When Claudia Stantzyk-Guzek and her partner, Emily Grand ’19, won the 2018 Bass Berry & Sims Moot Court Competition, their victory was the culmination of more than five months of work and six rounds of competition. “Experiences like Moot Court and working on a journal enhance your skills and help you put things you’ve learned into practice,” Stantzyk-Guzek said. “Arguing in front of actual Circuit Court judges was one of the most unique and rewarding experiences I’ve had in law school so far.”
Stantzyk-Guzek decided to consider a career in law after interning with a small law firm during college. “One of the partners said, ‘I really think you should consider law school,’” she recalled.
Vanderbilt was one of 14 schools to which she applied; she decided to attend during the Admitted Students program. “Vanderbilt just felt right,” she said. “I could see myself making a lot of friends and really enjoying my time here. The professors were engaged, interesting and fun, and I liked the students I met. I knew Vanderbilt was highly ranked, and it was also on my radar because of its amazing location and high clerkship ranking. Once I sensed I would like the people here, the choice was clear.”
Stantzyk-Guzek enjoyed her first-year classes, which introduced basic legal concepts. “First-year professors are incredibly dedicated and engaging, and genuinely interested in their students,” she said. “They also interact with students outside the classroom – for example, Professor Tracey George took my entire Torts class to a women’s basketball game my 1L spring.”
In addition to entering the Moot Court Competition as a 2L, Stantzyk-Guzek joined the staff of the Environmental Law and Policy Annual Review; she is one of ELPAR’s articles editor this year. The journal, published annually, offers a compendium of the best scholarly articles published on environmental law and policy topics the previous year. Stantzyk-Guzek was interested in the topic and liked the staff structure. “It’s a student-run journal with a relatively small staff supervised by two faculty members, and it is really interesting because so many members of Vanderbilt’s faculty are experts in various aspects of environmental law, which really helps us make our selections,” she explained.
Stantzyk-Guzek majored in public relations at the University of Florida, and her biggest learning curve was learning how to study law. “I had to get comfortable applying my background in public relations writing to the analytical mindset and critical thinking you do in law classes,” she said. She advises students to develop their own study habits and not to worry if those differ from other students. “Do what works for you,” she said. “If I’m the last one in the library, I’m the last one. If my outline is 10 times longer than anyone else’s, that’s OK too.”
She has learned from students as well as faculty. “Sitting in class you realize you are being taught by some of the most brilliant people you’ve ever met, but then outside of class they are so approachable and invested in their students as people,” she said. “And the students here are nerds in the best sense of the word. We genuinely like to engage in class and in the reading. That’s one of the best things about graduate school–we’re all here because we are actually interested learning the law and preparing for our future, and that’s reflected in the intellectual climate at Vanderbilt. People are hard workers, and take law school seriously. But at the same time they don’t take themselves too seriously, which makes for a great environment overall.”