Holly Rasheed was one of only five students in the University of Virginia’s Class of 2013 to graduate at age 19. She walked the Lawn to receive a B.A. in English, then headed off to law school.
When she graduated from the University of Richmond School of Law, she became the youngest attorney in the state of Virginia at the time.
Rasheed’s interest in the law began in the fourth grade, when the Staunton native enrolled in the UVA Curry School of Education’s Saturday Enrichment Program, which offers gifted K-5 students courses in topics they may not be exposed to in a regular classroom.
Rasheed entered Blue Ridge Community College at 16, earned both a GED and her associate’s degree at 17, and enrolled at UVA as a third-year student.
At 23, with her bachelor’s and law degrees in hand, she became an assistant commonwealth’s attorney in Augusta County and now spends her days in court prosecuting a variety of cases.
This month, UVA Today caught up with Rasheed to find out the details of her experience as a young student on Grounds and as the commonwealth’s youngest prosecutor.
Q. How was your UVA experience as such a young student?
A. It was definitely different. It was my first time away from home, which is always a huge change for anyone. I had friends who I had gone to school with who were coming in as first-year students, so that was a little weird, because we were sharing some experiences, but there were also some differences. For example, I had to know my first week here what my major was going to be. There were also some places and social events I couldn’t attend, but if anything, I think that also helped me focus on academics.
Q. What is the focus of your current job and what led you to choose that?
A. I primarily prosecute juvenile and domestic cases, as well as traffic and misdemeanors, but I am also starting to do more felonies. I really love my job; it’s exciting.
You get to work and you never know what kind of cases you’ll get or what’s going to happen, or you never know what people are going to say in court. Even if you plan out a case as much as you can, it’s not necessarily going to go the way you think it is. I love being in court.
Q. Do you ever feel self-conscious of your age in court or at your practice?
A. I have definitely felt conscious of my age, especially when it became public knowledge that I was the youngest prosecutor. But most people don’t treat me differently.
I think I noticed an age difference more in law school than in actual practice. In law school, I was the youngest in my class and I did not want anybody to know at first. But law school is so small that everyone found out pretty quickly.
There is something called Barrister’s Ball, which is kind of like prom for law students, and I wasn’t allowed to go my first year since I was the only student under 21. So that was kind of funny.
Q. How did an English degree prepare you for your career today?
A. My English degree really prepared me for law school and for actual practice because I had to write so much. In actual practice, and in law school, I have to write appeal briefs, and just being able to write well and articulate my thoughts has been so important.
UVA has an excellent English department and when I started law school and was taking all my law classes, I really missed the discussions in my English classes.
Beyond just the writing, I think that with English, there is a lot you learn about people simply because you’re reading so many works and you’re taking a variety of classes, so I think that’s helped, too.
I think people totally underestimate what you can do with a liberal arts degree. I hate that feeling when someone comes to you and they hear you’re an English major and say, “What are you going to do with that?” They always assume you’re going to be a teacher.
Q. Did any particular UVA professors or experiences have a powerful impact on you?
A. I did not have a single professor I disliked at UVA. I found UVA professors to just be very encouraging. You can tell they want to be here, and just that they’re so passionate about the subject matter.
I am so glad I took Professor David O’Brien’s “Constitutional Interpretation” classes because they prepared for me law school more than any class I took at UVA. He encouraged students to write briefs on the Supreme Court cases we studied. I wrote briefs for every case we had and I used every single one of them during my first year in law school.
The other thing is that when I was in college, I was really worried about public speaking – it nearly made me sick to my stomach. But the biggest thing that helped me with that was the Undergraduate Moot Court team. There were about 12 or 14 of us, and we would do appellate arguments, and I learned a lot from that. I had never read a Supreme Court opinion start-to-finish until I started getting involved with Moot Court, and it completely took me out of my comfort bubble.
Q. Do you have any advice to give to UVA students interested in a career in law?
A. I didn’t realize until I was a law student how many types of different jobs there are. Whether you go to law school or not, if you want to work in the legal field, there are so many different things you can do. With a law degree, not everyone becomes a practicing attorney, and even if you do, there are transactional attorneys and litigators.
I think that if I could do it all again, I would have had some sort of additional experience between college and law school. I think it’s a benefit to people who take at least a year or a few years to get some experience. I interned at the prosecutor’s office, so I knew about criminal law but I didn’t have much context with civil law, and I think it would have made more sense if I had seen it in practice a little more.