The following ‘Alumni Stories’ were written by former Legal Studies students with you, prospective and current Legal Studies majors, in mind. They were asked to write about their experiences at Cal, experiences in the major, where they are headed in the future, where they are now, and any advice they might have for you. Please know that each experience is unique to the individual and what works for one, may not work for all.
After my 4 years here at Cal, which I would never imagine the end coming around this fast, here is my absolute take away: try new things and take advantage of your time here at Cal. Join clubs that interest you, take on officer positions and new responsibilities that may be daunting, and consider applying to one of the many programs, from UCDC to Study Abroad, that Cal offers.
My freshman year, I declared political science and was considering law school in my post-grad future. I thought I was going to stick with this and the two clubs I joined until I graduated. Man, was I wrong, in the best way possible. By my second year, I was the president of my law club and had tacked on a minor in peace and conflicts. In the summer between my second and third year, I thought if I’m going to go law school I might as well take on legal studies. Resulting in my double major and minor, which surprisingly I took enough summer classes to make sure I graduated in 4 years.
My third year at Cal, I was a JusticeCorps member at the Oakland Courthouse, helping self-representing litigants with their cases. From that internship, I learned a plethora of valuable life and professional skills. Most importantly, I realized that law school might not be for me. While at the same time, I continued to enjoy my legal studies courses! Rather than solely the study of cases and precedent, legal studies was focused in the intersection between law and society; how our legal systems are shaped by sociological factors like race, gender, and class and how to be critical of these conceptions. Legal studies certainly honed my ability to critically think about the power structures around me.
For my senior year, I went to DC for fall of 2016 on the UCDC program. I interned in the Independent Expenditure branch of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the arm of the DNC focused on House races. From that program and my time in DC, I found my love for campaigning. I loved the fast paced nature of campaigns, the interweaving political narratives and most importantly my co-workers and new friends. Not to mention, I got to go to DC during arguably one of the most exciting elections of our generation. I still recommend going to DC because the rights and causes you are passionate about are in DC, fighting and working with our government to champion social goals.
From all these experiences I took on in college, I finally arrived at a clear path for post-grad. With that being said, this is absolutely abnormal: finding a clear path for post-grad. Experiences are the first step. For that growth to happen, you need to seek out opportunities. You don’t need to be ravenous and overload yourself; find the tempo that matches you. As long as you are looking, whether it’s one or five, you have already done your part in searching. Most importantly, seek out things you like and stick with it. If halfway it turns out to be boring, or not what you imagined, keep going. In finishing it, you will still grow from understanding what you don’t like, which sometimes is more important than finding things you love.
I’m in my last semester here at Cal and honestly, I didn’t imagine these 4 years passing so fast. After my semester in DC and the past election, I am looking to work on campaigns, maybe run some local elections in middle America or work in political consulting in DC. My time in DC, coupled with this election, has fired me up for politics and my future in a way I never thought I could be. ~Lydia ’17
Being a student at Cal can be a very stressful environment due to the high level of academia and a lot of students can feel either alone or have no one to turn to during there times in college. To these students and all students in general, I beg that you reach out to the wonderful faculty that is behind your major, your work place, college, etc. Without the guidance and heart of the faculty that I was blessed to help me through college, it wouldn’t have been possible to succeed through an academically challenging environment and I’m thankful to have them in my life. Share your life with them and allow them to be a part of your life and I promise your college journey will be a lot easier! 🙂 ~David ’16
Berkeley can be a very alienating and unsettling place if you don’t share the same background and resources as some of your more fortunate friends and colleagues. This is exactly how I felt coming into Cal as a transfer student from Santa Monica College in Los Angeles. Not only was I coming into Berkeley as a transfer, I was also a minority, low-income student. To top it all off – I was (and as you read this, probably still am) undocumented as well. I was full of fear and anxiety at being away from my support system of family, friends, and allies back home. However, what I found at Berkeley, and specifically within Legal Studies, was the community I needed to not only survive but thrive. I found students who were open to hearing my story and how current politics were affecting my daily life. I found professors and GSIs who were not only willing to lend an ear, but who actively sought to help me in any way they could. Most of all, I found a major that I truly enjoyed.
