Why Being a Law Student Is Kind of Like Being an English Major

Middle school is usually the time to ask the important career questions. What course should you take in college? What’s a “dream job”? What’s a practical career path?

As middle school students are in online school during the pandemic, you’re probably left alone with your thoughts and these questions. There are popular answers like “become a lawyer” and then there are the lesser encourage courses like the liberal arts. What if somebody tells you that you can have both?

Pre-law has no specific courses, but people often push English and other liberal arts majors to proceed to law school. For someone who knows close to nothing, it barely makes sense. Legal jargons are not part of fiction and poetry.

When you come to think of it, the things that you do as an English major and as a law student are kind of the same. Both courses need a lot of reading and a lot of writing. Both will give you a pile of paperwork at the end of the day and maybe even a box of scratch papers when you graduate.

It’s a Lot of Reading

One phrase English majors commonly hear is “Read, read, read, and read some more.” Through reading, you’ll gain more knowledge about literature and writing. The same goes for law school, except it’s implied because if you don’t read, you’ll most probably cry in class.

As an English major, you’re tasked to read every kind of creative writing out there. Sometimes, they can be the most difficult stories, like the postmodern headache that is Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov. You’ll never know what goes on in a writer’s head, so reading requirements can catch you off-guard.

In law school, you’re bombarded by books you can use in your workout. Some professors only use those as secondary resources because professors prescribe specific legal cases for students to read. These legal cases illustrate the application of the law in real-life situations, compared to only studying it in theory from a textbook. Cases can be as short as 20 pages, and it can only go up from there.

Analyzing and Connecting the Dots

Of course, after reading you have to understand everything. For English majors, they need to analyze why elements are used the way they are in the story. Law students, on the other hand, piece the cases together to understand the law.

The common course of action after reading is literary analysis. Who are the characters? What happened? Why did it happen? These questions are easy because you only have to look at the text to find the answers.

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The contextual analysis is where the fun starts. This is where literary theory encourages the reader to be political. When analyzing The Handmaid’s Tale, for example, you’re not only looking at the plot but also at the power dynamics of men and women in this dystopian society. The analysis, then, becomes a feminist critique of the novel. Other contextual analyses are based on queer, socioeconomic, and postcolonial theories where the critic analyzes representation, oppression, and the like.

Students in law school need to understand the cases to the core because of the grilling that could happen in class. Most law schools employ the Socratic Method. In this kind of teaching, students are cold-called to answer the questions of the professor until they reach the overarching theme of the discussion.

It’s a tense exchange in class, so it’s best to come to class prepared for every question possible. What are the facts of the case? What laws are used? How did the Judge arrive at their ruling? These are the basic points to remember when reading a case—not to mention the professor’s addenda to shake your ground.

Papers, Papers, Papers

There is no doubt that both courses need writing. An English major needs to write their literary criticism. In creative writing, they need to pass short stories, poems, scripts, and essays as part of their requirements. Other professors give page limits while others don’t.

In exams, they’re tasked to explain concepts such as literary theories. They need to do these concisely while presenting evidence like quoting the theorist or the work itself. Law school exams are almost parallel to this. Where you have a legal opinion, you also need a legal basis to win your argument.

Law school exams usually present “hypotheticals,” or fictional scenarios where students are required to apply the law. From the legal cases and the patterns they present about how laws are applied, students learn how to think like a lawyer by using that knowledge in their argument.

So English majors and law students pass their classes by writing compelling papers. Needless to say, both courses need good grammar and command of the language—paired with the patience for reading and an analytical mind.

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