Student Posts

Merging Theory with Practice

Options can be both a blessing and a curse. When it comes to selecting law school classes, it is no different. Having two electives during 1L spring semester was one of the greatest gifts of law school. Those classes gave me a chance to remember why I wanted to be a lawyer in the first place. True, I did find property law to be more interesting than I expected it to be, but a semester of international human rights law was what I needed to get my blood pumping last winter.

I have never seen myself as an academic. I like to think I am much more of a practitioner, who wants to know how the topics in class will influence my future practice or current events. I tend to get frustrated in class discussions about theory that separate the issues from real world problems and potential solutions. But this January term taught me to enjoy the beauty in the intersection of theory and practice.

I took a course on building the rule of law. It was co-taught by one of our professors, Professor Gilbert, alongside an attorney, Professor Sutherland, who had worked for the State Department in developing the rule of law in a province in Afghanistan. The practical perspective of the course combined with my prior interest in the rule of law quickly drew me in. Over the course of the week, I found my ever-practical self drifting into questions based primarily on theory.

During the week, we discussed topics like how to define the rule of law, how to create legal change, and how culture influences the rule of law. All of our discussions were set against the backdrop of Professor Sutherland’s experience in Afghanistan. It was the perfect marriage of theory and practice. When deciding how to create legitimacy within the judiciary, he had to think through theoretical issues like cultural norms, but he also had to address practical issues like judicial robes and courthouse space.

About midway through the week, I started to realize that theory is not detrimental to resolving practical issues; and in many cases, it is helpful to explore the theory first before charting a plan of execution. I still probably won’t sign up for a jurisprudence course anytime soon, but I learned a valuable lesson last week. I can keep searching for practical applications in my courses, but I also shouldn’t shy away from exploring theory and asking those with me to consider the practical ramifications of the theories we discuss in class. When it comes to the law, we do our profession a disservice if we divorce the one from the other. Who knows what my course load will look like next year, but I am excited for this coming semester as I continue to learn to appreciate the theory alongside the practice.


Amber Strickland is a 2L from Centreville, Virginia. After spending her undergraduate years enjoying small town America in the cornfields of Ohio, she joined the fight to end bonded labor in India while interning with International Justice Mission. When not reading for class, she can be found procrasti-baking or cooking.

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