATALIE BLAZER: I love it. Favorite coffee shop. Do you drink coffee?

BRIAN CAMERON: Oh, I'm a big coffee drinker. When it's not the coffee shop of my own kitchen, I love making pour over coffee first thing in the morning, I will go for Grit coffee.

NATALIE BLAZER: Grit is a favorite.

BRIAN CAMERON: That was my undergrad spot, and I'm still very loyal to them.


BRIAN CAMERON: They have one up in Stonefield, which isn't too far from the law school.

NATALIE BLAZER: That's a good one. Favorite movie theater.

BRIAN CAMERON: Violet Crown on the downtown mall. I'm not a huge movie person. But it's a great spot. The theaters are not too big. Very comfortable.

NATALIE BLAZER: It's very comfortable. And I love that you can pop out and then go to just walk to dinner.

BRIAN CAMERON: Exactly. You can come from dinner or go to dinner afterwards.

NATALIE BLAZER: Favorite day trip or like quick weekend getaway close to, but not in Charlottesville. So like let's say, max two hours.

BRIAN CAMERON: This is pushing the quick definition a little bit, but just this past weekend, a group of my section from last year actually went out to the northern neck of Virginia and got an Airbnb together on the river out there.


BRIAN CAMERON: And it had like a giant kitchen and we just like cooked all weekend. We went kayaking one day, played some board games, card games. So that was really great. That's a little far out though. So I think like second to that, getting up to Shenandoah National Park is a classic. It's only about an hour away. Especially around the fall, it's beautiful.

NATALIE BLAZER: Oh, my gosh. The fall. For those who don't, it's about to be peak foliage in Virginia. I think they said October 23. I love it so much. So what do you think is the either biggest misconception about Charlottesville or the best kept secret? I'll let you choose which one you want to answer.

BRIAN CAMERON: I guess just the biggest misconception is that there's nothing really to do here or that it's kind of in the middle of nowhere. There's plenty to do here. I mean, I'm in my ninth year of living in Charlottesville. And I've stayed around because I've not felt bored yet.

There's plenty to do. And especially like as a student when your life is that busy, it's even more so. There's so much cool random stuff that comes through town every year. And in the fall with the Virginia Film Festival, in the spring, we have the Virginia festival of the book.

They're just like other institutes around UVA that are bringing major speakers. Like I've seen Nikole Hannah-Jones speak at UVA before. I last year Bryan Stevenson spoke at JPG. So like UVA, and the community at large, they're constantly bringing really cool opportunities to town.

And I think like the flip side of that too is like if you ever do feel like you're itching to get outside of Charlottesville, it's a really well-connected place. Like all things considered even if you don't have a personal vehicle. It's incredibly easy to take the train to get across the Northeast Corridor from here.

And then to get further flung than that, we have direct flights to Chicago and major hubs like Charlotte and Atlanta. And you can get basically anywhere in the country from those connections out of Charlottesville.

NATALIE BLAZER: I love our airport so much.

BRIAN CAMERON: It's a hidden gem.


BRIAN CAMERON: The shortest TSA lines you've ever seen.

NATALIE BLAZER: I mean, we can leave our house like 45 minutes before the flight takes off. It's amazing. I also love their breakfast sandwiches. There's like one option.

BRIAN CAMERON: I haven't eaten at CHO before.

NATALIE BLAZER: Yeah. The CHO breakfast option, yeah. My husband, it's his favorite part of flying out of that.

BRIAN CAMERON: That's so funny.

NATALIE BLAZER: Well, Brian, this was so much fun. I love Charlottesville. And I feel like I could talk about it for days. I feel like we covered a lot of great things today. So thank you so much for being here.

BRIAN CAMERON: Thank you again for having me. This was a lot of fun.

NATALIE BLAZER: This has been Admissible with me, Dean Natalie Blazer, at the University of Virginia School of Law. My guest today was second year UVA law student, Brian Cameron. For more information about UVA Law, please visit law.virginia.edu.

The next episode of Admissible will be out soon. In the meantime, you can follow the show on Instagram at @admissiblepodcast. Thanks so much for listening. And please remember to rate the show wherever you listen to podcasts. 

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