After earning his undergraduate degree from Rhodes College, Matthew Washnock worked for two years at Benefit Recovery Group, a Memphis-based company that recovers medical liens for large, employer-funded healthcare plans administered by its Fortune 500 clients. The job involved working with lawyers and insurance professionals and introduced him to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, a complex set of regulations governing employee benefits. “It was a great preparation for law school,” he said.
Washnock chose Vanderbilt over the other eight law schools to which he applied because it ranked well in all the categories most important to him: quality of life, clerkship placement, job prospects after graduation, and the scholarly impact of the faculty. “I received some good advice about choosing the right school,” he said. “The best probably came from by brother-in-law, George Stevens ’14. He told me law school is going to be challenging no matter where you go, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyable. Find a place where the students are genuinely happy that also places well for the kind of jobs you want. To me, Vandy is the rare law school where you don’t have to choose between a friendly, supportive community and stellar professional outcomes. We all want each other to succeed, and I think it shows.”
An interview with Gary Peebles ’10, a civil litigation associate at Burch Porter Johnson in Memphis, also helped confirm Washnock’s choice. “Talking to Gary definitely helped me pick Vanderbilt,” Washnock said. “He was incredibly accessible and genuinely interested in getting to know me. I could tell that he loved his time at Vanderbilt, which was really important to me.”
Washnock focused on international studies as an undergraduate and cites the strength of Vanderbilt’s International Legal Studies Program as another factor behind his decision. “The practice of law is so global these days that I thought it essential to go to a law school with a strong international law program,” he said. As a 2L, Washnock joined the staff of the Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, and he is currently serving as its Editor in Chief.
One of his most memorable classroom experiences came during his 2L year in Professor Mike Newton’s International Law Practice Lab. “We were doing work for the Kurdish referendum in Iraq, and we had the opportunity to have a client meeting with the Kurdish delegation to present our findings and discuss strategy,” he recalled. “As a second-year law student, the ability to meet with clients is rare enough, but the opportunity to help leaders pursue democracy across the world was unforgettable.”
Washnock knew he wanted to pursue a clerkship and applied to work for then District Court Judge Marvin Quattlebaum, a fellow Rhodes College alumnus, in his hometown of Greenville, South Carolina. After he accepted Judge Quattlebaum’s offer, the judge was confirmed to a seat on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is where Washnock will serve his clerkship next year. “Vanderbilt’s clerkship program was really invaluable in helping me put together my applications,” he said. “Professor [Michael] Bressman directs the program, and he made himself available 24 hours a day via email to answer questions.” He also received mentoring and support during the application process from Professors Tracy George, Robert Mikos and Barbara Rose.
Washnock worked for the white-collar criminal defense and government investigations practice group at King & Spalding after his 2L year and hopes to focus on that area with the firm after completing his clerkship. “I liked the international nature of the practice, the complex issues, and potential to interact with clients from all over the world,” he said. “On any given day, you may have to travel for an investigation or help clients make sense of new and confusing government regulations. The work is fast-paced and diverse, which I find exciting.”