Navigating Law School: Insights and Wisdom from Distinguished AUWCL Alumni

A Reflective Panel Discussion and Words of Guidance for First-Year Law Students

Judge Zubari Williams '03 (left), Fatema Merchant '08 (second from left), Dean Roger A. Fairfax Jr. (middle), Erica Gerson '04 (second from right), and Jamie Abrams '02 (right)

Welcome Week for first-year law students at American University Washington College of Law started with a panel of four AUWCL alumni reflecting on their time as law school students and offering words of encouragement and advise to the Class of 2026.  

Dean Roger A. Fairfax Jr. kicked off the first full day of a busy orientation week for the new law students with a fireside chat, welcoming Erica Gerson ‘04, Fatema Merchant ‘08, Professor Jamie Abrams ‘02, and Judge Zuberi Williams ‘03, to Claudio Grossman Hall to speak with the gathered 1Ls.  

Gerson '04, Merchant '08, Abrams '02, and Williams '03 listen to Dean Roger A. Fairfax begin the first full day of orientation for the class of 2026.

The distinguished alumni recounted their own journeys that led them to law school, the paths their careers have taken since they graduated from AUWCL, and what advice they wish they had been given during their respective orientations. 

Erica Gerson, who is a partner at Steptoe here in Washington, DC, told students that it was okay to not know exactly what they wanted to do with their careers, and to use the opportunities at AUWCL to figure out which area of law they want to focus on. 

Erica Gerson '04 shares a story with incoming first year law students.

“Be patient with yourself,” she said. “If you commit, hunker down, and you’re just focused on that one thing, you might miss a whole sea of opportunities that could be really satisfying.” 

Making the most of the coming opportunities was a theme for several of the speakers.  

Zuberi Williams, one of the youngest judges appointed to the Maryland district court, relayed the reason his parents moved to the DC area: there were better opportunities here than elsewhere. He encouraged the students to make the most of the opportunities before them, and to ensure that the people that come after them have opportunities, too. 

“Opportunity is the oxygen of each one of your futures,” said Williams.

Judge Zubari Williams '03 offers words of advice to incoming 1Ls.

“The number of opportunities that are going to be had in the private sector, the public sector, agency work, academic work. All that I ask is that as you go forward, ignite the opportunity at the back end.” 

Jamie Abrams, the director of the legal rhetoric program at AUWCL, reminded students to live in the moment and make the most of their time while in school to build lasting connections and friendships. 

“Be present in the moment,” she advised.

Jamie Abrams '02 gives speaks at Dean Fairfax's fireside chat.

“You can already feel it during orientation. We’re talking about your first job, about how you’re going to pass the bar. We’re talking about things that are far out, it can be easy to lose the joy in the moment of whatever conversations you’ll have with over lunch, talking to your classmates, finding out wherever they’re from, getting their story. Be present, get to know your classmates.” 

Fatema Merchant, a co-managing partner of Shepard Mullin’s Washington, DC office, reminded students that the legal profession is a tight-nit community, and your character matters to your fellow future colleagues. 

Fatema Merchant '08 speaks to incoming 1Ls.

“You do want to make sure, no matter what, when your name comes up in any context, the response should be ‘she’s an excellent lawyer’ or ‘he’s an excellent lawyer, and they’re an excellent person,” said Merchant. “You’re getting recognition for your lawyering and how you treat people. Approach every interaction with kindness. It’s so important because you never know when you’re going to be across the table from someone as apposing council, or in a deal with them, asking them for a job.” 

See more orientation photos here.

Story by Brice Helms.