Guest blogger Bonnie Hatcher Wood currently serves as a Legislative Attorney in the Office of Legal Services at the Tennessee General Assembly. She graduated from the Manship School of Mass Communication in May 2012 with a concentration in public relations and a minor in business administration. A Chattanooga native, Bonnie moved back home to Tennessee upon graduation to pursue her law degree. She graduated from Belmont University College of Law in May 2015.
During the first few weeks of law school, two of the main questions everyone asked were “Where did you go to college?” and “What was your major?” Most students answered the latter with one of the following: pre-law, English, political science, or history. My answer was vastly different and the only one of my class: “I majored in Mass Communication with concentration in public relations.” My response was usually followed by a confused look from the person with whom I was speaking. While I might not have taken the “typical” route to law school, one thing is certain: a public relations background provided me with an extremely advantageous and unique insight into the legal arena that my classmates did not have.
A public relations background and the ability to be a strategic thinker give you a leg up in the legal world, my friends. For those of you who are thinking of pursuing an alternate career outside the typical PR world, or if you are thinking about a law degree to assist in your future PR plans, the following are beneficial aspects of having a PR degree that will help you succeed in law school.
- Research, Analyzation, and Anticipation
As a PR undergrad, you know that the first step of any plan is researching the pertinent information and gaining a keen understanding of everything that could affect your message. You then want to use that information to the benefit of your client and (especially in the strategic communication arena) anticipate responses that could arise in reaction to your message.
The same goes for the legal field. As a lawyer, you are not doing your job right if you do not appropriately research the area of the law you are working in, and it is absolutely vital that you anticipate the reactions you will get in order to sufficiently respond to them.
Because of my PR degree, I already had the mindset of “How do I respond to what the other side might (or might not) ask me” because my degree taught me how to research, analyze and respond in a way that a history degree just doesn’t teach.
- Writing – And the Red Marks that Come With It
I’m pretty sure I spent the majority of my last two years of college writing something for class, and that writing load doubled in law school. While legal writing is a bit different than writing a case study, the premise is the same: you must have effective written communication skills in both the PR and the legal world to convey your message and effectively assist your client.
I excelled in law school primarily because of my writing ability, and it was all because I was given so many writing opportunities in my undergrad study. I cannot stress enough the importance of paying attention to the constructive criticism your professors give you on your writing assignments. There is always room for improvement, and the best ‘A’ papers are still covered in red marks. Take those red marks into consideration, learn from them, and use what you learned to further your message in your next writing assignment. Your future self will thank you.
- The Ability to Engage an Audience
This advantage shows itself in different forms. First, a PR degree helps you to engage a larger audience in the sense that you’re getting a message across for your client. This is especially helpful in law school when you get called on to answer a question or when you argue a motion.
The second (and often more dreaded) form this advantage takes is in the ability to engage a much smaller audience. I’ll say it: networking.
In law school, you are flooded with assignments, homework and exams, and while networking opportunities are abundant, they often get pushed aside. If my PR degree taught me anything, it is that people who like you and like working with you will send their friends your way. In undergrad (especially at the Manship School of Mass Communication at LSU), you are given so many unique opportunities to network with both peers and professionals. Take advantage of those opportunities. Get out of your comfort zone now and learn to network, and always send a thank-you note. The legal community responds kindly to those who can carry on a conversation, and you will definitely want to take advantage of that in law school.