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Washington and Lee University School of Law

Coordinates: 37°47′29.2″N 79°26′37.9″W / 37.791444°N 79.443861°W / 37.791444; -79.443861
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

37°47′29.2″N 79°26′37.9″W / 37.791444°N 79.443861°W / 37.791444; -79.443861

Washington and Lee University School of Law
MottoNon incautus futuri (Latin)
"Not Unmindful of the Future"
Established1849; 175 years ago (1849) as Lexington Law School by John White Brockenbrough
1866 (merger with Washington College)
School typePrivate law school
DeanMelanie D. Wilson
LocationLexington, Virginia, Virginia, United States
Enrollment380 (2023)[1]
Faculty37 full-time, 58 part-time (2023)[1][2]
USNWR ranking33rd (tie) (2024)[3]
Bar pass rate83.33% (2023 first-time takers)[4]

The Washington and Lee University School of Law (W&L Law) is the law school of Washington and Lee University, a private liberal arts college in Lexington, Virginia. It is accredited by the American Bar Association. Facilities are on the historic campus of Washington and Lee University in Sydney Lewis Hall. W&L Law has a total enrollment of 380 students in the Juris Doctor program as of 2023, and a 10-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio.



The Lexington Law School, the precursor to W&L Law, was founded in 1849 by United States federal judge John White Brockenbrough and is the 16th oldest active law school in the United States and the third-oldest in Virginia. The law school was not integrated into Washington and Lee University (then known as Washington College) until after the Civil War when Robert E. Lee was president of the university. In 1866, Lee annexed the school, known at the time as the School of Law and Equity, to the college and appointed Judge Brockenbrough as the first dean. In 1870, after Lee's death, the School of Law and Equity was renamed the Washington and Lee University School of Law, in line with the college's name change in honor of Lee. Also in 1870, former Virginia Attorney General John Randolph Tucker was appointed to the faculty and later became Dean followed by his son Henry St. George Tucker III.

In 1900, the law school moved into the newly built Tucker Hall in memory of Dean Tucker. Tucker Hall also housed the law school's first law library—the Vincent L. Bradford Law Library. After significant periods of growth, the law school moved into the new Tucker Hall after the original building was destroyed in a fire and the law library was rebuilt with a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. In 1920, W&L Law joined the Association of American Law Schools.

The Washington and Lee Law Review began publication in the autumn of 1939 and is still in regular publication. After World War II, enrollment increased despite a period of low enrollment during the war. In 1950, the School of Law established its chapter of the Order of the Coif, one of only 80 such chapters in the country. The School of Law admitted its first female students in 1972, and opened its current home, Sydney Lewis Hall, in 1977. In 1992, the Lewis F. Powell Jr. Wing was added to Sydney Lewis Hall and the Wilbur C. Hall Law Library at a dedication ceremony attended by Justice Powell and presided over by Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

In 2008, Dean Rodney Smolla announced the new third-year program, which became compulsory for W&L Law students in 2011 under Interim Dean Mark Grunewald. This new program turned the entire third year into an experiential curriculum that emphasizes practice, professionalism, and service. Nora Demleitner served as dean from 2012 through 2015, the only woman to hold the position, during which time the school completed its $35 million campaign, Honor Our Past, Build Our Future,[5] renovated Lewis Hall, established the Washington, DC portion of W&L's third-year program,[6] and significantly increased the employment[7] and bar passage[8] rates of its graduates. On July 1, 2015, Brant J. Hellwig became Dean of the law school, the 18th dean since 1849.[9] Also in 2015, W&L Law formed an academic and professional partnership with the Future of Privacy Forum, an information privacy think tank in Washington, DC. The Future of Privacy Forum will facilitate professional, research, and curricular development, and the Washington, DC portion of W&L's third-year program will move into its offices.[10]


Sydney Lewis Hall
Sydney Lewis Hall

Sydney Lewis Hall is the home of the school of law on the historic campus of Washington and Lee in Lexington, Virginia. Lewis Hall was built in 1977 with a $9 million gift from Best Products founder Sydney Lewis and his wife Frances of Virginia. Lewis Hall was designed by Marcellus Wright Cox & Smith Architects in the Mid-century modern style.[11] In addition to lecture halls, classrooms, and offices for faculty and staff, Lewis Hall houses the 150-seat Millhiser Moot Courtroom with the accompanying Robert E. Stroud Judge's Chambers and the Roger D. Groot Jury Room. The Millhiser Moot Courtroom serves as the continuity of operations site for the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.[12] Lewis Hall also has a cafeteria for students, staff, and faculty called the Brief Stop, which serves food, snacks, and drinks.

