Law School: St. Mary’s University School of Law
Undergraduate: B.A. in Marketing, Southern Methodist University
Other Degrees: Studied abroad at Curtin University in Perth, Australia. Concentration: International Marketing & Management. Studied abroad at University of Salamanca in Salamanca, Spain. Concentration: Intensive Spanish language training, incorporating conversation, grammar and culture.
Home City/State: Austin, Texas
Kate Dewan was all business – literally and figuratively – when it came to choosing law as a career and the law school that would launch it. The 3L at St. Mary’s University School of Law in Texas had geared herself over the years for the jobs in marketing she thought she would enjoy and at which she knew she’d do well.
And the jobs did come; the enjoyment did not. “I wasn’t using all my brainpower; I didn’t have to challenge myself,” Dewan said in a telephone interview. “I needed something more.”
Deciding whether law was a possibility or a certainty put her into market research mode: She engineered jobs with law firms big and small and in different areas of practice.
And when it came to choosing a law school, she carefully assessed her needs as her own sole customer: a Texas school, since she planned to practice in her home state; reasonable costs, a good financial aid package; comfortably competitive, not cutthroat; and faith-based if possible, since she’s Roman Catholic.
Most of all, Dewan said, she needed to feel comfortable but not intellectually coddled. She wanted a “challenging” environment, she explained, saying she needed to be able to push herself to do what she found difficult, and she wanted to find something to be passionate about.
“Since I was paying for my law education, I had no intention of making a costly mistake,” she said.
Her choice of St. Mary’s University Law School seems to have been just right.
“I wrote my way onto the Law Journal, though I was exhausted every minute of that journey,” she said. “I campaigned and won Student Bar Association president, though I always feared public speaking. I entered into the 1L moot court competition and acquitted myself well – and I took a class with an amazing professor who inspired me to consider oil and gas law as my practice area,” she said. “I’d say that we are a good fit.”
LAWDRAGON: Given that your academic and professional career were geared to marketing, why go to law school?
KATE DEWAN: I graduated with my business degree and was set on a career in marketing. But as I took on one job and another, I didn’t feel challenged. Don’t get me wrong – I worked with wonderful people and for great employers. The work simply wasn’t satisfying.
That’s when I wondered what I could do that would make every day on the job different, that would make me eager to go to work. I moved back to Austin, to my family, where everyone is in the medical profession: My dad and two brothers are doctors and my mom is a physician’s assistant. I thought about joining the “family business,” but frankly, after seeing surgery and what actually goes on in a hospital, I knew this wasn’t for me.
I talked with some of my friends about law school. Then I did my research, starting with working for a criminal law firm as a law clerk to one of the attorneys. This was a family law and criminal defense firm, where I spoke with and listened to women trying to escape abuse and addicted mothers who were trying to get their lives on track so that they could get their kids back. Suddenly I was helping people; suddenly I wanted to go to work every day. I knew I wanted to pursue a career in law.
LD: What do you wish you had known before entering law school?
KD: Everyone knows that law school involves lots of reading. However, I don’t think anyone new to legal education really understands how much reading there is and that what you’re reading is in a completely unfamiliar language. In business school and as an undergraduate I worked primarily with numbers and on projects. Also, I was used to working in collaborative teams, not as an individual competing with other individuals for a grade.
That said, I wish I had taken a reading course or rhetoric as an undergraduate so that I could have been more prepared for the amount of reading that was to come my first year.
LD: Were there any first semester surprises?
KD: Not really. I read a law school 101 book, so I was prepared, for example, to be cold-called in class. As important, St. Mary’s offered a full-day boot camp, which was invaluable. We held a mock class and learned how to brief a case. We started learning some of the language we’d encounter. It was great.
LD: What were some key factors you used to choose your law school?
KD: I am a Texas girl at heart, and I knew I wanted to practice law in Texas. I admit that I applied to law schools all over the country – 25 to be exact – because I thought I wanted options; I figured I had spent so many years of my educational life in Texas that I should go to law school in another state.
I quickly realized how ridiculous this was: Why leave a state that has a good economy, a vibrant job market and top-quality law schools that would also allow me to be within a reasonable distance of my family?
