Isaac Sturgill, Law Student
by Angelica Waters
What's the first thing they teach you in law school? According
to Isaac Sturgill, who earned his Bachelor of Arts in English
from Western Carolina University, it isn't an overview of
the legal system or even a crash course in legalese. More
than anything else, law students need to know how to write
like English majors.
Writing foundation gives lawyers credibility
"Within my first week of law school, I became incredibly
thankful to have studied English as an undergraduate student.
My law professors put a tremendous amount of emphasis on good
writing," Sturgill explains. "Before orientation,
we were required to read Strunk’s The Elements of
Style. During orientation, our professors gave us a series
of crash courses on effective grammar and mechanics. In our
required legal writing course, we are constantly reminded
to write efficiently and effectively. Thankfully, most of
this comes as review for me; most of the writing techniques
my law professors are teaching me are techniques my English
professors introduced me to at Western."
Sturgill is especially thankful for courses like Introduction
to Professional Writing and Editing and Writing for Careers,
which taught him to avoid the passive voice. "See there,
Brian Gastle, I was listening!" he adds affectionately.
"I use writing on a daily basis, whether it involves
writing case briefs, preparing memos, writing predictions,
organizing outlines, or emailing colleagues. Writing is one
of the most important skills for a law student. Students who
come to law school with a poor foundation in grammar and mechanics
are like skiers who come to the slopes with blue jeans on—they
are going to feel really uncomfortable and everyone who sees
them will laugh behind their backs."
A feeling of accomplishment
His English degree at WCU now allows Sturgill to pursue an
exhilarating, if demanding, legal education. "Law school
is extremely demanding. To stay on top of my studies, I have
to put in a tremendous number of hours at the library reading
and analyzing hypothetical fact patterns. When I spend several
hours working on a concept for class and can later stand up
to (or at least survive) the professor’s slew of questions
about it, I feel like I’ve really accomplished something.
Nothing is free in law school."
Sturgill recalls a moment he found especially satisfying:
"Before our midterm examination in Property I, our whole
class was struggling with the concept of future interests
in estates. My study group put in about twelve hours outside
of class that week running over hypothetical questions and
trying to build upon our knowledge. The next week, on a Monday,
I was called on in class. Afterwards, a couple of students
approached me to ask for my help with the concept. That made
me feel really good because I’d worked hard on it. I
was honored they would ask for my assistance."
Work hard; stay humble
The best advice Sturgill can give students like himself?
"Be hard working, but be humble. It’s good to be
proud of your work, but don’t become too satisfied with
yourself; keep trying to take the next step. There’re
a lot of paths you can take as an English grad, but not all
of them are immediately apparent at graduation. Don’t
just settle for the first idea that pops into your head; take
a good look around, be flexible, find something you think
will be worthwhile, and fight for it.
"A great deal of my inspiration comes from knowing the
people I love believe in me," Sturgill reflects. He has
plenty of people and groups to thank for his success—his
fiancée, his son, his church, and his community—and
he's grateful when he can support the people in his life,
as well. He gives a "shout-out" to Clint Scott,
Randy Seago, Luke and Jessica Web, Bill, Julie, Sarah, and
Ben Ogletree, and "the other Sylvans (you know who you
are). . . . Jen Pearson at the Guadalupe Café in Sylva
gave me a job while I was in undergrad and made me delicious
"Be there for your friends and work to maintain healthy
relationships," Sturgill cautions. "'No man is an
island,' as that guy said. And Dr. Fenton, if you’re
reading this, don’t worry—I know it was John Donne.
I also know it would have been better somehow if I had quoted