Being a Legal Studies major gave me the opportunity to explore the social sciences and humanities (and even business!) through the lens of the law. It offered the opportunity to be taught by world-renowned socio-legal scholars and professors educated and trained at the world’s most prestigious universities. My advice is to try out a class or two and see if you enjoy looking at the world through a critical, legal lens. I recommend trying out LS132 with the fantastic Professor Volpp or if you are looking for a challenge, check out UGBA175 with the uniquely funny Prof. Ross.
Remember to advocate for yourself! Also, don’t be afraid to admit to yourself that the major is or isn’t for you – at the end of the day it is YOU will sit through class and either love the material and absolutely dread it. Lastly, check-in with Lauri, she is the heart and soul of the Legal Studies department and can be a fantastic resource. Go Bears! ~Mitchell ’16
During my first year at Cal, my mom was diagnosed with the most aggressive kind of breast cancer. Four years later, I graduated with BAs in Legal Studies, Gender and Women’s Studies, and Molecular and Cell Biology. I am extremely grateful my mom is now a year into survivorship. Watching my mom experience energy-draining chemotherapy and endless blood transfusions was beyond terrifying. Yet, ironically, I found my passion for social justice, health policy, and the medico-legal field in my search to understand my mom’s experiences with breast cancer. I ended up with my own research project that I am extremely proud of: two Honors thesis (one completed in the Legal Studies department) about lesbian and trans* breast cancer survivors’ experiences with breast cancer and the US healthcare system. My research was emotionally-taxing but rewarding and worth every hour I spent on the floor of the law library searching for answers in books. I didn’t intend to triple major when I started at Cal; instead, my degrees came from passion, fire, and determination to learn as much as I could to help others like my mom. My Legal Studies mentors for my thesis, Professor Kathryn Abrams, who teaches Legal Studies 189 : Feminist Jurisprudence (one of my favorite classes!), and Professor Edelman were there every step of the way to guide me through obstacles I was facing. Lauri, our Legal Studies advisor, was always a friendly and supportive listener when other advisors would often wonder what broke inside of me to make me want to triple major. And to be truthful, maybe I was a little broken. Berkeley isn’t always the best environment for mental health awareness, but I was fortunate enough to connect with other students, faculty, and staff who could relate and share what helped them. Through the entire wide spectrum of feelings Berkeley gives you, I hope you, the current and future students, maintain compassion and kindness for each other and find your passion. Never be afraid to reach out a helping hand or smile at another person on your way to class. Also, friendly reminder, actually attend class! Lastly, always remember your worth. You matter, no matter who you are or where you come from.
In terms of my plans for after Berkeley, I am currently interning for Senator Carol Liu in the California State Capitol through the Cal-in-Sacramento Fellowship program. It’s a fascinating and thrilling experience! I’ll be applying for Public Health graduate programs in the near future, and though I’m not sure where I’ll end up at this point, I’m confident that as a Berkeley alum, I can handle anything! ~Courtney ’16
I’d like to speak to those students, especially older, transfer students, who are juggling school, work, and personal life.
First, know that you will succeed. Despite having earned your spot to study at Cal, you still question your abilities to succeed academically, as I have from time to time, competing against young, bright Berkeley students. Results from my graduating class seem to show, however, that students graduating the top of the class are older and, often, community college transfer students.
Second, know that it’s okay to take a break. If life gets really difficult, you have the option to take a break from school (formally known as “leave of absence”). Don’t worry about losing your spot at Cal if you take a leave of absence because the readmission process is very simple. I took a break for five years working full-time before returning to Cal. Check out information about “Withdrawal” and “Readmission” on the website of L&S Advising at https://ls.berkeley.edu/advising/academic-progress.
