Lyndsey McDivitt, Class of 2023

Lyndsey McDivitt didn’t expect to discover that litigation was her calling during her first year of law school. Her fear of public speaking had persisted since high school, when she had so dreaded the prospect of delivering the class salutatorian speech at her graduation that she briefly considered purposely making a bad grade. Lyndsey got through the speech and attended Mississippi State University, where she graduated summa cum laude with a degree in finance. When she decided to earn a law degree, she envisioned working as an appellate lawyer rather than a front-line litigator. 

When the first-year Mock Trial competition was announced, “I decided to push myself out of my comfort zone,” she recalls, “and Mock Trial was a low-stakes way for me to gain experience and confidence. I discovered I really enjoyed courtroom advocacy and wanted to be a litigator.” 

As a 2L, Lyndsey honed her litigation skills in the Bass Berry & Sims Moot Court competition and her writing skills by joining the staff of the Vanderbilt Journal of Transactional Law. After graduation in May, she will clerk for Judge Camille McMullen on the Tennessee Court of Appeals. She then plans to work as a public defender, having confirmed her desire to focus on public defense by working in internships with the Nashville Defenders and the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office in her hometown, Memphis. 

“I connected with attorneys at the Shelby County Defender’s Office during my 1L year through a virtual meet-and-greet Career Services sponsored. My internships there and with the Nashville Defenders during my 3L year were a great way to apply everything I learned in my courses to actual practice and make the transition from law student to attorney easier,” she said. 

Lyndsey also confirmed her interest in public advocacy by working for a law firm in summer 2022. “I liked the firm and the people but realized my real passion is for public defense,” she said. “I’ve always had an interest in criminal law and a passion for social justice, and both grew significantly during law school at Vanderbilt. I’m committed to using my education to ensure individuals charged with crimes receive zealous representation regardless of their ability to pay.” 

She had begun applying for permanent public defense positions when her Career Services advisor contacted her about a clerkship opening with the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals in Memphis. “It was a good fit for my career goals, and I’m excited about what I’ll learn as a clerk,” she said 

When Lyndsey considered law schools, she chose Vanderbilt because of its academic rigor and location. “I knew I could receive an excellent education at Vanderbilt in a place where I would enjoy spending three years. I prioritized finding a student culture that wasn’t unnecessarily competitive in a city that offered opportunities to have a life outside of school. I valued Vanderbilt’s small class sizes, and every student I spoke to made me feel the community was supportive and friendly,” she said. 

During her 2L and 3L years, she focused on criminal law and social justice electives. She believes her Criminal Practice Clinic with Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs Susan Kay has prepared her well for the work of a public defender. “Working under Dean Kay’s supervision in the clinic taught me how to be a lawyer in ways no other internship or coursework could have,” she said. “Instead of representing my first client on my own after passing the bar, I was guided by a criminal defense expert with decades of experience. Dean Kay allowed us the freedom to build relationships with our clients, draft motions, and question witnesses while providing helpful feedback to ensure we provided our clients the best representation. I gained invaluable experience and confidence in my advocacy skills.”