From Dr. to J.D. — Class of 2014 Includes Notable Number of Ph.D.s
Most entering law students at top law schools attend straight from college or with a couple of years of work experience on their resume. Six students in the University of Virginia School of Law's Class of 2014 took a different path — they already hold a doctorate in another field. (Class of 2014 Profile)
Prior to entering Virginia Law, these accomplished 1Ls earned doctorates in economics, chemistry, philosophy and microbiology. Three of the six are international students, originally from China and South Korea. And two have been teaching college courses, with one teaching economics at the University of Southern California and the University of California, Davis; and another teaching philosophy, most recently at Rhodes College.
Three of the Ph.D.s — Yichen (Emily) Liu, Andrew Terjesen and Clint South — spoke recently about their decision to study law, and why they chose Virginia, in particular. The other 1Ls with Ph.D.s are: Mingda Hang, who has a doctorate from UVA in microbiology; Joonsuk Lee, who has a doctorate in economics from the University of California, Los Angeles; and Bradford Patterson, who has a doctorate in economics from the University of Alabama.
Yichen (Emily) Liu
Hometown: Tianjin, China
Notable work experience: Laboratory safety officer at Emory University, April 2009 to July 2011; graduate teaching assistant at Emory, September 2005 to May 2007
You earned your doctorate in chemistry earlier this year from Emory University. What made you turn to law next?
I first became interested in intellectual property law when I attended the annual celebration of Emory's Office of Technology Transfer. I learned about the crucial role patent law plays in protecting an invention and pushing it forward to market. As I read more, I became passionate for intellectual property law as it applies to translational research. I believe it is a career where I can combine my scientific training with my passion for translational research and law.
Why did you choose Virginia Law?
I chose Virginia Law for its excellent academic reputation, outstanding faculty members, as well as its strong network of alumni. Charlottesville is a very attractive place, being located near the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains and Washington, D.C.
Do you intend to use your law degree in conjunction with your doctorate in chemistry? How so?
I believe my doctorate in chemistry will greatly benefit me in practicing intellectual property law. My training in chemistry has bestowed invaluable skills upon me, such as analytical thinking and problem-solving skills, which are easily transferable to a career in law. With the explosion of biotechnology, attorneys trained in chemistry and biology can be of great assistance to chemical, biotech and pharmaceutical companies.
Hometown: Brooklyn, N.Y.
Notable work experience: Visiting assistant professor of philosophy, Rhodes College, 2007-11; visiting assistant professor of philosophy, Washington & Lee University, 2006-07; visiting assistant professor of philosophy, Austin College, 2003-06.
You earned your Ph.D. in philosophy at Duke University in 2005 and have been teaching college courses in philosophy. What made you decide to turn to the law now?
It's more like I'm returning to the law. When I was a sophomore in undergrad, I made my parents ecstatic when I declared that I was going to go to law school. Their joy only lasted about two semesters because I discovered my passion for teaching philosophy in my junior year. But I remained engaged with the law. I taught several classes that focused on the intersection of philosophy and the law, and in other classes, I would find myself using legal examples to generate discussion. Ironically, the kinds of issues I liked to discuss in my philosophy classes are not usually considered core elements of a philosophical education. That meant that I did not often get to teach on the topics that I was most interested in, like the philosophy of law or practical ethics.
I wrote my dissertation on Adam Smith's moral philosophy and a lot of my work since has been focused on issues in business ethics. My interests have evolved in a way that parallels Smith's own writings. His first book was on ethics and his second was on economics. Before he died he was working on a book on law that was supposed to complete the trilogy. It's fitting that my first encounter with Smith was in a joint philosophy/law class at Duke in which we read lecture notes from Smith's course on jurisprudence. I think Smith realized that law is the mediator between our moral and economic lives, and therefore the key to a well-functioning society. Even if that didn't occur to him, it's what made me decide to go back to school and learn how the law really works. That way I could talk more intelligently about how it could and couldn't be used to regulate "bad" behavior.
Why did you choose Virginia Law?
Virginia Law appealed to me on two levels.
Career-wise, UVA has a top-notch law school with a history of producing legal academics (something that not too many schools can boast). It also has a close relationship with a well-regarded business school with a strong tradition of business ethics scholarship. I plan to take full advantage of the Law & Business Program and the opportunity it offers to become part of a conversation with faculty at [the] Darden [School of Business] as well as Virginia Law.
Personally, I really enjoyed the year we spent in the Shenandoah Valley, and our occasional visits to C-ville, while I was teaching at W&L. Central Virginia is a beautiful area and it splits the difference between my family in the Northeast and my wife's family in North Carolina.
Do you intend to use your law degree in conjunction with your Ph.D. in philosophy? How so?
In one way or another I want to be at the heart of discussions in business ethics. My time at Virginia Law will impart to me the practical realities of how businesses are (or can be) regulated, while my philosophical education is the source of the ethical reasoning that is needed to navigate those practical realities. Given my passion for teaching, I'd like to become a professor at a law or business school so that I could engage in discussions with other scholars and future lawyers and executives. I'd finally be in an environment where the things I wanted to teach and write about were considered an essential part of the curriculum.
Hometown: Florence, Ala.
Notable work experience: Science advisor and patent agent at Ballard Spahr LLP
You earned a doctorate in chemistry from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2008. What made you decide to turn to law now?
After Georgia Tech, I accepted a position with a law firm as a science advisor and later became a registered patent agent. My role at the firm was to help clients obtain patent protection for their chemical inventions, which included everything from toothpaste to anti-cancer drugs. I decided to go to law school because with a law degree, I can do much more. A patent attorney can counsel clients, render legal opinions and litigate patents, whereas a patent agent is limited to writing and prosecuting patent applications before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Why Virginia Law?
I learned through law firm experience the importance of attending a top law school. Virginia is certainly that. And considering the great Charlottesville location and laid-back atmosphere, Virginia law was my top choice.
Do you plan on using your Ph.D. in chemistry in conjunction with your law degree? How so ?
Yes, maybe even as much as my law degree. The baseline competency for a patent attorney is to understand the invention, and a Ph.D. helps. From there, the law degree is critical to protect the client's technology, or to protect the client from someone else's.
Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.