At The George Washington University Law School, Alexandra is a Thurgood Marshall Scholar and currently serves as a Writing Fellow and Civil Procedure Teaching Assistant. In the summer of 2022 she interned with the General Services Administration and next summer (2023) will be a Summer Associate with Hollingsworth LLP, both in Washington. For her, there was no one factor that led her to decide that law school was in her future, but a series of experiences. A significant one was the opportunity to participate in Catholic University’s remarkable internship program with the Parliament of the United Kingdom in Westminster. She says “Interning for a Member of Parliament was my first substantive internship, and I loved learning about policy and legislation, but I wanted to know more about the crafting of legislation and the effects of its implementation.”
She also credits her undergraduate coursework, within History but also beyond, with sharpening her interest in law school. “In my junior year of college, I took a Constitutional Law course, and it was my favorite non-history course I took at Catholic University. I found it enriching to use my analytical skills I learned in my history courses to analyze and discuss landmark Supreme Court cases. Although that course is not really a reflection of how Constitutional Law is taught in law school, I really did love the spark of academic curiosity I had while in the classroom. Also, I think being a history major itself made me more interested in law school because in most of my history courses I analyzed laws that had massive impacts on a society and examined how countries and legal systems came to be. It is incredibly difficult to untether history and the law: they beautifully complement each other.”
Ally offers a perspective that is important for current students interested in law school to take on board. After an initial round of applications, and dissatisfied with the prospects her first take of the LSAT afforded, she says “After a few months, I revisited my law school applications with a completely different approach. I was not just trying to get into any law school, but I was aiming to get into a law school that I really wanted to go to, which was GW Law. With that focus, I knew what I had to achieve to get into GW and to get a decent academic scholarship. I studied for the LSAT sometimes 10+ hours a day, and I ended up doing better on the test than I thought I would and got into my ideal school. This intensive LSAT preparation is quite similar to some of the toughest days in my 1L year, so my mind and body were not completely thrown off guard when I looked at my first 50+ page reading assignment that could take me many hours to complete.”
Reflecting on the transition, she notes “Law school is vastly different from being an undergraduate history major. As a history major, I wrote analytical papers and my performance was measured by how well I could articulate and substantiate my thesis. In law school, my performance is measured by a singular exam at the end of the semester that is weighed against my peers on a curve. Even my legal writing assignments are graded using this curve system, which can foster a lot of competition. Honestly, this grading system was a huge adjustment, going from the top of my class in undergrad to struggling through really dense bar/doctrinal courses like Contracts, Property, and Torts, and having my work compared to my fellow classmates and future colleagues was mentally draining at times.”
But she sees the intellectual connections between her former and current fields of study: “I found that whenever we talked about the history of the law or how the US legal system came to be, I really enjoyed getting to use my knowledge I gained as a history major. It always feels very rewarding and comforting when I get to draw on my history degree. I use a lot of the knowledge I gained as a history major when I make policy arguments because a major thing that history teaches us is that humans and human activities are cyclical, and so to prevent repeated mistakes, whether in history itself or the law, we need to look to history so we can break the cycle.”
As do our other alumni profiled in this issue, Ally credits her training in writing as a key foundation laid by her history major. As a 1L her best grade was in legal writing, and she finished first in her class for her second semester project, what she calls “the notorious appellate brief.” She reflects: “Honestly, I attribute my success in legal writing, an incredibly important skill to have as a law student and practicing lawyer, to being a history major and completing my senior thesis. Not everyone in law school has completed an in-depth research and writing project that requires a lot of focus, time, energy, and stamina. Although legal writing is a different feat from an undergraduate senior thesis, the skills I attained during the writing process, I believe, helped me succeed both first, but especially, second semester in legal writing.
“As Dr. Laura Mayhall, my wonderful, lovely thesis advisor and mentor to whom I owe much of my accomplishments, put it, ‘you must use the ABCs of writing: apply butt to chair.’ This mantra stuck with me. I was always one step ahead in the drafting process because I forced myself to sit down and do the work, not matter how messy the first few drafts turned out. Now I work at the GW Law Writing Center as a Legal Research and Writing Fellow, where I help 1Ls and upper-level law students with their legal writing assignments and scholarly journal assignments, and I try to instill the same ‘ABCs of Writing’ mentality to the students who come to see me. While I was going through an extensive interview process this past summer to secure a Summer Associate position with Hollingsworth, I was praised for (1) my writing sample, which is my appellate brief, and (2) the fact that I completed a thesis while still in undergrad and that one of my history Junior Seminar papers was published.”
She observes that life as a law student is more all-engrossing than undergraduate life on a personal level: “Since starting law school, I have to think further ahead and be more mindful about a plan if I want to hang out with friends or do something in the city with my significant other. Making sure you take time for yourself and continue doing things you love in your down time is incredibly important for your mental health, and, in turn, your longevity and stamina. Also, law school is not forever, so you do not want to strip away all the things you like to do because in three to four short years it is over. Law school does become somewhat your personality, so you want to make sure you have other things in your life because being only a law student is just not sustainable.”
Ally’s chief advice to current students thinking about studying law: “Really take some time to consider if being a lawyer is what you want to do with your life, because law school is very challenging and does take a lot of your energy (and sleep). The pandemic oddly worked in my favor because it provided me time to think about whether going to law school was just the next box I felt I had to tick, or if becoming a lawyer is what is best for me. There is a lot of pressure on young adults to have everything figured out, and I think that it is okay, and should be normalized, to take some time to really consider all your options.
“Also, do not settle. Study hard for the LSAT, do well in your undergraduate program, and aim big. Law school is a lot of time, money, and effort; you want to make sure you are setting yourself up for success. Do your research on the rankings and the school’s specialized programs. Make sure you talk to students and get their testimonies on what is like to be a student at the school. Also, apply to schools early, so you need to make sure you have your application materials ready as close to the date the applications open as possible (for instance, to be in the incoming Fall 2021 1L Class, I applied before Thanksgiving). If you decide to take a year, like me, or even a few years after undergrad, you will not be alone, the majority of my friends are not Kindergarten-JDers (that is what we call those who did not take time from college graduation).”
Overall, Ally reflects “I am satisfied with the courses I chose and the academic path I carved for myself at Catholic University. I would not change a thing about what I did with my time in college: I had a life-changing experience my semester abroad in London interning in the British Parliament, and I took courses that made me fall in love with history and academia in general. Another piece of advice for current undergrad students who are thinking about law school: do not feel pressured into doing a certain major or taking certain classes. Take classes that you enjoy because you will end up doing well, which is a plus for law school admissions. Good luck!”