As part of its $35 million campaign completed in 2015, Honor Our Past, Build Our Future, the School of Law renovated and modernized its facilities. The project resulted in more flexible space for student collaboration and study, new homes for four of the school's legal clinics and student organizations, more natural lighting, a new library reading room, a new high-tech trial courtroom, and an improved entry sequence and navigation for the building.[13][14][15]

Lewis Hall's cornerstones are the Wilbur C. Hall Law Library and Lewis F. Powell Jr. Wing. The 58,155-square-foot (5,402.8 m2) Wilbur C. Hall Law Library is a Federal Depository Library for the U.S. Government and includes a separate faculty library, a rare book room, and an audio-visual media center and is open 24-hours a day. The library houses more than 492,000 volumes and is unique in offering each student personally designated work and storage space. The Powell Wing was built in 1992 to house the professional and personal papers and archives of the United States Supreme Court Justice and noted W&L alum as well as other manuscript collections, rare books, and archives of the law school.[16] The Powell Wing includes an expanded main reading room space, in addition to stack area and workspace for the papers. The archives are managed by full-time staff and are open to researchers, faculty, and students.

Programs and admissions


W&L Law's full-time Juris Doctor program, one of the smallest in the country, is the primary degree program at the Law School. The Class of 2021 numbered 131 students with a median LSAT of 163 and a median undergraduate grade point average of 3.50.[17] International exchange programs are available for Juris Doctor students with Trinity College in Dublin and the University of Copenhagen in Copenhagen.

Bar examination results


In 2023, the overall bar examination passage rate for the law school’s first-time examination takers was 83.33%. The Ultimate Bar Pass Rate, which the ABA defines as the passage rate for graduates who sat for bar examinations within two years of graduating, was 94.83% for the class of 2021.[4]

Post-graduation employment


Based on Class of 2015 data, 85% of W&L Law graduates obtained full-time, long-term JD-required, or preferred jobs within 10 months of graduation. 50% of the 2015 graduates obtained full-time long-term jobs in law firms (including 21% of graduates getting full-time, long-term jobs in firms greater than 100 lawyers) and 19% of 2015 graduates obtained clerkships.[18] The large law firms which employed the most W&L Law graduates were Hunton Andrews Kurth, Alston & Bird, McGuireWoods, K&L Gates, and King & Spalding.[19] The School of Law ranked 18th on the 2012 U.S. News' ranking of law schools by recruiters from the top national law firms[20] and 19th on the 2015 U.S News ranking of law schools that send the most students to clerk for a United States federal judge (6.9%).[21] The National Law Journal ranked W&L Law 33rd in its 2015 "Go-To Law Schools" list of law schools that send the highest percentage of students to the 250 largest law firms in the United States.[22]

Rankings and reputation


Washington and Lee University School of Law ranked tied for 33rd in the 2024 edition of the U.S. News & World Report national ranking of America's law schools.[23] Since the U.S. News rankings of law schools were first released in 1987, W&L Law has had an average ranking of 26th nationally.[24][25][26][27] Brian Leiter ranked W&L Law's endowment-per-student as 14th in the country, at $214,000 per student, when adjusted for cost-of-living.[28] Above the Law ranked W&L Law 22nd nationally in their 2019 Top 50 Law Schools rankings[29] and, in 2017, 4th nationally in their rankings for the top-rated law schools when measuring alumni satisfaction.[30] National Jurist ranked W&L Law 15th in its list of best law schools for standard of living and 18th in its ranking of the best law libraries.[31][32] The 2013 edition of On Being a Black Lawyer: The Black Student's Guide to Law Schools, ranked W&L Law 25th in its rankings of the best law schools for black law students.[33] In 2013, National Jurist named W&L's law faculty as the 10th most influential in legal education (the only entire faculty on the list)[34] and 18th in 2014[35] as well as awarding W&L Law's practical training program a B+ grade in its 2014 listing of the best law schools for practical training.[36] National Jurist also ranked W&L Law as the 5th best value private law school in 2016 in the United States.[37] A ranking of scholarly impact published in the University of St. Thomas Law Journal ranked the faculty 30th nationally.[38] A 2015 ranking by Business Insider, listed W&L Law as the 17th best law schools in the United States to make connections and get a job.[39] Washington and Lee's The Law News has been awarded the ABA's award of the finest law school student newspaper four times, including three years in a row, in 1985, 2013, 2014, and 2015.[40][41] In 2016, National Jurist included W&L Law on its list of one of the twelve best value private law schools in the United States.[42]

