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Ashley Stephens is heading to a federal clerkship

Ashley Stephens '22 talks about her upcoming federal clerkship and how to succeed in law school.

WVU Law student Ashley Stephens hiking

Meet Ashley Stephens

Ashley is from Cross Lanes, West Virginia, a small town on the outskirts of Charleston. She earned her B.S. degree in biology from WVU in 2019. As an undergraduate, she worked as a Patient Family Liaison for WVU Hospitals and a Pediatric Volunteer for Charleston Area Medical Center. As a law student, she held two summer clerk positions at Bowles Rice LLP, served as president of the Health Law Society, and was executive publications editor of the West Virginia Law Review (Vol. 124). 

Who will you be clerking for, and why did you want to be a clerk?

After graduation, I will clerk for the Honorable Judge Stephanie D. Thacker (WVU Law Class of 1990) at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Charleston, West Virginia. I knew that I wanted to spend my first year after law school clerking in federal court because the breadth of experience one gets as a law clerk, from civil to criminal matters, is unmatched. 

At the appellate level, the role of a law clerk is primarily research and writing, two skills that are crucial to success as a practicing attorney. The opportunity to work directly with an experienced judge who can offer invaluable insight and mentorship, coupled with a chance to become a more efficient and effective legal writer, was appealing. 

What appealed to you about working for Judge Thacker?

Before starting law school, I had the opportunity to listen to Judge Thacker speak on the Women’s Leadership Council’s "Women on the Bench" panel. I was not only inspired by her path to the federal bench but by the fortitude and grace with which she talked about handling complex legal issues and her commitment to public service. 

I definitively decided to apply for a position in Judge Thacker’s chambers after speaking with the Honorable Judge Frank W. Volk (WVU Law Class of 1992) — my professor for Torts 2 and Federal Civil Rights and a federal district court judge for the Southern District of West Virginia) about clerkship opportunities in Charleston. He expressed such enthusiasm and admiration for Judge Thacker’s work and chambers etiquette that I felt pursuing a federal clerkship following graduation was the perfect way to start my legal career.

Why do you want to be a lawyer?

My main interests in the law revolve around health care, public health policy and civil rights. While an undergrad, I had the opportunity to volunteer with Global Medical Brigades, an international community and economic development nonprofit. It was through this experience that I saw the extraordinary power that public policy and the law have on culture and community.

I had the opportunity to work alongside and learn from trained masons and health professionals as we constructed sanitation infrastructures and developed community-wide public health education initiatives in rural areas of Nicaragua and Honduras. The similarities I witnessed between these communities and the ones in Appalachia were striking and somewhat unexpected. I would never have imagined that the suffering in a resource-reduced region of the world could parallel what was occurring in my own community. 

The people of Nicaragua faced many of the same injustices I watched happening at home—inaccessibility to necessary medical resources, economic disparities, and a nonexistent viable political identity. My time with Global Brigades allowed me to see firsthand the intersections between public health, social justice, and law. It transformed my personal vision of health care and the medical industry.

WVU Law student Ashley Stephens and friends

Ashley Stephens (right) with West Virginia Law Review friends and colleagues Kait Akers (center) and Mary Williams

What was your favorite law school class?

If I had to choose, my favorite course in law school was Torts. Professor Weishart was my first-year torts professor.

Walking into law school, I had no idea what a “tort” was. I learned that tort law protects and compensates people who have been wrongfully injured. Essentially, tort law helps define the boundaries of everyday human interaction by legitimizing the basic expectation that each of us will act in a manner that avoids causing harm to others and attaching consequences to the failure to do so. 

The first year of law school can be extremely challenging, so I really enjoyed having a class that examined how the law treats certain harms that each of us sees almost daily, whether it be on the news, on social media, or just throughout the course of everyday life. The complexity of the (sometimes outrageous) fact patterns made learning tort law fun, and getting to talk about and figure out the mechanics of these wild cases with my entire class of 100+ people at the very start of law school made the transition into law school much easier.

A couple of the torts cases that stick out to me are  Price v. Blaine Kern Artista, Inc. and  Grimshaw v. Ford Motor Company. In Price, the plaintiff was injured when pushed down while wearing an oversized George W. Bush facemask. Grimshaw is the infamous exploding Ford Pinto case.

What advice would you give to law students?

I think it’s super important to remember that there is no single path to success! My best advice would be to do whatever you need to maintain your sanity. Unless I had a major assignment or paper due, I never did schoolwork on Saturdays. Rather, I took that time to visit with my friends and family, hang out with non-law school people, get outside, see a movie, cook a delicious meal, enjoy a glass of wine, or even just sleep. 

I also like to create an “exam strategy” for each final. Typically, a professor will give you a midterm or practice problems or at least let you know what the general structure of the exam will be well before the actual exam. I try to think ahead of time how I plan to tackle each problem. 

For example, if I know there will be a mix of multiple-choice and essay questions on an exam, I like to read over the essays first and then try to answer the multiple-choice questions before returning to write my essays. This is helpful because sometimes, answer choices in the multiple-choice questions remind me of things I should add to my essays. It also gives me time to think and identify the parts of the essay questions I want to attempt first so I can knock them out quickly and which parts may be more difficult or require more time.

WVU Law student Ashley Stephens in front of the Stephens City, Va. sign

Ashley's ancestor founded Stephens City, Va. She is holding her cat, Fishstick.

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