Third, know that resources are available to you. Sometimes you feel overwhelmed and helpless. Whatever issue you have, someone on this big campus is bound to have experienced it. I’ve gotten help from the Transfer Student Center, L&S Advising, Student Health Services, Academic Advising (“Yay…Lauri!”), Career Center, among others. Wherever I go on this campus, I find the people working there to be genuinely caring and helpful. Be proactive and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Light at the end of the tunnel is nearing. Just hang in here! ~Yong ’16
After spending the summer working at a political consulting firm in San Francisco and studying for the LSAT, I moved to Washington, D.C. this fall to spend some time working in politics on a national scale. I spent a month interning for Congressman Eric Swalwell of California’s 15th district before being offered a job with my current boss, Congressman Steny Hoyer. Mr. Hoyer is the Democratic Whip here in Congress, and I am serving as his Staff Assistant in his Capitol office. It’s been a wild last couple of months, especially following what was an awkward transition period right after graduation (my fault for not planning ahead!). Though I hardly thought through post-grad employment before I walked across the stage, things have worked out quite well and I am very excited about what’s in store for the future. ~Caitlin ’15
I entered Cal, intent on declaring Legal Studies as a major, on attending law school, and on becoming an attorney. Through Legal Studies, I formed lasting friendships, connected with a few mentors, and developed useful skills. Thanks in large part to Legal Studies’ deep, interdisciplinary curriculum, esteemed faculty, and dedicated advising, I am now an attorney. I am happy. I am grateful. And my advice to current and prospective students comes from a man whose works and writings have inspired me since I first encountered them during my days as a student in the major.
“Life is painting a picture, not doing a sum.”
-Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
So, with these words in mind, I encourage you to take full advantage of the rich palette that Cal has to offer. Find yourself. Identify your passions. Know yourself. And paint something uniquely and beautifully yours. ~Yosef ’10
I entered Berkeley with a small track scholarship and an even smaller idea of what I was going to do with my life. With neither a favorite subject nor a legitimate academic interest, I got tired of the unremitting questions from my peers about what I was planning to study or do after graduation. Hindsight has helped me to realize that it was okay that I was undecided for the entirety of my freshman year; no teenager needs to have their entire life planned out during their first year of college. It wasn’t until my second year that I discovered (more like stumbled upon) the Legal Studies major, which turned out to be one of the more fortunate things to happen to me during my undergraduate years at Cal.
Legal Studies ended up being the perfect major for me. The program offers a rich curriculum of courses taught by Boalt Hall law professors, which is an invaluable resource to have. Not only did I become interested in and learned a lot about the law, but I was also able to form a relationship with and gain letters of recommendation from some of the top legal minds in the country. The interdisciplinary nature of Legal Studies afforded me with an eclectic knowledge base of our country’s legal system, as I took classes which focused on the intersection of law with subjects such as psychology, sociology, immigration, and more. The classes that I took lead to my interest in jurisprudence, and I knew that I would be applying to law school once I graduated.
I spent the summer after graduation studying for the LSAT, which was very challenging but well worth the effort in the end. I highly suggest taking an in-class course, because studying for this test alone can be absolutely brutal. Although it is not recommended, I ended up taking the exam twice, but my higher score on the second exam made me a far more competitive applicant to the top law schools. As of now, I have been accepted to a few of my top schools, including USC, Georgetown, and Berkeley, (Go Bears!) and I am hoping to hear more good news from the rest of the schools that I applied to.
Overall, I am extremely happy with my decision to major in Legal Studies at Berkeley, and would recommend it to anyone who is still looking to find their niche here at Cal. Everyone involved in the program, i.e. the faculty, students, and advisors, (especially Lauri) are all extremely kind and care about you and your future success, so don’t miss out on the opportunity to connect with these people. I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for Legal Studies, and although what worked for me may not necessarily work for everyone, this program is definitely worth giving a shot. Make sure to study what you’re passionate in fellow Bears, and best of luck in all of your future endeavors. ~Jonathan ‘14
The Legal Studies major is not intended to be a pre-law school major”. This may be theoretically true, but in my experience, the courses I took ultimately made me a better law student and a more informed person. I enjoyed Professor Boyd’s course on international human rights, Professor Dan-Cohen’s course on criminal justice theory, Professor Hollinger’s courses on feminist jurisprudence and government and the law, Professor Shapiro’s course on comparative law, and Professor Song’s course on theories of justice. I also benefited from the opportunity to take courses outside the department that counted towards the major, such as a course on environmental justice. For prospective students, especially those considering law school, I offer the following advice (Warning: You will be overwhelmed!):
1) Double major in Legal Studies and something else strong, such as economics, political science, business, science, etc. Having a double major allows you to maneuver your college degree in multiple directions, especially if you change your mind or find out later that another degree would have widened your reach for job opportunities.
2) Minor in a foreign language. Make it one that you like, but try to choose a “global” language that could be useful to your future profession, such as Spanish, French, Arabic, Chinese, etc. Don’t get me wrong—I am fascinated by all languages and think they are all beautiful. But you can always study languages of interest or your culture in your free time. The minor is intended to benefit your future. And don’t just “get” the minor. Put in the effort to actually learn the language well enough to become professionally fluent. The competition is so fierce that speaking only one language will often put you one step behind someone with your same qualifications who can work in a second language.