Juris Doctor curriculum


The Juris Doctor curriculum at W&L consists of three unique and integrated years of full-time study with a mix of traditional casebook method and practice-oriented courses.


In the 1L year, students take required foundational courses in contract law, tort law, civil procedure, criminal law, property law, professional responsibility, administrative law, and international law. Additionally, each student is assigned a small section in which one substantive required course also serves as a legal writing course. This small section consists of approximately 20 students. 1Ls are also assigned to an upper-level student from the Burks Scholar Program who teaches legal research and Bluebook methods.


In the 2L year, students focus on advanced coursework. W&L requires evidence law and constitutional law in the second-year as well as the completion of an upper-level writing requirement. The writing requirement can be satisfied through a seminar course, through an independent writing project, or a note in one of the law journals. All other courses in the 2L year are electives and commonly include corporate law and tax law as well as many other classes and seminars. Since establishing the practice-based curriculum, W&L incorporated its experiential curricular offerings, such as practicum courses, into the second-year in addition to casebook-oriented electives.


The new third-year program, which began in the fall of 2010, replaced further elective advanced coursework based on the casebook method as is the norm in most ABA law schools. Instead, the program is meant to simulate client experiences. The 3L year requires students to exercise professional judgment, work in teams, solve problems, counsel clients, negotiate solutions, and serve as advocates and counselors — the full complement of professional activity that engages practicing lawyers as they apply legal theory and doctrines to the real-world issues of serving clients ethically and honorably within the highest traditions of the profession.

The Fall semester begins with an immersion course. Students are allowed to choose one of two courses for the two-week immersion. Immersion focuses on either litigation and alternative dispute resolution or transactional practice. Each student is then enrolled in practicum courses of their choosing. These courses cover substantive and advanced law but do so through practical methods of drafting paperwork and problem-solving rather than casebooks and the socratic method. Students are also required to take a course in the legal profession as well as a law-related service requirement. Finally, each student is required to be involved in one of W&L's legal clinics, externship programs, or transnational programs to gain real-client experience. The program is flexible and allows students the ability to tailor their schedule and, if they wish, to take several traditional casebook method courses.

The Honor System


The Honor System has been run by the student body since 1905 and is derived from Robert E. Lee during his tenure as President of the University. Any student found guilty of an Honor Violation by his or her peers is subject to a single penalty: expulsion. The Honor System is defined and administered solely by students, and there is no higher review. A formal review, occasionally including referendums, is held every three years to refine the tenets of the Honor System. Students continue to support the Honor System and its single penalty overwhelmingly, and alumni regularly point to the Honor System as one of the distinctive marks they carry with them from their W&L experience. W&L Law students enjoy several distinct benefits from the Honor System. These include more freedom in exam taking as well as an informal account system at the Brief Stop cafeteria in Sydney Lewis Hall. These are balanced by the strict penalty for a violation of the Honor System.

Clinics, journals, moot courts, and centers

Wilbur C. Hall Law Library
Wilbur C. Hall Law Library

The Law School houses six clinics:

  • Advanced Administrative Litigation Clinic (Black Lung)
  • Civil Rights and Racial Justice Clinic
  • Community Legal Practice Clinic
  • Criminal Justice Clinic
  • Immigrant Rights Clinic
  • Tax Clinic

The Law School is home to the following centers:

  • Frances Lewis Law Center
  • Transnational Law Institute
  • The Law School is also a major partner in the Mudd Center for Ethics

The Law School offers five moot court programs:

  • Client Counseling Competition
  • The John W. Davis Appellate Advocacy Competition
  • Mock Trial Competition
  • The Robert J. Grey Jr. Negotiations Competition
  • Representation in Mediation Competition

The Law School is host to three academic journals:

Notable alumni


Notable former faculty



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