Class of 2013 Most Competitive, Diverse in School History
It was more difficult to gain admission to the Law School's incoming class this year than ever before, and the Class of 2013 is the most diverse on record, according to Admissions Office data.
Due in part to record application volume, the school offered admission to the lowest percentage of applicants in school history. In addition, about 29 percent of the Class of 2013 self-identified as ethnic minorities, up from a then-record 27 percent the previous year.
"The most selective admission process in the history of the Law School produced the most diverse class in this history of the Law School," said Jason Wu Trujillo '01, the senior assistant dean for admissions."That represents a lot of hard work by the admissions and financial aid team and reflects our increased emphasis on admissions and recruiting rather than just admissions."
The class members also meet the lofty academic standards set by their predecessors in the Class of 2012: Incoming first-year students have a median undergraduate GPA of 3.85 and a median LSAT score of 170.
About 65 percent of the class obtained work experience prior to law school, in jobs ranging from paralegal work to investigative journalism, and those students averaged about two years in the work force before entering law school.
First-year student Jack Dew was a newspaper reporter at several New England publications prior to entering law school. He covered numerous court cases and proceedings over the years, which he said helped develop an interest in the law.
While at the Berkshire Eagle, a daily newspaper in Pittsfield, Mass. , Dew covered the case of a man who spent 21 years in prison before his child molestation conviction was overturned in 2006.
"There was an incredible amount of evidence that he had been the victim of an atrociously bad defense attorney and the victim of hysteria," Dew said."There was a decades-long effort to free him."
The case had a major impact on people involved on both sides, including the alleged victims and their families as well as the accused and his supporters. Emotions ran high, and Dew said his close-up view of the case's resolution underscored the effect lawyers and the legal process can have on people's lives.
"It definitely instills the sense that the law can create these problems, and the law can solve these problems," he said."To be part of that is an honor, a privilege and a responsibility."
Dew said he's preliminarily interested in both criminal defense and prosecution, and is hoping to explore a variety of different areas while in law school.
"One of the things that made me want to come here is that the Law School has some amazing clinics," he said."I think there's going to be a real opportunity to do some real work and get a sense of what I like and what I don't, and what I'm good at and what I'm not."
The Class of 2013 is also well-traveled. Incoming students speak a variety of languages and have worked in countries ranging from the United Kingdom to Uganda.
Katie Seno spent a year in Kyoto, Japan, prior to beginning law school. She taught English to patent attorneys and executives and studied Japanese, including cultural institutions such as the traditional flower arrangement and the Japanese tea ceremony.
Seno's parents are from Japan, and she's the first native English speaker in her family. She traces her interest in the law partly to Sunday morning brunch lectures from her father about topics such as U.S. -Japanese relations and World War II.
As Seno pursued her education at Phillips Exeter Academy and then at Brown University, the brunch lectures evolved into debates, which helped develop her interest in intellectual give-and-take, she said.
"Our discussions would always end up being about these larger ideas about civilized society," she said."We'd use U.S. -Japanese relations as a springboard to talk about international economics and politics."
After graduating from college, Seno worked as a paralegal at a New York firm, where she was exposed to mergers and acquisitions law and worked on the financial restructuring of General Motors.
"We represented the Treasury Department, and it was really interesting," Seno said."I had a really good experience and was able to see the legal treatment of these issues that moved billions of dollars and affected many lives."
Seno said she chose UVA Law in part because of the qualifications and graciousness of some of the Law School alumni she encountered while working as a paralegal. She said she was also struck by the professionalism and knowledge of a recent graduate of the school's Law and Business Program.
"He could speak the client's language, so to speak, and read the charts and read the models," she said."Also, a lot of people I talked to had a family member or friend who went to Virginia and really loved it."
Trujillo credited alumni outreach as a major factor in attracting exceptional applicants to the Law School.
"The success in recruiting this class is due in no small part to the willingness of our alumni to not just talk to, but really engage with, our admitted students," Trujillo said." Jennifer Sulzberger '87 in the Law School Foundation did a tremendous job in matching admitted students with alumni via the Alumni Contact Program. I can't tell you how many admitted students say that their decision to come to Virginia was sealed after speaking to an alumnus or alumna."
