Law

After a stint as a combat pilot in the Air Force, James Leggett ’67 earned his M.S. from the University of Southern California and his J.D. at the University of Washington.  He then embarked on a successful career in law in Washington State, culminating in his work as Senior-Managing Partner at Leggett & Kram.  Until 1989 he served in the Air Force Reserve and was regularly called upon to assist with training at Norton Air Force Base and the Institute of Aerospace Safety at USC.  James writes, “My studies at UPS prepared me for my career in the Air Force, for graduate school at USC and finally Law School at UW.” Now retired, James is delighted to “finally have time to complete the preparation of my Honors Thesis in History at UPS with illustrations by another alumnus, Ernie Meisner.  Our History of Mt. Rainier National Park is timely with the recent renaming of Mt. McKinley to Mt. Denali.  Mt. Rainier’s original name was not Mt. Tacoma or even Mr. Tahoma, as has been bandied about; its original Indian name was Tatoosh which means ‘breast,’ as it was the source of all nourishment for the Puget Sound.” He encourages current students “to keep their horizons wide to take advantage of opportunities beyond the field of History.”

Following graduation, Sarah Cole ’86 worked for a year at the UPS Law School library before enrolling in the University of Chicago Law School and receiving her J.D. with honors in 1990.  After clerking and working at firms in Seattle and Chicago, Sarah moved into teaching law at Creighton University School of Law, the University of Oklahoma College of Law, and the Ohio State University, Moritz College of Law, where she is a tenured professor and Director of the Program on Dispute Resolution. Sarah writes, “Studying history prepared me well for law school and my career in teaching.  History courses taught me to read critically, write logically and think analytically.  All of these skills are essential to success as a lawyer and legal scholar.  Professors like William Breitenbach and Jama Lazerow taught me how to give students constructive criticism.  They were devoted to their students and enthusiastic about the subjects they were teaching.  I try to follow their lead when I teach.”  She suggests that current students contemplating law school “consider taking a couple of courses in statistics and economics as well – but learning to write clearly and concisely will be invaluable to you as you pursue a career in the law.”

Scott Orr ’83 obtained his J.D. while working as a law clerk at a civil litigation practice where he “was exposed to and learned how to assess, research and develop a case, draft legal correspondence and pleadings, handle litigation, and manage client relationships.”  While awaiting the results of the California Bar Exam, he started working as a quality analyst with a medical management company, an experience which cemented his desire to use his legal training in a medical-related business setting. He writes, “Now, almost 27 years later, I’m still with that same company as Senior Vice President and General Counsel. What has kept me with the company for all these years has been the mission we serve (veterans) and a passion for the law, problem solving, enterprise building, and the opportunity for personal growth and development.” Scott writes that studying history honed his research and writing skills, but “most importantly I learned to persevere and never quit, no matter the obstacle.” He credits two inspirational professors, Terry Cooney and David Smith, with “having faith in me and helping me focus.”  Scott wants current students to know that “studying history has great relevance to many differing career paths, whether medicine, business or law,” and hopes they will “focus on finding a passion or a mission in life, something you love and can see yourself doing for a lifetime. If you’re passionate about your career, you’ll likely be very good at what you do, which in turn typically leads to making a very good living.”

John Moore ’05 spent 3 years with Teach for America in inner city Miami schools before earning his J.D. at George Washington University. “After law school,” John writes, “I had a temporary contract position before getting my current gig at a litigation law firm.  Now, I spend my days defending personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits. What I find most rewarding is when a plaintiff is lying and I prove it.” History classes at UPS prepared John well for the classroom; among the highlights of his time with Teach for America, he cites the opportunity to teach the Civil Rights Movement, a subject he had studied with Professor Nancy Bristow a few years earlier.  John says, “History also prepared me well for law. I tell stories, backed up with facts, to judges, arbitrators and mediators. When I write to the court, every sentence I write stating a fact requires me to cite to something, be it a medical record, deposition transcript, or photograph. I am writing about the past all the time. The difference is, in the practice of law, the lawyer plays a larger role in shaping the historical record.”

After graduation, Valerie (Dutton) Kahn ’07 worked in recruiting before going to law school at Santa Clara University.  Valerie spent three years as an Associate at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett in Palo Alto, CA, working on securities litigation and government investigation matters, as well as doing a lot of pro bono work.  She is now enjoying practicing labor and employment law at Drinker Biddle & Reath, and writes, “earning a degree in History is excellent preparation for law school and a career as an attorney. Lawyers (and law students) spend a great deal of their time writing.  Although anybody can learn to be a great legal writer, it is very useful to come to law school with the advanced writing skills one acquires from writing essays, research papers, and a thesis. Law students and attorneys also spend a tremendous amount of time doing legal research; although this is somewhat different from historical research, many of the basic principles are the same and having experience with the latter makes it easier to learn how to do the former.”

Chris Van Vechten ’07 has worn many different professional hats since his time at UPS:  among other experiences, he has worked for State Representative Dennis Flannigan, managed a Washington State Senate race, started an online magazine, and run for the Tacoma school board.  Chris writes, “I eventually became a lawyer and started my own firm in Tacoma, which is a path I wouldn’t recommend for most people, but seems to be working well for me.  My first month, I earned only $75.  By my fifth month, I earned roughly $4,000 - which was still below the market average, but enough to make payments on my debt and justify my independence.  Being a solo practitioner means being your own office manager, accountant, tech support, paralegal, marketing director; goffer, and occasionally being an attorney, among other things.  Having done so much work in so many fields before has helped me meet these challenges.” He wants current students to know they will need to be entrepreneurial to succeed in the legal profession, and offers the following advice: “Don’t go directly from undergrad to law school.  Get some years of experience in an in-demand field before enrolling in law school.  Most law firms and clients hire attorneys with experience in their industry, and if your only experience is in the classroom, you’re not competitive.”  

George Kaai ’12 is finishing law school at Seattle University School of Law, after taking a few years off to “get a taste of the real world” by working at Annie Wright School in Tacoma.  He writes, “My law school experience has been great thus far. The classroom experience is much more challenging than I ever imagined, but as I near the end of my last year, I feel a great sense of accomplishment. In my first summer, I interned for a Justice on the Washington Supreme Court and, in my second summer, I worked as a summer associate at a law firm in Seattle. I was fortunate to receive a job offer at the end of my summer, so I will return there once I am done with school and take the bar exam.”  George has found that History classes prepared him well for law school:  “Lawyers write a lot, and much of the writing that a lawyer does involves taking a position, finding support for that position, and making persuasive arguments. While legal research and writing is quite a unique skill, the baseline research, writing, and analytical skills I learned as a History major at UPS was invaluable. And the fact that UPS pushes its undergraduate students to write a thesis has been helpful in my resume and as a talking point during job interviews. In fact, I've talked many a times about both my senior thesis that I worked on with Doug Sackman, as well as my History 200 paper that I worked on with Nancy Bristow.” George encourages current students to “visit schools, sit in on classes and talk to students and practicing attorneys before deciding to go to law school.”