Class of 2014 Speakers Draw on Criminal Defense Work, Classroom Experiences for Addresses

The Class of 2014 Speakers, Stanley Thompson and Andrew Liebler, have been friends throughout law school, but their varied interests and backgrounds sent them on different journeys through their legal education. Thompson plans to work in criminal defense following Commencement, while Liebler will start his career with an Atlanta law firm.  

Stanley Thompson

Thompson, who is from Washington, D.C., built a strong foundation for his future by working in the Criminal Justice Clinic and participating on the Trial Team in the Trial & Advocacy Program. In fact, he was part of the team that competed in the National Institute of Trial Advocacy 2013 Tournament of Champions in Birmingham, Alabama. That competition was based on 1962 trial of men accused of the deadly bombing of a Birmingham church. One of the competition judges, who was the lead defense attorney from the actual trial, said that Thompson “gave a better closing for the defendant” than he had more than 50 years ago. The team advanced to the National Civil Trial Competition in Los Angeles, California, where Thompson’s teammates, James MiaoErika WurstElad Gross, and Emily Ottenson, finished in the top half of the competition. 

“The Trial Team gave me the practical skills needed to argue a case in court,” he says. He adds that his coursework “was a huge help with placing those skills in a criminal context.” In particular, his Trial course with Peter Joy, the Henry Hitchcock Professor of Law and director of the Criminal Justice Clinic, stands out in his mind, as do Advanced Trial with Kevin Curran and Evidence & Ethics with David Rosen, JD ’75. Both Curran and Rosen are adjunct faculty members.  

However, it was his work in the St. Louis County Public Defender’s Office through the Criminal Justice Clinic that gave him one of the most powerful learning opportunities of his law school career. “I was assigned a case with a client who had a family, which is a very heavy responsibility,” he says. “I worked on it from beginning to end, going to court and talking with the family throughout all the hearings and through the trial.” 

His work on the case served as an inspiration for his Commencement speech. “Interacting with the client and his family, I came to understand the emotional demands of the work itself. As a soon-to-be attorney, I will take that experience into my practice as a Dade County Public Defender in Miami, and that’s part of what I hope to communicate to my classmates at Commencement.” 

Andrew Liebler

In contrast, Liebler plans to deliver a lighter—though still meaningful—message. He became interested in law while studying music as an undergraduate at Vanderbilt University. “At the time, environmental law was an emerging field that interested me. Al Gore’s office happened to be across the street from Vanderbilt, and I decided to volunteer for him, working on climate change issues.” 

In law school, Liebler not only drew on his experience with performing music to make himself more comfortable speaking up in class, but he went a step further by joining the student-run Barely Legal Theater. “I had no theater experience, and I still get a little nervous speaking in public, but I loved all three years I was with Barely Legal,” he says. “When we would forget our lines—which happened a lot—it became all improv, and I draw on that skill when speaking in court.” 

Liebler’s interest in environmental law led him to an externship with the Environmental Enforcement Division of the United States Department of Justice through the law school’s Congressional and Administrative Law Externship and to work with the Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic (IEC). “The IEC was my introduction to local politics, which was valuable because a lot of what we study at the law school is at the state or national level,” he says. 

In his speech, Liebler plans to focus on “the funny aspects of law school that we’ll talk about in 10-20 years,” he notes. “We all have different experiences, but the funny aspects are common to everyone. And though they may have seemed difficult at the time, I think they were actually part of a brilliant strategy by the professors to turn us into the lawyers they want us to be.” 

After graduating, Liebler will work for Allston & Bird LLP in the firm’s Atlanta office. “I was impressed by the number of Washington University law grads there. Jenifer Keenan, JD ’96, was my interviewer, and she took me under her wing, as did about five other Wash U alumni,” he says. 

Timothy J. Fox, Spring 2014