3) Go to class. Do not sleep in class. Do all the reading. Pay attention. I cannot stress this enough! You will never, ever, ever (did I mention, ever?) get the undergraduate experience back, and it is very different than the graduate one. I think that if undergraduate students put in 50% more effort (I’m not even saying 100!), they would graduate as geniuses due to the indescribable wealth of knowledge bestowed upon them by the Legal Studies professors (and UC Berkeley professors in general). Be humble, show your appreciation, genuinely do your work, and give it your all. You will be amazed by the results of your efforts… ~Kristina ‘09
I graduated from Cal with a degree in Legal Studies and a minor in Chinese in May 2013. When I arrived in Berkeley four years prior, I didn’t really know what I wanted to study . . . so I studied everything. My first year, I took classes in Psychology, History, English. I enjoyed all of these subjects, but nothing really “clicked,” until the second semester of freshman year, when I found myself in a Legal Studies seminar (Legal Studies 39D with Professor Pomerantz). This was a constitutional law class, and my first exposure to the study of law. It is, to this day, one of the most intellectually stimulating classes I took at Berkeley. I learned about the intricacies embedded in the law and U.S. legal system and I was fascinated by the cases. My writing style became more polished, as I recognized the importance of precision and meaning when choosing my words. This seminar sold me on majoring in Legal Studies and in the end of freshmen year, I went to Lauri’s office to turn in my major application. (Lauri, the Legal Studies major advisor, is amazing – she cares about you, gets to know you, and supports you by exposing you to resources that you otherwise wouldn’t know about. Her positive energy is contagious!)
After that, I took as many Legal Studies courses as I could. There is a wide array of courses to choose from; the program caters to a range of interests. I took classes on criminal justice, government and the family, sociology of law, law in Chinese society, policing and society, property and liberty, human rights, and international criminal law, all of which I thoroughly enjoyed. Some of these classes were from other departments, but because of their relation to the law, the Legal Studies department accepted them as units towards the major. This was another great plus for me – I valued the leeway I had to participate in other disciplines. During senior year, I participated in the Honors Thesis class, which I highly recommend for honing your research skills, working on an independent project, and gaging whether you would like to go on to graduate school. The Honors Thesis is very intense, but in the end, extremely rewarding.
Apart from Legal Studies, during my time at Cal I also studied languages (Chinese and Spanish) and was involved in the community. I interned with the JusticeCorps program, where I helped litigants with family law and civil law issues. I loved this program so much that I stayed on the team for another year, and after graduation, I was selected for a full-time position as the Program Coordinator for the Bay Area. I am currently working for some time before moving on to law school. I also found a way to transform my hobby of learning languages into a viable career option and am currently studying to be a certified Spanish <> English court interpreter. If you are thinking about taking some time off after college, I think there is a lot of value to gaining experience and skills and working in the field you plan on pursuing so that you can actually see what it’s like and decide if it’s a good fit for you.
Most importantly though, whichever major you choose, and however you decide to arrange your time at Berkeley, remember to enjoy yourself. Berkeley is full of opportunities if you look for them. I am confident that you will discover the connections between your goals, experiences, hobbies, and interests, which in the end will lead to a vibrant and fulfilling career. Best of luck and go bears! 🙂 ~Yana ’13
I came to UC Berkeley with the intention of double majoring in Legal Studies and Molecular and Cell Biology, only later to realize Legal Studies was the route I would ultimately want to pursue. After my first Legal Studies class, LS 103: Theories of Law and Society, I was hooked and knew right there and then I would pursue Legal Studies as my major. The department is very helpful in guiding you through the degree, which I found extremely useful and beneficial. Along with being there with me every step of the way, the course offering was so rich and dense with material that I fell in love. You can learn about all the different elements of law, from the basic foundations of it, such as the sociological, economical, and historical basis of laws, to the ways laws are formulated, interpreted, and implemented in society. This fascinated and intrigued me in such a way that I found myself immersed in the culture of law and now am trying to pursue a legal career. You can’t really go wrong with Legal Studies. ~Dega ’14
I was an Integrative Bio major, but knew I didn’t want any of the white-coat careers that go along with that degree. I chose a double major in Legal Studies to round me out – give me access to a more interdisciplinary educational experience. When I realized the breadth and depth of courses that were available to me within the major – political science, economics, philosophy, history, and even bioethics?? – I knew I had found the perfect program for me. Learning about these various disciplines that form the basis of our society was an interesting journey in itself, and strengthened my capabilities as a writer and a thinker, preparing me for success in all areas of life beyond Berkeley. I now live in Los Angeles, where I lead the west region Client Development team for a rapidly growing and Harvard Business Review featured new-model consulting firm called Business Talent Group.
