Law and letters: Literature degree to debut pre-law concentration

After two years of program development, the legal field is coming to Literature students through a new pre-law concentration debuting in fall 2024.

Joining four other concentrations already available to Literature majors, the pre-law concentration will include five classes centering on legal history, and research and writing, with the aim of preparing Comets for law school and legal professions. Literature Program Director Charles Hatfield said the department developed the new concentration in response to an explosive growth in student population.

“Enrollment in undergraduate literature classes, academic year 23-24, is at an all-time high,” Hatfield said. “So we’re doing great. And we really believe in what we offer … We want to clarify that, because I think sometimes parents will say, ‘What on earth are you gonna do with a B.A. in literature?’”

Graduates who majored in Literature perform better on the LSAT than other majors traditionally associated with law and are admitted to law school at higher rates, Hatfield said, due to the analytical skills developed within the degree’s material. The pre-law concentration was designed in tandem with law schools, legal professionals and the Pre-Law Advising Center to emphasize these strengths while keeping the majority of the Literature curriculum constant.

“We think that this combination of our really great rigorous literary studies courses combined with these focused electives from political science and American studies … are really gonna do a great job getting students prepared for law school admission,” Hatfield said.

Any concentration in the Literature major is made up of five classes built into the degree plan as free electives. The pre-law concentration will consist of RHET 4320, a new legal research and writing class taught by an attorney and developed for this concentration, PSCI 3303 Civil Liberties, PSCI 3322 Constitutional Law, ISIS 4304 Trials in American Culture and one free law-focused elective. Text-heavy coursework makes the concentration ideal for students interested in writing, Hatfield said.

“Professor [Erin] Greer mentioned a student who published a chat book of poetry and got into a really great, top-ranked law school, and I was like, that’s the perfect picture of our major,” Hatfield said. “The student wrote a book of poems and is ready to go as a great law student.”

The concentration was first conceptualized in spring 2022 by Hatfield and American Studies professor Larissa Wehrhnyak, bringing together existing faculty and courses for a new purpose. The only new class, RHET 4320, will be taught by a practicing lawyer hired as part-time UTD staff.

Hatfield said the concentration’s target audience is students who want to be strong law school candidates and critical thinkers, as well as students interested in other related occupations like paralegal work.

“The third audience might be … somebody [who] might think, ‘I’m interested in the law, I don’t wanna be a lawyer, and I love literature. This is a cool way to do all those things before I go off and pursue a different kind of career,’” Hatfield said.

According to Serenity King, associate vice president for institutional success and decision support, UTD’s Academic Senate approved the pre-law program last semester to begin in fall 2024. If the program is incorporated into UTD’s course catalog before then, students will be able to take the concentration in the fall.

Students interested in the pre-law concentration should contact Hatfield or Literature academic advisor, Cynthia Lara.

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