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Northwestern University

Arts and Sciences and the Law

Four alumni share how and why they decided to enter the legal profession

One always knew he wanted to be a lawyer, venturing into law school as a 21-year-old clutching his political science degree and interest in the public sector.

Another stumbled into a legal career, finding her “dream job” in advocating for immigrant children with a nonprofit agency.

Two others turned undergraduate degrees in philosophy and Spanish/international studies, respectively, into distinct niches at well-heeled law firms.

Earlier this year, these four Weinberg College alumni returned to the Northwestern campus to provide current students personal insight into the legal profession’s realities as part of the Weinberg Student Alumni Engagement Program’s latest installment of the “Checchia Series: Understanding the Value of a Liberal Arts Education,” a quarterly student-centric event designed to spotlight the various ways a liberal arts education translates into the professional world.

Over 90 minutes, the four alums shared personal stories regarding their decision to pursue a legal career, the profession’s rewards and challenges, the law school experience and takeaways from their Weinberg education. Each alumnus also shared a top tip for students contemplating a legal career.

Study the profession and its people

Michael Falk, a partner in the Chicago office and chair of Winston & Strawn’s employee benefits and executive compensation practice, urged students to ditch preconceived notions of the legal profession and to seek a deeper understanding of the job’s day-to-day elements.

“Hang around with lawyers, watch how they work and maybe even be a paralegal before law school,” the 1994 philosophy graduate said.

Take an academic break

After earning her undergraduate degree in Spanish and communications, Marie Silver ’07 worked for six years before taking the law school plunge. That real-world experience, Silver says, fueled her self-confidence and academic focus.

“Though I did have to relearn some study habits,” acknowledged Silver, now a staff attorney with the Immigrant Children’s Protection Project at the National Immigration Justice Center.

Consider the business track

Emily Colantino ’00, a Spanish and international studies graduate currently the director of knowledge management at Baker & McKenzie in Chicago, said attorneys with an understanding of business can rise a notch above the rest with their ability to advise on elements like corporate structure and the balance sheet for a wide range of organizations.

Embrace a passion

Tony Iweagwu, a 2002 political science graduate now serving as senior public safety policy advisor in the office of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, reminded students that they can fulfill a wide range of interests in the legal profession. Museums, theatres and other cultural hubs, for instance, all need legal counsel.

“There are ways to get a law degree and focus it in a creative niche if that’s your passion,” Iweagwu said, recommending students also use summers to gain real-world experience particular interest areas.

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