~ Dak ’08
“I’ve just graduated from Berkeley with a double major in Legal Studies and Rhetoric, and a double minor in German and Creative Writing. I’ll be attending Harvard Law School in the fall, but I’ve come a long way from where I started to get to this point. In this regard, Legal Studies has made all the difference in helping me to be where I am today.
Coming to Berkeley as a freshman with endless possibilities in choosing a major, I immediately gravitated towards the Legal Studies program. I had always harbored an interest in law and was already seriously considering becoming a lawyer one day, but I had never studied it prior to coming to college and was hesitant to commit so early on. Looking through the course catalogue however, I was pleasantly surprised at both the depth and breadth of subject areas that the department offered. I could explore so many different areas of law with law professors from one of the best law schools in the world, and each class also linked to various different subject areas: philosophy, history, psychology, sociology, ethics, just to name a few. In essence, I had found a major that gave me a buffet’s worth of discipline samplings, with each one allowing me to further my legal knowledge.
Majoring in Legal Studies was one of the best decisions that I made in coming to Berkeley. Although the major is not for everyone and does not help in the law school admissions process (it really doesn’t!), it did help me to cement my decision to attend law school after graduation and it prepared me in building a solid foundation for starting my legal career. The professors who teach the classes are not only inspiring in their accomplishments and experience, but also very open and caring about their students – they never hesitate to make more time in their busy schedules for you, they never treat you as ‘just another student’, and they always give their all to help you succeed. The GSIs are amazingly talented and always willing to help – they all put you as their top priority when they’re inside the classroom, and I’ve had GSIs go above and beyond the requirements of their job to help me and ensure that I would do well. Last but not least, the major advisor, Lauri, is one of the most warm-hearted and perfect people you will ever meet. Who you have as a major advisor has a huge influence on how much stress you’ll experience during your four years in college, and you can’t find a better advisor than Lauri. She’s absolutely amazing!
One of the highlights of my time in Legal Studies was completing an Honors Thesis – the program is intense, but also one of my proudest accomplishments. Everyone in the program – the professors, the staff, my fellow students, the director – they all provided so much support in focusing and researching my topic but at the same time allowed me so much freedom to pursue what I wanted to do. For example, I wanted to write my thesis on oral contracts in the entertainment industry; despite the many offerings and subject areas offered in Legal Studies, entertainment law is not one of them. Nevertheless, Professor Musheno and Christina did everything that they could to help me in my research project, and my peers never hesitated to reach out and provide me all the help I could ever want. For example, one of my classmates offered to help me acquire data from Hollywood over break because she lived near L.A., and one other classmate put me in touch with a top industry person whom I could interview for data. Completing an Honors Thesis was an exceptional learning and growing experience, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who can do it to do so.
As for tips on going to law school –
First, find what I call your “4.0 major”. Choose a major that you love, one that you will want to spend all of your waking hours on for the next four years, because that’s the major(s) that will help you to get a 4.0 on your transcript when you graduate. For me, that was Legal Studies. As I said before however, Legal Studies is not for everyone: don’t choose this major just because you think it’ll help you get into law school. It won’t.
Second, get involved in extracurricular activities – shop around for a little bit, but give yourself enough time to really delve into each activity and root yourself in that community so that you come out of it with a leadership role. Especially for students who want to go straight into law school like me, you need all the bonus points you can get in building your resume to compete with the majority of law school applicants who have worked for at least a year or two before applying.
Third, start thinking about letters of recommendation early: I was offered my first one (from a Legal Studies professor!) my sophomore year! The best way to go about these is to go to office hours. Write them down as mandatory class time if you need to, but go. Build a relationship with your professors, and find out which ones would be the most ideal in terms of writing you a letter.