I ended up focusing solely on the law schools in Texas. Since I am originally from Austin and I still love to visit, I also knew that I wanted to pick a school close to that city.
Another key factor in choosing my law school was cost and scholarship opportunity. I am currently paying my way through law school, so the scholarship I received from St. Mary’s definitely affected my decision.
The most important factor, however, was how I felt when I walked on the campus. I knew this was going to be three years of my life, and I had to feel comfortable with the people surrounding me, because ultimately these individuals would be my future colleagues, mentors and friends.
I visited St. Mary’s on a Friday and sat in Provost André Hampton’s contracts class. Students greeted me before and after class, which immediately made me feel welcome. After all, it was Friday and their last class of the week and the students still took the time to tell me about their experiences and answer my questions.
I knew law school was going to be competitive no matter where I chose to attend. I also knew this was going to be difficult for me as I have a business and marketing background where working together with other students and colleagues was crucial to reach the end goal. Although the students at St. Mary’s Law are still very competitive, I have always felt comfortable forming study groups with my classmates without worrying whether one student was in it just to gain an advantage over someone else.
I was also persuaded by the way in which St. Mary’s reached out to me in many ways after I was admitted and before I decided on which law school to attend. The calls from enrolled students and others made me feel not just wanted, but that this would be a good fit.
Finally, I’m Catholic; I couldn’t have made it through law school without my faith. It was nice to know that as a Catholic Marianist institution, St. Mary’s is a faith-based school.
LD: What has been your most memorable or valuable law school experience?
KD: I have had so many great experiences at St. Mary’s. One that immediately comes to mind is the 1L Moot Court Competition, even though I have always had a terrible fear of speaking in public. When I learned that each student was required to speak for 15 minutes for this competition, my stomach was in knots. As it turned out, I loved the competition and made it to the octa final round – the qualifying round for the quarterfinals.
Most important, it got me over my fear of public speaking. If I had not conquered this fear, I would have never thought to run for president of the Student Bar Association, where I knew I would be speaking in front of faculty, classes, members of the administration and, ultimately, my graduating class and their families at commencement in May.
That leads me to the two other experiences that have been both memorable and valuable.
As I said, I’m the president of the Student Bar Association here on campus, which is the law school version of student government. I actually became involved in my 1L year, when the then SBA president spoke with us.
I had been involved in student government in middle school. Maybe I lacked the confidence to run for student government in college. I regret that now because I love helping make my school a better place; I enjoy helping students get the most out of their education; working with administrators and faculty to improve the learning environment.
Perhaps that regret motivated me to run for office in law school. I started as my section’s representative, an experience that also helped me again challenge my fear of public speaking as I was constantly making announcements and presenting students’ views and needs to the faculty and administration. Being president is hard work, but it’s fulfilling and so satisfying knowing that I sustained my involvement in the student bar throughout my law school career.
I’m also an associate editor on the Law Journal. St. Mary’s Law Journal has an amazing reputation, and I was determined to “write on,” even though the writing assignment – which is a huge paper – came immediately after exams, when you’re exhausted and the last thing you want to do is more research and writing. But I set this goal for myself, and I succeeded.
The experience – working with this group of smart and talented students to put together a journal of this caliber – has fulfilled my every expectation. It’s also great to know that all my hard work earned me a place on the journal.
LD: What do you plan to do with your law degree?
KD: Before I attended law school, I was interested in international law, primarily because I’ve been traveling the world – and volunteering to help people wherever I’ve been – since I was a teenager. I saw international law as a way to continue that.
Now, I have turned my focus to oil and gas law. Why did I switch? Primarily because I took a class with Professor Laura H. Burney, a widely recognized expert in the field. She is passionate about the subject in addition to being an inspiring teacher. Even the history of the industry fascinated me. Then I interned with an oil and gas company in Midland over the summer and realized how much I liked the practice area and working in-house for a company.
When I was deciding to go to law school or not, I worked for a small criminal defense firm and then for Fulbright & Jaworski. I knew I couldn’t engage in criminal defense work because it was emotionally draining for me: I would never be able to leave my work – my clients – at work and not take it all home with me.
But working in house, with different departments in an oil and gas company – that’s the kind of environment in which I know I would thrive.
Contact Margot Slade at (914) 396-4248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.