Andy O'Connell, L'22

Andy's headshot

What inspired you to study law, generally, and what specifically inspired you to attend Richmond Law?

I was working at a domestic violence shelter in Dallas and was really frustrated with the way the people I was working with were being treated by the law. Many residents were having a really hard time finding and keeping jobs, keeping their kids in school, and avoiding negative encounters from the police, both related and not related to their struggles with domestic violence. At the same time, the election of 2016 happened, and, like a lot of people, I was really shocked and spent a lot of time reflecting on my own politics and the socioeconomic conditions of this country. These thoughts, combined with an interest in working on the macro level with policy, rather on the micro level with individuals as I had been doing, made me really interested in going to law school to try to help address some of these issues.

My decision to go to Richmond Law was more methodical than my abrupt decision to leave social work and go to law school in the first place. Like a true law student, I did a ton of research, making lists of various law schools that met specific criteria. I realized that a significant portion of these schools were in Virginia, so me and my wife decided to move here! Once we got to see the schools up here, it was pretty clear that Richmond was going to be a home for us. I really appreciated the emphasis on community and public interest, something that I hadn't found at every school. I love Richmond and am glad that I had a chance to go here.

What is one myth of law school that you would want to dispel for anyone who may be considering attending law school?

When I started school, I was pretty scared of the competitiveness that I had heard existed in law school. That couldn't be farther from the truth of my experience at UR Law. The school has a really dedicated community of students that truly care about one another's success. After all, many of us will work with or around each other, and we all want everyone else to be a good addition to the legal community. When I have had questions or concerns, other students have helped me out tremendously time and time again. I think this is true at more schools than not, but it is definitely true at Richmond and I am so grateful for it.

Imagine the future of legal practice. Describe one way you’d like to see the legal profession (or legal system) evolve over the next five to ten years. Why is this change important to you?

The legal field is primarily focused on internal matters. That is, when a new policy is created, lawyers and judges have to interpret it using internal structures like the meaning of the word, the grammar and syntax of the statement, the historical precedent of similar policies, and other methods of statutory interpretation. The concept of "originalism," which Scalia was famous for, has been made the primary method of interpretation, and is advocated by the Federalist Society, which is a powerful group that many federal judges belong to. One of the problems with this way of doing law, however, is that it leaves almost no room for discussion of policy implications. The law isn't prepared to handle arguments of whether a policy choice is morally, economically, or in any way good or bad, it can only discuss whether the interpretation fits within highly specific criteria that time and time again benefits the oppressive class -- wealthy, white, abled, cisgendered and heterosexual men.

I'd like to see the legal profession evolve to include a mechanism for discussing policy arguments so that if a judge creates policy under common law or statutory interpretation, we as a legal community can actually discuss whether this will have a positive or negative impact on the world in a way that can lead to change, which there is very little room for at the moment. This change could cause our judiciary to protect from the abuses of legislative and executive power that they were ostensibly created to protect.

The Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct state that, “As a member of a learned profession, a lawyer should cultivate knowledge of the law beyond its use for clients, employ that knowledge in reform of the law and work to strengthen legal education.” What does this statement mean to you, or, what would this statement look like in practice?

There are many areas of the law that need changing, and it is important that legal professionals work together to help reform all of the law, rather than just have each individual lawyer focus solely on their area. The more educated we all are about issues, and the more we can support one another, the more likely these issues are to change. In practice, I would imagine this might look like staying up to date on major developments in the law, even in areas outside that lawyer's specific field

Law school can be challenging, demanding, even stressful. What motivates you when the going gets tough, or, how do you motivate yourself during challenging times?

Law school is designed to be consistently stressful; there is always more to do and a pressure to get ever more involved. Remembering that everyone is in the same boat makes me feel a lot better, so staying open and talking to the people close to me is essential, even when that feels difficult. But the best way to clear my head is truly to take a break. Not everything is going to get done, and it's not all going to get perfectly, but that is okay. Sometimes that means dropping everything and going to the mountains for a day, sometimes that means saying no to an additional responsibility, there's a lot of things it could look like, but they're all reasonable options when needed. Motivation wise, I went to law school because I really believe in what I am going to be doing when I graduate. I want to help people, and I happen to be privileged enough to enter a profession where I will be given the tools to do that. This motivates me when I am feeling overwhelmed because I am passionate about my work and I know that I will enjoy it.