Lastly, study for the LSAT. I don’t think it’s necessary for everyone to take a year off and study for it (I spent all of three weeks, but that was a bad idea that should never be repeated), but for some, it could make the difference between getting into that top five school or not. Because top schools will average your scores instead of choosing the best one, make sure that you bring your A game when you take it the first time.
These tips are just a general guideline; they may or may not work well for you. Try everything out, see what feels right, and make sure that at the end of the day, you are happy with your life and you’re going to sleep for at least 8 hours. You’ll need it!
Best of luck in your time at Cal, and I hope to see some of you at Harvard Law in the coming years! GO BEARS! ~Shuangjun ’13
“I graduated from Cal in May 2013 as a Legal Studies major. I thought I was going to better the world by being a public defender. After taking my first few Legal Studies classes my eyes were opened to the endless opportunities I had to help people. Classes were not studying the minute details of procedure and precedent, but they delved into an array of perspectives on how to view law–philosophy, sociology, technology. Having professors who taught what they were passionate about made the difference in my education at Cal. Many of my legal studies professors and my experience on the rowing team were the inspiration for me to create at Gay-Straight Alliance for Student-Athletes and continue my social advocacy beyond college. Cal’s professors set themselves apart from any other university because they ignite they students to pursue what empowers them.” ~Heather ’13
“All courses in this major are law-centric or law-focused; however, they all incorporate other realms of thought and study, e.g., politics, policy, sociology, which requires students to broaden their perspectives on what the legal sphere encompasses. I relished this major because of this fact. Also, the rigor of being instructed by some Boalt Hall professors is a huge plus.
After the completion of my fourth year, I took two years off from my studies to coach high school football and work on some political campaigns. I completed my last GE courses at a community college, spring 2013. During my academic hiatus, I studied for the LSAT and applied to law schools. I’ll be attending UC Davis School of Law, this fall (2013). This last point leads me to the part of my story where I will promulgate unsolicited advice.
If you are thinking about law school: (1) Find a major that you have an aptitude for. If it’s Legal Studies, great. If it’s not, that’s perfectly fine. Just make sure you find a department where you can ensure your grades best reflect your intellectual prowess. GPA matters. (2) Make LSAT prep your life. Free up your schedule, i.e., quit your job, live at home so your parents can cook for you, and ditch your friends. Commit yourself to the LSAT. You’ll regret it, if you don’t. (3) Hopefully, you’ve been involved with service-oriented activities and/or extracurriculars that you’re passionate about. These provide great fodder for your personal statement. Best of luck.” ~Enrique ’13
“I was a double major at Cal in Political Science and Legal Studies and am now entering my first year of law school at Georgetown. Because of the legal studies major I am more familiar with legal concepts than my peers. The Berkeley Legal Studies major offers a broader context for studying law which will help you develop a more nuanced perspective of the law and its affects. Cal is one of the only schools I’ve heard of that has a legal studies major with such diverse classes all taught by Boalt Law School professors.
If you are considering law school I highly recommend this major because of the connections and coursework. It is nice having a network of students who are in similar situations as you (i.e. studying for the LSAT, getting letters of recommendation, and applying for law school). It is also a rare opportunity to get law school letters of recommendation from distinguished professors who teach at a top tier law; both of my letters were from Legal Studies/Boalt professors.