Members of the Class of 2013 come from 42 states and the District of Columbia, as well as seven foreign countries. Gabriel Hippolyte was born in Haiti, and though he moved to New York at age four he still has extensive family and friends in the country. After graduating from New York's public school system, Hippolyte attended Johns Hopkins University with the idea that he might follow his father into medicine.
"I knew when I was younger that I really wanted to become a doctor. I thought 'I'm going to go to med school, I'm going to follow a certain track. ' It turns out, life never really works out that way," he said."I was always really inspired by politics. I took a few classes my freshman year, and it was very enlightening."
Hippolyte's interest in politics and international law increased as he followed the deteriorating political situation in Haiti.
"Growing up, we had fences. Then going back to visit, we had security guards," he said."It was very striking, especially coming from New York, a very civil place, to visit and be thrown into this anarchic system."
He started studying politics in school, but his visits to Haiti were curtailed after a great-aunt was kidnapped there and his family decided it was too dangerous. Then, just weeks before he graduated from college, tragedy struck. His aunt - who was also his godmother — was killed in Haiti.
"So that marked my return to Haiti," he said."I had to go for the funeral."
The summer after his graduation, Hippolyte — who is fluent in French — was accepted into a bilingual international security master's degree program at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques in Paris.
"It was a great experience," he said."I remembered my godmother strongly advising me — she went to Cornell but studied abroad in Greece — that I should go to Europe if I got the chance. It was mostly because of her that I went."
While there, Hippolyte took a few law classes and interned for a French law firm. He said he started to think of law as an effective way to obtain the type of tools he would need for a possible career in policy work.
After returning to New York he spent time tutoring high school students and teaching Sunday school at his church. He and a few friends were working on a plan to work in Haiti on a justice program coordinated with USAID when the earthquake struck and made the trip impossible.
Instead, Hippolyte went to work for a watchdog group that monitors New York politics. He worked there as an intern and copyeditor until this summer, when he left to prepare for law school.
"The reason I chose UVA was the environment," he said."I knew UVA was a prestigious school, but it also seemed to be an amiable environment where people were very conversational, social and friendly."
Though his legal education has barely begun, Hippolyte said he hopes public service work is part of his future career. Many of his fellow first-year students share that interest. The Class of 2013 includes students who worked for public service organizations such as AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps, and others who have served the in Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, National Guard and Navy.
Elizabeth Dobbins is the first female graduate of the Virginia Military Institute to attend the Law School. She was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the Marine Corps after graduating from VMI in the spring, and has signed on to serve a five-year commitment as a JAG officer following her graduation.
Dobbins grew up in a military family, and like many of her classmates has experience abroad. Her family lived in Saudi Arabia for two years while her father — then a Navy intelligence officer — was stationed there, and she has visited 14 countries.
"I've always been interested in serving my country in some way, and being able to be a Marine while attending law school is just a perfect situation," she said.
"Certainly the Marine Corps participates in a number of human rights-related activities, and during my career in the Marine Corps and afterward I hope to be able to do something that will help people," she said.
Dobbins majored in modern languages and French and Arabic international studies, and studied abroad in Marseilles, France, while in college. She said her experience there helped her develop her interest in human rights and international law.
"It's right on the Mediterranean, and there are plenty of North African and Arab immigrants," she said."That to me was a fantastic and integral part of the Marseilles experience. My host family was North African — they were Algerian and Egyptian â and they talked to me about what their experience was like in France, not only as immigrants but as Arabs. It sort of fueled my passion for human rights law."
Dobbins spoke fondly of her experience at VMI, but said the distinction of being the school's first female graduate to attend UVA Law isn't something she spends a lot of time thinking about, beyond hoping that other female VMI grads will follow in her footsteps.
"If you graduated from VMI, you're a VMI alumnus first and everything else second," she said."The thing that is significant to me is just being a VMI alumnus, and that does carry a lot of weight."
So far the adjustment to Charlottesville has been fairly easy, and Dobbins said she is enjoying law school.
"I view law school and the study of law in general as a vehicle for change and making a difference in the world, as contrived as that might sound," she said."My personal mantra is never allow yourself to become a victim, and I think that translates to never letting anything prevent you from doing your best."