Jenae Ward spent three years in Montgomery, Alabama, teaching middle school through Teach for America, during which she earned a teaching certificate from Athens State University and Auburn University of Montgomery. But, while Ward enjoyed teaching and coaching girls’ basketball, co-ed soccer and track, she had long set her sights on a career in law.
A native of Mississippi, Ward wanted to stay in the South. She applied to 10 law schools and ultimately chose Vanderbilt because of its strong community. “While academics are very important, I wanted to attend a school with a good community,” she said. “Law school is inherently competitive, but Vanderbilt has a good community that supports you both academically and socially.”
A conversation with Professor Michael Newton at an Admitted Students event helped cement her decision. “I majored in international studies in undergrad, and he spoke highly of Vanderbilt’s International Legal Studies Program,” she said.
As a 2L, Ward took two international law classes, including Professor Newton’s International Law Practice Lab. “It was an amazing experience,” she said. “The practical part of the course required us to work with an international organization or on an international issue. My group’s work involved human rights in Africa. We reviewed case summaries from the African Court of Human Rights, researched the minor death penalty laws and applications in all African countries, and wrote blog posts for the African human rights review website being created by the international human rights attorney we were working with.”
She also joined the staff of the Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment and Technology Law and is serving as an articles editor this year. She is also active in the Black Law Students Association and served as Pro Bono Spring Breaks co-chair for the Law Students for Social Justice, having participated in these trips in both 2017 and 2018. “Being able to work with and serve disadvantaged communities is one of the main reasons why I wanted to pursue a career in law,” she said. “Participating and then leading a Pro Bono Breaks trip helped me better understand how my legal education can benefit the communities I live in. I am extremely lucky to attend Vanderbilt Law School, and it would be a disservice to not work with professors and use what I have learned to give back.”
Ward says she has learned from other students as well as from the faculty. “Vanderbilt has lived up to my academic expectations. I have been pushed and challenged academically while being guided by some truly amazing professors,” she said. “And Vanderbilt students are not just sitting in class to get a good grade, they are truly interested in learning and understanding the concepts and theories we are discussing in class as well as connecting them to issues outside of class in the real world. Professors also encourage students to do this. Some of my favorite times in class are when the professors explore how various issues and elements of the law we have studied in class are being currently used or applied.”
Ward encourages students to get involved in student organizations. “Joining the International Law Society and Law Students for Social Justice allowed me to learn more about these areas of law by attending talks and helping to set up speakers,” she said.
One thing that surprised her during her first year of law school was the importance of regulations. Vanderbilt requires first-year students to take The Regulatory State, a class that introduces administrative law. “I truly did not know or understand the importance of regulations and the regulatory state in our day-to-day lives,” Ward said. “Professor [Kevin] Stack’s Regulatory State course and his Administrative Law class allowed me to delve into this area–one I knew little to nothing about prior to law school.”
Ward plans to join Weil Gotshal & Manges in Dallas, where she worked as an associate in summer 2018, after law school.