The Department of English celebrates and highlights the achievements of alumni as they find careers with their degrees. This week, Anna Martin, a current law student, discusses how her degree in Literature has prepared her for her career path.
What is your current job? What does that job entail?
Currently I am in law school and planning on graduating in December (I missed a semester because of a car accident). Two things that you do a lot of in law school is read and write. Unfortunately, what you’re reading and writing is much drier than the novels you are studying in college.
While I don’t want to be too detailed (because, you know, confidentiality and all), I will say that the most interesting thing I am doing right now is trying to get two domestic abuse victims off of parole. I am also hoping to work with the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence this summer, which both discusses policy changes that Missouri should implement regarding Sexual Harassment in the workplace and keeps track of sexual assault laws and publishes about them on a monthly basis
How has your degree helped in your current position?
The very first thing I want to talk about (so as to end on a positive note) is how my English background has made things more difficult for me in law school. The first thing that any English major needs to know about legal authors is that they are awful and writing, but believe they are not. The closest thing I can relate attorney drafts to is the second section of The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner. There are too many words being used to say nothing at all. Every once in a while, though, you will read an opinion that is incredibly well done (my favorite is Justice Robert Jackson’s opinion in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette).
A lot of the questions that English students analyze in class about why a current event, character, or phrase is relevant does help in understanding the “harder” concepts, such as Constitutional Law. This is the silver lining to the fact that it is incredibly hard to forget the social landscape and motivations of parties in classes like Contracts, Property, or Civil Procedure. This becomes particularly difficult on the LSAT, where you are supposed to take the reading section at face value (ironically, that was my lowest section).
Personally, the most helpful aspect of my English degree was my ability to write. In law school, I have been published in the University of Wisconsin’s Journal on Gender, Society, and the Law. Currently, I am writing a 60-page paper on the history of the Feminist Movement and the Law (it’s a bit more complex than that, but it sixty pages, so I won’t bore you with it here). I have co-authored a 20-page paper comparing Comfort Women and Japanese Internment Camps during WWII, and I am currently writing about the necessity of Federal Regulations for Sex Education in America.
My analytical methods were honed by by teachers like Matt, Lanya, and Professor Madden (for whom I wrote and presented a paper requiring me to go through the book Walden Too and count every line said by a woman—interesting book, but I probably wouldn’t recommend it to anyone wanting a bit of light reading). In fact, Matt actually helped me craft my personal statement and wrote a reference for me that got me into law school. Further, being able to speak with English Faculty about concerns helped me work on my networking skills, which are a huge deal in the legal field.
What advice do you have for current English majors/minors who are looking to do something similar to what you do?
I am writing this a few weeks before finals, which are are generally the entirety of your grade in law school, so it is my duty as a law student to say, “DO NOT GO TO LAW SCHOOL!!!!” But, honestly, I would say that the important things to remember about college when you’re looking to go to law school after you graduate, is to remember that college is more than about what you learn in the classroom.
Mo State’s English faculty is made up of several men and women who can help you in areas you never even imagined by just being them. Yes, you will learn how to analyze, and write, and discuss your thoughts in a classroom setting. However, do not forget less emphasized aspects of college—creating mutual respect among peers and professors being a major skill that I learned at MSU. You’d be amazed with how terrified some people become by the thought of having to send an email to a professor or boss. I’ve been asked to make sure an email “sounds okay” more time than I care to count.
Other things that people told me to do (unfortunately, a little later than I could do them), see if you can take a Philosophy class on logic before taking the LSAT, it’s apparently super helpful. Also, if you hate the LSAT, that doesn’t necessarily mean you will hate law school, because the LSAT and law school are incredibly different.
Finally, I want to encourage people who are looking at going to law school to figure out why and to read a case relating to that field before you pay the thousands of dollars to go. I love constitutional law, so I really like the Barnette case mentioned earlier. If you think you might like contracts, there’s a case about whether a burrito is a sandwich you might like. Torts, pretty much all of them (Torts is just another word for “personal injury” so a lot of those cases are fun).
I did pretty poorly during my first year in law school, I wasn’t sure whether I should continue when I thought a lot of the material was boring and I didn’t excel academically like I’m so used to doing. However, I took Constitutional Law my second year, and I found what I really enjoyed. A lot of people go to law school without knowing what they want to do, which is fine! However, having some idea might help you do some pre-law-school- research (or “presearch”) and find out if this is really something you want to do for the next three years of your life.