Law School Relationship with the Undergrad: Same as Always?

Students on Cadaver Bridge

What is known as “Cadaver Bridge” connects the undergraduate side of campus to the law school side.

By: Emily Kendall, 1L
Staff Writer

A different kind of student. Mostly work, not much play. Definitely not as Southern.

These are just a few of the less colorful, characteristics bestowed upon law students by their undergraduate comrades. The crowd at Salerno’s, still not over the loss of Tong’s, may tipsily beg to differ regarding the work vs. play comment. However, one W&L football game  indisputably has more monograms, pimento cheese varieties, and Vineyard Vines than one will see for an entire year in the law building.

There are an array of differences between the two sides of campus. Some differences are cultural, some cosmetic, but none are as storied as the differences involving the legendary undergraduate endowment or the other favorite subject among law students, rankings. Whether money talks or people just love to talk about money, some of the better-known conspiracy theories floating around Lewis hall revolve around how finances influence the law school’s posture relative to the university.

Monetary decisions – arguably the most immediate to law students – involve food and drink. The funding for all law student events flows through the Executive Committee. Although primarily consisting of undergraduates, law students representing the 1, 2, and 3L classes sit on the E.C. and address what is affecting the student body on a weekly basis. As school winds down in the spring, the SBA president compiles law organization budget requests and submits them to the Executive Committee. The E.C. members weighs the SBA’s bid alongside undergraduate organizations’ requested funding. The 2017 activity fee is $430 per student, for both the undergraduate and the law schools. When multiplied by more than two thousand students, the E.C. is tasked with divvying up approximately $900,000. Caroline Bones, secretary of the Executive Committee, confirmed that law students get more funding than they contribute proportionally. The SBA is not guaranteed the additional money, though it is a point of discussion every year. Caroline pointed out that the undergraduate side has more avenues for entertainment – that is, funding sources for social events – than the law school, which is nearly wholly dependent on SBA parties for self-medication amusement. Therein lies the justification for the law school’s inflated activity budget this year.

But nothing has created as much conversation about the law school’s relationship with the undergraduate side than perhaps the rankings drop of 2014. Three years and many ranks removed from that event, the law school has been operating under a transition plan developed in 2015. Though it is no longer in effect, the plan can still be seen online and was described as “a proactive approach to stabilize the school’s enrollment and financial structure.” Its creation resulted from a series of events that began with the 2008 financial crisis and a resulting dip in enrollment. Graduate job placement first took a tumble in 2011 which, in turn, created the aforementioned rankings dive.

Some background on the financial crisis: schools around the United States felt the pinch. Dean Rollins was working at another law school in 2010 and remembers vividly how the changing legal market was felt by students. A law firm that hired almost ninety summer associates in 2009 took on fewer than 20 the following summer.

To combat dismal employment numbers, some law schools began funding full-time public interest positions for recent graduates. Their financial resources, while temporarily beneficial to students, allowed these institutions to report better job placement numbers than many others. Though the practice was legitimate, it was not one in which Washington and Lee participated. Employment statistics, while grim everywhere, were most definitely not in W&L’s favor. Applications dropped off and schools across the country offered larger scholarships to attract students, which netted significantly less tuition.

In response, university officials, alongside consultation with law school faculty and administrators, created a plan called “strategic transition,” which can still be viewed online today. Dean Rollins and Dean Hellwig were hired shortly after the plan’s implementation. Things have gone well for W&L law in the time that has passed. “Cautiously optimistic” is how the most recent treasurer’s report described the law school financial forecast. The same summary stated that the law school would conservatively enroll only one hundred and one students in fall 2017. The 1Ls number one hundred and sixty-three.

Finally, just how does W&L’s large endowment and alumni donations affect the relationship between the two campuses? Most gifts and donations that the law school receives are marked specifically for the law school, oftentimes sent by alumni working in the legal field. Part of the transition plan included an additional annual endowment payout for the law school through 2017-2018, giving the school $3,000,000 to offset increased scholarships and other costs. The goal for the Law School Annual fund, an important and unrestricted source of income, was increased to $1,500,000 and has been met every year.

Dean Rollins noted, “You always make a pitch for resources, wherever they may come from,” but stated that no campaigns or major renovations are in the works for this side of Cadaver Bridge. Other financial benefits of being part of the larger university include built-in cost coverage for expenses like grounds upkeep and electricity.

The shared camaraderie that continues to foster stories, theories, and general tall tales on each side of the bridge is of the same atmosphere that draws students and alumni. Like any pair of siblings, the ribbing between undergraduates and law students will likely continue for years to come. It’s just like our older brothers always told us: if they didn’t care, they wouldn’t tease.

Categories: Community