As did most of the other alumni profiled for this issue, Jana had aimed for a legal career well before college. She says: “History had always been the area that interested me most academically, but I also did not have any desire to be in the education or research fields (although of course, there’s an almost infinite number of things you can do with a history degree). Given that I enjoyed reading and writing, I settled on law without knowing too much about it.”
One particular parallel Jana draws between being an undergraduate history major and, now, a law student, is simply that she genuinely enjoys the subjects she has taken in each. She reflects: “To me, history and law have always seemed to be adjacent – even when the legal system of a past civilization isn’t explicitly discussed in a class or a book, its presence can be felt shaping events and consequences, and I always found that really exciting.”
However, one significant difference she notes is that the structure of academic work, assignments, and the like in law school contrasts significantly with undergraduate liberal arts study. “As an undergraduate, I encountered tests, papers, and other assignments regularly in almost all of my classes, whereas in law school there are very few classes that assign more than one or two exercises over the semester in addition to a final. In law school, finals are something I start thinking about almost immediately – not necessarily studying for the test in September, but doing my class preparation with an eye towards eventually taking my final. I have also come to value my time away from studying more because of the increased time I need to devote to deliberate studying. Instead of zoning out on the computer after homework like in undergrad, I like to have specific ways to spend my free time, like meeting up with friends or reading a book for fun, and I plan that time into my days.”
Jana see the advantage of a history major for subsequent law school is its emphasis upon research and writing – which she honed, among other things, by taking a graduate-level course in English legal history cross-listed with Catholic University’s law school when she was a junior – but cautions that the transition to legal writing is a significant one. “Being a history major gives you the opportunity to analyze large amounts of research, generally with an eye to supporting or detracting from a conclusion. I think the practicality of history gives it an advantage with this skill over other humanities disciplines which also conduct a lot of textual analysis, such as English – history translates to law in a very natural way because both of them are disciplines that ultimately study human behavior and the systems that uphold and regulate our lives. The letter of the law is extremely important, but so is context and purpose, which is a significant part of the study of history and something I think really prepared me to thoroughly understand legal theory.
“I think taking courses that give history students the opportunity to do research and write papers supporting their conclusions is a more valuable skill for preparing for law school than any particular history class is. Courses that genuinely interested me were the ones that got me to write papers with arguments I was actually passionate about, and caring about your argument makes writing a paper much easier – and the more practice you have arguing for a conclusion, the easier it will be to defend a conclusion that maybe you don’t feel as strongly for or against, which is a big part of law school.
“However, the most challenging aspect of the transition to law school was translating my humanities writing skills into legal writing, which I expected. Legal writing is unlike any other discipline, so there isn’t a good way to prepare for it, but I think getting good at articulating your thoughts and arguments in history classes will make it easier to transfer those skills once in law school.”
Considering how she would advise current students, Jana acknowledges the significance of internship and job opportunities of the sort that Catholic University’s location in Washington affords to undergraduates contemplating a legal career, but is careful to emphasize the priority of academic excellence as preparation for life as a law student. “Because I always planned to go to law school and not to pursue history as a career throughout the whole of my time as an undergraduate, I didn’t pursue internships or work experience in the history field during college. When it came time to apply to 1L summer jobs, I was aware many of my classmates had more experience interning and working, even if it wasn’t in the legal field.
“I think pursuing a few off-campus interning opportunities throughout my time at CUA would have been beneficial to gain experience, but at the same time, I don’t regret not doing so too much because it was nice to have some more free time in undergrad than I do now, and especially as someone who did not take any time between undergrad and law school I think I am more equipped to handle the work I have to do now because I wasn’t going at a frantic pace for the last four years as well. So I would have more awareness of opportunities around me and how they might relate to my law school career—but I would still want to pace myself and be aware of my personal timeline for school and where my energy can be best spent versus conserved.”