Since 1866, the law school has been an integral part of Washington and Lee. With a student body of 460, the School of Law is easily one of the smallest of the nation's top-tier national law schools, and it is the University's only graduate program, with its own dean and faculty. It offers the Juris Doctor degree, awarded upon completion of the three-year, post-baccalaureate course of study. The Master of Laws degree in United States Law enrolls international law graduates who are awarded the degree on completion of one year of study beyond the Juris Doctor or equivalent degree. The instructional program is designed to provide students with a legal education in the fullest sense: not only the technical tools needed for the practice of law, but an understanding of how law operates in our society and a sensitivity to the ethical imperatives of the profession.
Completed in the fall of 1976 at a cost of over $9 million, Sydney Lewis Hall contains some of the nation's most sophisticated facilities for law study and legal research, including an office-type study area for each student. In December 1989, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr., an alumnus of both the College (1929) and the School of Law (1931), announced his intention to leave his personal and professional papers to the Washington and Lee Law Library. To house this generous gift, and to keep pace with new demands for additional faculty offices and clinical space, an addition to Sydney Lewis Hall was completed in 1992. The archival facilities make available to researchers approximately 700 linear feet of Powell materials, while the law library contains more than 382,900 carefully selected volumes and microforms.
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One of the most significant opportunities afforded by a law school education at W&L is its legal practice clinics. Second and third-year students help to meet the region's need for legal assistance and, at the same time, develop client contract and advocacy skills. The faculty has developed programs that deliver lawyering up close: tough lessons, real-life decisions that the profession deals with every day.