Student Spotlight: Matt Winesett ’24

Winesett is a finalist in the 2024 Harlan Fiske Stone Moot Court Competition.

Man standing at a podium

Before law school, Matt Winesett ’24 worked at the American Enterprise Institute, where he was an editor and researcher and helped draft essays, speeches, and op-eds. Here, the Harlan Fiske Stone Moot Court Competition finalist talks about his professional experience and his time as a Columbia Law School student.

Hometown: Centreville, Virginia

Education: B.A. in history and political philosophy, policy, and law at the University of Virginia

Before Columbia Law: Research and communications roles, primarily at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.

At Columbia Law: James Kent Scholar; notes editor, Columbia Journal of Law & Social Problems; research assistant, Betts Professor of Law Jessica Bulman-Pozen and Maurice & Hilda Friedman Professor of Law Philip Hamburger; teaching assistant, Professor of Law Kellen R. Funk and Associate Professor of Law and Milton Handler Fellow Talia Gillis; Columbia Law School Federalist Society board member 

What’s Next: Winesett will be clerking for Judge Jerry E. Smith of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and then Judge Carl J. Nichols of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia before joining Kellogg, Hansen, Todd, Figel & Frederick in Washington, D.C..

Tell us about your time at the American Enterprise Institute.

I didn’t know much about the D.C. think-tank scene, but, in hindsight, it was the perfect place. I got paid to continue doing what I was doing as an undergraduate student: a lot of writing and research. And I think that helped with law school down the line.

Tell us about some of your most interesting classes at Columbia Law.

I’m currently taking my second First Amendment class. If I graduate law school without being able to speak intelligently about the free speech and religious liberty debates going on in our country—which every person on the street wants to talk about—then I feel like I’ve done myself a disservice.

I’m also taking a transnational law class because, as a summer associate, I worked on cases with complex international and jurisdictional questions. 

What were the cases about?

One involved art that was expropriated from a German museum during the Nazi era, passed through several pairs of hands, and now hangs in an American museum. Another is a complex bankruptcy in which the firm represented an international party trying to recover money while a U.S. judge ordered all parties anywhere in the world to stop trying to recover the money.

What do you like most about the community at Columbia Law School?

Every faculty interaction I’ve had has been great. Maybe my one regret is not getting to know all of my professors better. I’m also part of the Federalist Society, and I’ve made a lot of good friends through that as well.

What have you enjoyed the most about the Harlan Fiske Stone Moot Court Competition?

I enjoy the brief-writing process a lot. I thought standing up and arguing would be intimidating, but oral arguments have been far more fun than I expected. Once judges start peppering you with questions, you don’t have time to be nervous.

What’s been special about attending law school in New York City?

My civil procedure professor, Sarah Cleveland, told us that we should get out and experience New York. She said if she cold-called us in class, and we had been to the opera the night before, we could get out of answering. A bunch of us took her up on that. She called on me, and I held up my playbill. She just smiled and asked me about the opera.

I have a friend who speaks Russian, and, when he wants to practice, we go to a Russian restaurant in Brighton Beach. I feel like that’s the type of thing you can only do in New York. 

What advice do you have for people considering law school?

People act like law school is horribly difficult. I feel like I heard way too often, “Don’t go to law school if you’re not 100% sure you want to be a lawyer.” I think I would have gone a lot sooner if I had heard countervailing advice. I actually think it’s a lot of fun.