English and the Law

“The study of English literature, especially lyric poetry, is the best preparation for the law.”

Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens

From Chaucer's Man of Laws to Dickens's satire on the Court of Chancery in Bleak House, literature has always had a lot to say about law, but that's not even the main reason that the major in English is an excellent preparation for Law School.

English majors choose law more than any other single profession. Notre Dame English majors who have gone onto careers in law tell us that English was an ideal major because it provided them with:

  • Skills of critical analysis
  • The ability to read and digest large amounts of written material
  • Most importantly, rigorous and extensive writing instruction

Recent graduates are studying law at Harvard, Virginia, Tulane, Ohio State, Seton Hall, Alabama, Indiana, DePaul, Texas, Fordham, NYU, Loyola-Chicago, SMU, St. Louis, Vanderbilt, Michigan and Notre Dame, of course!

For advice on pre-law studies, contact Anita Rees at the Center for Career Development.

Here’s a representative sampling of comments from Notre Dame English majors:

“The better a person is at reading comprehension, writing, speaking, etc. the better attorney he or she will be . . . period.” John Cheverie, Class of 1998

“I think the time I spent reading massive amounts of material, engaging in critical thinking, and especially writing papers (with feedback from professors) was the best undergraduate preparation I could have received for the rigors of law school.” Elizabeth Carver, Class of 1981

“The key to my success as an attorney has been my writing and analysis skills, both of which were honed in my English Major classes at ND.” James Donathen, Class of 1975

“To be successful in law you must be able to read quickly and understand large volumes of material. Also good lawyers must be able to write clearly and communicate effectively. I was surprised at how good my GPA was at ND law and I attribute a lot of that to the fact my test answers were written clearly (even under immense pressure) and thus were understood by my law professors.” Honorable Michael Eldred, Class of 1970

And from a current law student: “my legal writing professors have consistently commented that my writing can clearly be positively distinguished from my classmates’, and my ability to read and assimilate a great deal of information in a short period of time helps keep me on top of my often excessive daily reading assignments.” Jean Henegan, Class of 2008