It’s all legalese

New legal studies major comes to UW-W

UW-Whitewater senior Brittany Gonzales, left, and junior Nate Kelty win by a close vote and an arcane rule on their  argument to let a Wisconsin case on private property advance in the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday, February 23, 2017.  Teams of students in Associate Professor Jolly Emrey's Legal Research and Writing class spend the semester researching current cases pending on the federal Supreme Court's docket from a particular justice's perspective.  Brittany and Nate were acting as Justice Anthony Kennedy.

UW-WHITEWATER PHOTO/CRAIG SCHREINER

UW-Whitewater senior Brittany Gonzales, left, and junior Nate Kelty win by a close vote and an arcane rule on their argument to let a Wisconsin case on private property advance in the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday, February 23, 2017. Teams of students in Associate Professor Jolly Emrey’s Legal Research and Writing class spend the semester researching current cases pending on the federal Supreme Court’s docket from a particular justice’s perspective. Brittany and Nate were acting as Justice Anthony Kennedy. “The students tend to get a bit invested and really take on their role as justice seriously,” Emrey said. Students write a full legal brief based on research and do oral arguments acting as their justice near the end of the semester. (UW-Whitewater photo/Craig Schreiner)

Dauntae Green, Lifestyle Editor

It wasn’t Murphy’s Law that finally made legal studies a major at UW-Whitewater, but rather careful planning. Various courses created an emphasis for several years within the Political Science Department, and those together now create a major degree offering for students interested in pursuing careers in the field.

“We have had a legal studies emphasis in the political science major since 2013, and it has grown a great deal as an emphasis. But I think in terms of really giving students the best preparation for careers, or to going into law school, it’s better to have a legal studies major,” said Chair of the Department of Political Science, Jolly Emrey.

“And so we decided to create the new major. The process you go through is what’s called an intensive plan. It’s sent to the system and goes out to all of the college campuses. Then they have an opportunity to respond to your intent to plan the new major. And then once that gets approved, then you work on planning the new major. And it’s about a year and a half to two year process, depending.”

Legal studies becoming a major is important to the campus because it offers a more substantial degree for students rather than an emphasis, which is more like a specialty focus within a major of study. The emphasis had seen so much growth and supported so many successful students that it just made sense for the department to pursue further establishing the degree.  

Department of Political Science Chair Jolly Emrey explains the new legal studies major at UW-Whitewater.

“A lot of students have gone on to careers as paralegals or legal assistance. They’ve gone on to law school – they’re now attorneys or they’re currently in law school,” said Emrey. “And I think that offering them a major gives them a stronger foundation than they were given in the emphasis. It also will be helpful, I think hopefully to the campus, if those majors are visible when students are looking to apply to different campuses for different programs. Emphases are not, so I’m hopeful that will attract more students, which will mean more enrollment.” 

The new major will likely impact the university in various positive ways both directly and indirectly. Students will gain new knowledge, hone skills in their field and have more opportunities in specific legal careers. 

“It’s a major that has good job prospects. If students want to go on to law school or graduate school, it gives them another opportunity for a good solid program,” said Director of Academic Assessment Joan Cook. “There’s some students that know they want a career in some aspect of legal studies – to work somewhere in the justice system – and it gives them an opportunity for that. They may not realize we have it, but they may be interested in legal studies. It lets students know that we have that available for them. It improves some student’s skills – political science in general and legal studies.” 

There were many people that worked together on this project to get legal studies from emphasis to major. The professors, College of Letters and Sciences and the Academic Assessment Office all worked together on preparing the new degree program for future Warhawks. 

“Dr. Jolly Emery was front and center first foremost, but she also had help from some of her colleagues in the Political Science Department who also made key contributions. Then you get these documents ready for approval by the Board of Regents. That’s where Dr. Joan Cook became involved. When you get a new program approved, you have to deal with budgets and finances. We had people from the UW System involved and finally, the Board of Regents had to approve all of this for us,” said College of Letters and Sciences Dean Frank Goza. 

Indeed it was no accident at all, but a careful process – not unlike the justice system itself – to make legal studies a major available for the fall of 2021. If you have questions about how to get started in the new legal studies major, contact Dr. Jolly Emrey at [email protected]

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