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 deciding 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.