Guest Post: Gaining Valuable Experience in Legal Writing

By Michael Chan (English ’14)

I began my undergraduate career as an Architectural Studies major before making the switch to English about halfway into my sophomore year. It wasn’t an easy decision for me to make, but after extensively consulting with family, friends, and several trusted mentors, I was prepared to commit myself to the new program (and to the condensed course load that came with it). What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was UIUC_Chandeciding upon a definitive career path within the next two years.

Throughout my junior year, I met with several professors, advisors, and grad students to discuss the possibility of grad school and to get a better understanding of what an academic career would entail. I also frequented the Career Center to explore alternative career paths outside of academia. I knew that I thoroughly enjoyed research and writing, but I also didn’t want to limit my options—especially since I had only taken a handful of English courses at the time and wasn’t sure if I wanted to dedicate another 6-8 years in pursuit of a Ph.D.

As senior year approached, I decided to look for a job after graduation so that I could gain some practical work experience; this would allow me to spend some time away from academia and to develop my skills as a working professional. After sending out numerous applications, I finally received an offer to work for an immigration law firm as a legal writer. I didn’t have any experience in legal writing, but I viewed this as an opportunity to expand my writing capability. Therefore, I accepted the offer and began my first day of work on November 11, 2014.

As a legal writer, I was responsible for drafting a variety of legal documents that communicated complex and technical information in plain and accessible language (all of these documents followed a customary form and structure that were taught during the training process). I also had to present that information in a compelling light in order to support the rest of the arguments being made for a client’s case. While I’m unable to provide any further details (due to the confidential nature of my work and also at the firm’s request), it’s clear to see that the type of writing I discussed above combines several key aspects of persuasive and argumentative writing (i.e. making a claim, citing supporting evidence to substantiate that claim and to make it more convincing) with technical writing (i.e. translating complex and technical information into more relatable terms for a more general audience). It’s important to note here that legal writing is just a type of technical writing that incorporates certain elements from both of these writing styles to serve a wide range of legal services/areas—immigration law being one of them.

Being an effective communicator is central to any genre, form, or style of writing; the ability to communicate your thoughts, as well as the thoughts of others, in a clear, concise, and effective manner is critical to your overall success as a writer and it is also one of the many skills you develop as an English major. Learning a new type or style of writing can seem daunting – and it will undoubtedly take some time and practice to achieve any sort of proficiency in it – but having a solid foundation of writing experience to draw from will take you much farther along the process. The countless papers that you wrote as an undergrad, the feedback you received on those papers, what you did to improve your writing based on that feedback, the range of elective courses that you took in Creative Writing, Business and Technical Writing, Rhetoric—these all make up your collective writing experience. These are all experiences that can be taken for granted as a student, but they are all imperative to the development of your writing capability.

Working as a legal writer has added significant value to my own writing experience and it has also added a new dimension of practicality to my writing. For any English majors who are interested in obtaining valuable work experience outside of academia (or for those who just need some time away from the books before reconsidering grad school), legal writing is just one of many options for you to consider and explore.

If you would like to reach out to Michael with any additional questions, you can email him directly at chan.michael.08@gmail.com.

Making the Most of the Alumni Connection on LinkedIn

Sometimes, the Department of English Alumni Mentoring Network is not enough. Say you’re interested in a specific industry that isn’t represented there, or you’d like insider information on a particular company or you’re looking to relocate and want to start building a network in your new city. Here’s a useful article on how LinkedIn can help you connect with play-stone-1237497_1920Illinois English alumni beyond our mentoring network.

Not sure how to write to a stranger who just happened to graduate from the same program as you? Consult our guide on how to write a “cold email.

What to Say When Anyone Asks, “What Are you Going to Do with a Degree In English?!?”

options-396267_1920“Oh, I dunno, maybe…UX analysis, law, screenwriting, medicine, public relations, diplomacy, teaching, fundraising, librarianship, grant-writing, journalism, nursing, arts administration, corporate learning and development, human resources, content strategy, video game development, translating and interpreting, television producing, educational technology, corporate recruiting, elective office, publishing, tech customer support, marketing, project management, video editing, SEO, media development, speech pathology, event planning, information science, school administration, public service, business consulting, advertising, nonprofit management…etc.

Every organization or business has problems that can only be solved with words. English and CW majors learn the skills to solve those problems.”

Want to figure out what kinds of problems you want to solve with words? Browse this website! It has lots of resources to help. Sign up for ENGL 199-CPH (Career Planning for Humanities Majors, CRN 50105). Sign up for the Alumni Mentoring Network. All those jobs listed above? Those are things English department alumni are currently doing, and they are eager to talk to students about their career paths. Make an appointment when you get to campus to meet with Kirstin Wilcox, Director of Internships (kwilcox@illinois.edu. 217/300-4305).

The U of I Foundation is Advertising for Telemarketers. Again. Maybe Give It a Try?

maxresdefaultThe University of Illinois Foundation is, once again, hiring students to do telemarketing. It pays $10/hour and offers flexible hours right here on the Quad. Despite these advantages, the turnover in employees is so great that they have to hire every few months and even have a Facebook page dedicated to that endeavor.  The work involves calling alumni to ask for donations, and many students find it grueling and demoralizing. You get told “No” a LOT.  Many people do it for a few weeks or months and then decide to move on to a part-time job that has less rejection built into it.

So why bring it up here, on a website dedicated to encouraging English department majors to seek out rewarding employment? Simple: even if you have zero interest in telemarketing after you graduate, a stint in one of these jobs can give your career planning a boost: And some people turn out to be good at it and enjoy it.

  • Experience. A lot of of rewarding jobs–in organizations ranging from nonprofit arts or social outreach agencies to political organizations and start-up companies–involve fundraising. It helps to be able to tell employers that you’ve had some experience and know what it feels like to ask people for money, even if it’s not the main duty of the position.
  • Applied English Skills! In your classes, you learn a lot about rhetorical strategies, persuasion, audience, reading what is not said–as well as what is said, connecting to characters and situations very different from your own. These jobs require you do do all those things, but in real time with real stakes. Even if you don’t enjoy it, you’ll emerge with a better sense of how and where you’d prefer to apply those skills.
  • Self-knowledge. You might be good at it. Fundraising is one of those talents–like writing rhymed verse or playing a musical instrument–that you can’t know you have until you give it a try. Unlike those other things, though, you can get paid for the time you spend on the venture.
  • Life skills. You’ll get a lot of practice dealing with rejection. The sooner in life you can get comfortable with hearing “No” and moving gracefully on to the next conversation, the more opportunities you’ll give yourself to hear “Yes.” A U of I Foundation job can compress a lot of transferable life experience into a relatively short time frame. And you get paid for it.
  • Fun! The Foundation values its student employees and does its best to make the experience enjoyable and worthwhile.
  • It is, after all, a good cause.