In addition, if you take a variety of Legal Studies classes now (criminal, constitutional, immigration, etc.) it will be easier to narrow down what electives you choose to take in law school and possibly even your career specialization. Berkeley classes have influences from sociology, criminal justice, political science, and philosophy which makes them appealing to people from all disciplines. I am very happy with my decision to major in Legal Studies and am confident that it will be helpful for law school and my legal career.” ~Susie ’12
“I graduated from Cal in May 2010 in legal studies and political science and am starting a PhD in Sociology at UC Davis in fall 2011. For 2011-2013, I was awarded the Cota-Robles Fellowship, a UCD campus fellowship that covers all expenses. I chose Davis largely because of the number of faculty there with similar interests to mine; I wrote my honors thesis on the effectiveness of prison higher education programs in reducing recidivism rates, and plan to expand this research in graduate school to include remedial and GED preparation classes. I’m enthusiastic about pursuing a career in academia because of the opportunities it provides to influence policy while exploring a variety of topics. In retrospect, I can honestly say that choosing to major in legal studies was the best academic decision I made as an undergrad, in terms of access to classes that helped me develop my knowledge of a wide range of disciplines.” ~Angela ’11
“My name is Derek, I work at San Quentin State Prison as a Correctional Officer. While working at this job full time, I transferred from junior college to UC Berkeley in 2009 and graduated in December 2011 with a BA in Legal Studies. I am very pleased with my decision in choosing Legal Studies for my major. I believe it allowed me to become a successful student at CAL because it was something I enjoyed and had a profound interest in. I was fortunate to have many good professors, graduate student instructors (GSI’s) and an exceptional Legal Studies advisor. Furthermore, I had a broad range of course selection to choose from and I could practically tailor my entire course schedule to classes that interested me most. In addition, the Legal Studies Department is flexible by giving you the option of taking many pre approved law related courses that are offered by other departments, if you choose to do so. The Legal Studies Department, also introduces you to numerous apprenticeship programs, volunteer possibilities and employment opportunities. The Legal Studies degree, can make you a desirable candidate for many careers, particularly involving such areas as politics, civil service or the criminal justice system. Furthermore, it provides an excellent foundation for those who wish to go on to graduate school or law school. With my Legal Studies degree, I plan on pursuing a Master of Arts degree in public administration so that I can be a more effective and educated leader at my workplace. I hope to utilize this education to promote through the ranks and eventually promote to upper management and possibly up to warden one day. I had an interesting experience as a student at CAL. My first semester at CAL was a tough transition because I was a junior college transfer student and was unaware of the differing expectations at CAL. Due to my demanding schedule, I also had to make small sacrifices and temporarily cut back on a few activities such as reducing the number of Raider football games that I loved going to. I am writing this piece so that it may help new students adjust quickly to CAL. It is comprised of three main parts to include tips for studying and academics, tips for motivation and a short conclusion.
Tips for Studying and Academics:
When I was in junior college it was expected that you simply supply and define the correct answers to exam questions, furthermore most of the exams were mainly comprised of multiple choice type questions. However, this is not the case at UC Berkeley. Most of the exams at UC Berkeley are essay driven, you need to answer exam questions by giving a detailed analysis of the course themes and terms by defining them and comparing and contrasting them with each other. You also need to provide examples of their practical uses and weigh the pros and cons of each one and to elaborate how each of these themes relates to the course. It is essential that you build a good rapport with your GSI, to find out exactly what their expectations are for the course. It is often necessary to visit them during office hours at least once or twice during a semester, to ensure you are on the right track or to ask them questions on anything that remains unclear. The GSI’s are talented scholars and can give you really good advice. In addition, the GSI may take note that you are a conscientious student and are eager to succeed. It is advantageous to attend all lectures and study review sessions. I also found it beneficial to engage actively in your readings by highlighting and taking notes in your books. Furthermore, when preparing for exams I would often draw charts by labeling terms and providing their definitions and their significance to the course. Sometimes, I would group similar terms near each other on my chart so this would help me visualize how these terms related to one another.
Tips for Motivation:
If you ever lose your motivation, find new things to inspire you until they have run their course. Professional athletes often use visualization and various techniques to motivate themselves to achieve at high levels. This can also be implemented by students at CAL, because they are also competing at a high level in terms of academics. For example, I motivated myself everyday to succeed at CAL utilizing such things as listening to my favorite motivational songs, walking briskly to my classes to get my blood flowing quicker, along with visualizing and looking at photographs of important scholars or professionals that I admired and would like to aspire to be some day. I would often use one of these techniques before tackling my studies and homework. In addition, I also learned that you can study best, read interactively, improve retention skills and read faster when you have a rested and clear mind. The human brain contains a limited supply of attention span reserves within it. You can take short naps to restore lost energy and replenish your attention span. Once you recover, you can continue studying at an optimal level. Before mid terms and final exams I would also drink a cup of coffee before class in order to be extra alert and full of energy when it mattered most. A quick shot of lemon extract from the plastic lemon bottles sold in supermarket produce sections also seemed to revive me. In short, do whatever you have to do in order to keep yourself motivated and fired up! This will give you an edge and will keep you in a positive state of mind. I forced myself to do this at CAL and it worked extremely well for me and I hope this can help others also.
