B.A. in English, 2016
Any other degrees:
J.D. (Juris Doctor), 2019, University of Mississippi School of Law
Favorite memories of being an undergraduate English major:
Dr. Claggett once gave me a “Check Plus Plus” on a paper and my soul temporarily left my body. I still have that essay somewhere, possibly framed.
Holcomb Law Group
When you graduated with a degree in English from MSU, what were your plans for your future? Has your career path mostly realized those early plans, or have you discovered new plans and goals along the way?
Law school was a last-minute thing for me. I took the LSAT at the last minute, applied at the last minute, submitted my acceptance at the last minute. My initial plan had been to get my Master’s in English, so I ended up in Oxford largely by the seat of my pants.
While I was in law school, I interned for the Indigent Appeals Division at the Office of the State Public Defender. Then I did some justice court stuff with North Mississippi Rural Legal Services. After law school, I worked in bankruptcy, then in child support enforcement, and now I’m doing insurance defense.
What is your current occupation, and what does your work mostly consist of?
I’m currently working as an Associate Attorney at Holcomb Law Group in Oxford, Mississippi. It’s the first post-law school job where I really feel like I’m learning something new every day and growing into my profession. We primarily do insurance defense, but the work we do touches on everything from personal injury, to family law, to wills and estates. There’s a lot to absorb in litigation, so every day has been a learning experience. I’m enjoying it a lot.
Which skills that you learned as an English major do you use most in your job?
Writing. Writing, writing, writing. Did I mention writing? Writing. It turns out that obsessing over drafts of your critical essay on Dombey & Son is a pretty good primer for the legal writing process. At my job, we pass around drafts of legal pleadings like they’re hot potatoes. There’s a lot of back and forth on what works, what doesn’t, what should be added, what should be cut. But at the end of the day, it always starts with you and a blank screen. A B.A. in English is the best tool you can take with you into that endeavor. Researching, drafting, revising – it’s all baked into the profession at a subatomic level.
At State, I took creative writing classes with Becky Hagenston and Michael Kardos. The professors were great, the classes were fun, and you’d be surprised how well fiction writing translate to legal writing – knowing what people respond to and why is a key tool in any drafting project, whether it’s a short story or an appellate brief. There’s no such thing as extraneous writing practice.
What additional skills did you need to learn in order to do your job, and how did you learn them?
I don’t know if this qualifies as a “skill,” but ninety percent of the habits and practices you need to excel in the legal field will come with experience. For example: are you the type of person that brings a notepad with you everywhere you go? If not, then congratulations. You just forgot eleven things.
In all seriousness, learn how to listen. Most of the time, that’ll involve taking notes, asking for clarifications, and offering follow-up questions. Don’t just sit there and nod. Learn how to listen and listen well. If you don’t understand something, speak up. It’s just as true for veteran attorneys as it is for wide-eyed fresh-out-of-law-school baby lawyers.
Are there common misconceptions about your career field, which current English majors might share, that you have learned the truth about?
A big misconception about law in general is that all lawyers are boisterous, confident grandstanders. But actual court is pretty sparse on “You can’t handle the truth!” moments. The fact is that a lot of lawyers hate court and avoid it at all costs, if they can. To put it bluntly: court is boring.
Still, you’d be shocked how many high-profile attorneys still get the pre-trial jitters. Everyone gets them. So if you’re nervous about speaking in public, take comfort in the fact that the person standing across from you isn’t thrilled about it, either. So if you’re not a big public speaker, don’t sweat it.
What advice do you have for undergraduate English majors right now who might want to follow the career path you did?
For English majors in general, the biggest piece of advice I can give you is this: when Shalyn Claggett talks, you listen. I don’t think she’s ever been wrong about anything.
For potential law school students, here’s the big secret: do your nightly readings, but also buy a commercial outline for each class. If you can’t afford to buy one, you can usually find them online for free. The assigned readings explain why certain laws exist, but they don’t always give you the elements. The outlines will tell you what the actual laws and elements are, and that’s what you’ll be tested on. Memorize as you go.
In what ways does your career enrich your life and help you to achieve your personal as well as your professional goals?
Well, I met the love of my life in law school. Now we’re married with a beautiful baby boy, two dogs, and a hilarious amount of student loan debt shared between us. So that’s been a big plus for me, personally.