Elon University - School of Law
School of Law - Elon University

Charter Class perspective
By Sean M. Olson

Three years gone.

I'll meet friends of mine around town and they'll say, "You're almost done, right? Wow. Seems like you just started." I want to reply, "Are you crazy? This has been the longest three years of my life."

And there were those days.

During the first year, those days were just about every other day of the week -- when you wake up at 7 a.m. for class, bleary-eyed from reading Contracts or Civil Procedure that might as well be Sanskrit -- and you know, just know, you are going to get called on. And then you do get called on and fumble through an answer. One of those days.

But for every one of those days, there were the days when we stood up in moot court competitions and won arguments. There were the days when students founded the Student Bar Association and the Elon Law Review. There were the days when Elon Law students sat down with a low-income client in need of counsel at Legal Aid.

While I wouldn't relive the first semester of my first year for anything, I can say one thing definitively and without equivocation: I am glad I did it. And I'm proud that I'll soon be, not only an Elon University School of Law graduate, but also a member of the graduating charter class.

For the charter class, there's been a sense that every step you take is important. That's a good feeling. When you're in college, students join organizations or groups. At Elon Law, we built each group and organization -- and the classes behind us are continuing that building process.

We fielded a number of moot court teams -- and the ones that the current first- and second-year students are working on are fantastic. But a number of us had the opportunity to be on one of the first teams to go out, and some of those teams won awards for legal briefs. Two of my third-year classmates just spent three weeks in Europe arguing at an exhaustive international moot court competition. Some of us are founding chapter members of Delta Theta Phi, a professional law fraternity. The top-ranking members of the charter class, with second-year participants, started the Elon Law Review, which will publish this summer. The honor council proceeded at a studiously deliberate pace to develop a fair honor code that is the very essence of professionalism and integrity.

In short, as members of the charter class we have had the opportunity to truly practice one of the things that makes Elon Law different -- leadership. The other emphasis at the university is community involvement.
Elon Law students have done just that. They have led community service efforts -- from "Angel Trees" and canned-food drives at Christmas to tax clinics for low-and middle-income people. Our students participated in a clinic to provide wills to emergency responders and a legal aid clinic to provide legal services to those with financial need. This semester, another clinic assisted low-income people with drafting wills. One year, our Innocence Project had one of the highest participation rates among law schools in North Carolina. And a number of my classmates are eager to take what are, frankly, lower-paying jobs because they serve the community.

Moreover, being students at Elon Law has afforded all of us the opportunity to get practical experience. Founding Dean Leary Davis encouraged us to obtain practice certificates from the Bar, which allows third-year students to practice under the guidance of a supervising attorney. One classmate took an externship and prosecuted misdemeanor cases for a prosecutor's office. My supervising attorney at Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak and Stewart allowed me to represent our clients in two mediations.

That's part of what the law school intended: to provide an opportunity to not only learn about the law, but to get our hands on it before we got out. And Elon has kept its part of the bargain. One of our professors, who went to one of the top law schools in the country, confessed to us that, before he got out of law school, he had never seen a set of pleadings -- the paperwork that essentially begins and carries the litigation process through its first stages. All of Elon Law's students have had to draft pleadings for class, and many of us have had to draft them for actual cases at clerkships, clinics, externships or as part of volunteer programs.

As for our plans next year, our class runs the gamut. Unfortunately, because of the sour economy, some are still looking for work. But others have found prestigious and service-oriented positions.

My classmates will be clerking with the N.C. Court of Appeals, defending court-appointed clients and hanging out their shingles as solo practitioners. One classmate will clerk for two judges in New Hampshire, while another will clerk for a judge in Texas. Another will serve his country in the U.S. Air Force Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps as an attorney. Several are heading back to school to get their master's of law degrees -- one in London. I accepted a position at the Greensboro office of Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak and Stewart, the third-largest employment law firm in the country.

My point is that Elon has attempted to create something different: a law school where students have a sense of community service, leadership and a practical outlook on the practice of law. That was the school's goal, and I believe we have done that. And, as proud as I am of the charter class, the two classes behind us are just as impressive, even more so. In that sense, Elon Law has begun to build a legacy that we believe will be a boon to Greensboro and to the legal community.

I recently read an online discussion on the American Bar Association Web site. One attorney complained about first-year associates from traditional law schools who were policy wonks but couldn't practice law.

I've thought a lot about that attorney, whoever he is. The legal profession doesn't need erudite individuals who can only discuss the law in the classroom or write a law review article. The law profession needs smart, savvy individuals who serve their clients and their community. Why? Because that's our duty and that's the professional thing to do. Moreover, it's the right thing to do.

I've got news for him. Here we come.

Published in the News & Record of Greensboro, North Carolina – May 17, 2009