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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 burritos."

"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 John Milton."

These profiles were created by the Karen Greenstone's English 303 class (spring 2009)
and edited for the web by Mary Adams's English 303 class (summer 2009).

Students in Mary Adams's English 303 class (fall 2009) wrote additional profiles.