Your degree from CAL can take you a long way because the university has a world renowned reputation for developing talented minds. Many of my coworkers were excited and interested to know about all of my experiences at CAL. I told them that originally when I went to CAL, I thought I was just going there to get an outstanding academic education. However, in the end I realized I also grew as a person, both academically and socially. I developed into a leader by becoming an effective critical thinker and I have a greater awareness for humanity and our environment. Lastly, being a UC Berkeley alum, gives you instant credibility. Once you graduate you will carry this distinction for the rest of your life because people will associate you with being a CAL alumni. Having the opportunity to compete at CAL is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Take full advantage of this and keep this in mind when the times are tough, it will be very rewarding in the end.” ~Derek ’11
“I was a transfer student, but Cal definitely allowed me to make the most of my limited time as an undergraduate. Here, I became a student activist by getting involved with the multicultural community through the Pilipino Academic Student Services, a student-run recruitment and retention organization, and the bridges Multicultural Resource Center. As a Legal Studies major, I was interested in administrative law, and I took a lot of courses related to criminal justice. These courses armed with the knowledge necessary to land an internship with the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, where I was partnered up with a non-profit organization in Oakland working to eliminate youth violence. Through the NCCD’s University-to-Community Network Internship, I was able to intern and later work for Oakland’s McCullum Youth Court, where I learned about the alternative theory of justice known as Restorative Justice.
During my last semester at Cal, I also wrote an thesis on the creation of a “police state” climate by post-9/11 immigration policy in the state of Arizona, which received Highest Honors and was also recently published in The Berkeley Undergradudate Journal. Shortly after I graduated, a few of the friends I made as a student activist pointed me towards a job opportunity at the Asian Law Caucus, the nation’s first legal and civil rights organization serving low-income Asian Pacific Americans, because they believed I was right for the job. By some sort of miracle, I am now working at the Caucus as a Community Advocate for the Criminal Justice Reform Program, working on the issue of the intersection of immigration and criminal justice and promoting Restorative Justice alternatives in immigrant communities.
After having been involved for the past few years in community work, I have decided that although law school is not for me at the moment, it is not out of the question. I am, however, currently applying to graduate programs in Urban Planning and Public Policy.
My advice for any student? It’s hard not to get cliche about this, but ultimately for me, the best thing I ever did was throw myself out there. I was a recluse my first semester before I joined PASS; afterwards, I ended up getting a staff position on the organization, became an outspoken activist, got to travel across California to help young people of color apply for college, and so much more. At Cal, you have the opportunity not just to learn, but to have the opportunity to apply what you learn with the different opportunities available to you. Also, don’t view anything as a “failure,” as most of us are apt to do. Be thankful for what experiences and success you already have, and see every missed opportunity as sign to take another one. My story is just one of many thousands out there.” ~Lenine ’10
“The legal studies major gave me the freedom to really shape my undergraduate education. I took diverse classes which dissected how the law is portrayed in films, critiqued the increasingly harsh nature of the juvenile justice system and provided a historical and contemporary snapshot of the legal system in China. I highly recommend reaching out to your professors who, incidentally, are some of the most prominent legal scholars in the country. Through engaging in class discussions, risking potential awkward moments in office hours, and writing an honors thesis, I was able to develop meaningful relationships with Graduate Student Instructors and Professors from Boalt even before I became a law student here. These relationships have really been invaluable. Particularly as someone who comes from a less sophisticated background, it has been incredibly helpful to speak with people who could help me decide whether to attend law school, how to get in once that decision was made and how to succeed once I got there.” ~Joseph ’09
I was a legal studies major and was just a credit or two short of a Chinese minor. Although I did not decide to continue with Law School after working at a Corporate Law firm in New York as a paralegal, I am still glad I had the opportunity to study the theory of Law as an undergraduate. Professor Berring’s classes were definitely my favorite!
From Law to Retail now to Finance, (which gives me the flexibility to study Fashion Apparel Construction at the Moore Design School on weeknights), I realize you will have many chances to learn new things, so you don’t have to take your college major so seriously. Enjoy your time in college by cultivating solid friendships, exploring new sports/interests/languages, definitely study abroad, and prepare your job plans before you graduate even if you defer your start date to travel or take a break. Go Bears! ~Jennifer ’07
If you were a Legal Studies major and would like to contribute your story, (it doesn’t need to be long), send it to Lauri ( Lauri@berkeley.edu ). Thanks!