Learning the Law

(Photo by Duane Zehr)

Matt Hawkins
November 6, 2017

Journalism and political science double major Melissa Wyas ’19 came to Bradley torn between two dreams — a media career or a legal career. She entered the University’s pre-law program and discovered more career opportunities to nurture her interests than she thought existed.

Wyas, of St. Peters, Missouri, developed an interest in journalism, law and politics in high school. When she looked at colleges, she wanted a place she could explore all her interests. Bradley’s pre-law program, which doesn’t require students to choose a narrowly focused major, gave her freedom to build a diverse professional skill set.

“I didn’t want a focused pre-law major and realize after two years that law wasn’t for me, I wanted to get a degree that would prepare me regardless of my exact career,” she said. “Bradley gave me time I needed to find what I wanted to do, and I’ll be a better professional because of that.”

Pre-law students are guided by Bradley’s Center for Legal Studies, which is directed by retired judge Jerelyn Maher. Students take a course that introduces them to legal careers, and then they have opportunities throughout the year to network with professionals. Guest lectures allow students more time to explore legal careers and hot topics. The CLS also provides a practice LSAT.

Maher and the CLS proved to be valuable during Wyas’ sophomore year as she explored potential careers. Wyas served on Bradley’s student television and newspaper staffs and queried legal professionals at every opportunity. She cemented career hopes through a spring lecture by University of Illinois journalism professor Ben Holden. Holden is a media law expert who was a reporter for the Wall Street Journal before becoming a legal consultant for media.

“I enjoyed picking his brain and realized I’d like to follow his steps,” Wyas said. “He’s a well-rounded, knowledgeable person I want to be like.”

Holden’s visit united Wyas’ interests in media and politics. She saw she didn’t need to become a judge or lawyer to make an impact. Instead, she could advise media outlets on thorny issues or chase her ultimate dream —becoming a legal expert featured on a talk show like NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Wyas also credited Maher, whose efforts left a life-changing impact.

“Judge Maher is an awesome resource for us,” Wyas said. “She genuinely cares for us and tells us the truth, even if we don’t want to hear it, because she wants us to succeed.”

Thanks to Maher’s mentorship and connections made through PLC events, Wyas embraced professional possibilities. As she looks ahead, she hopes to stay close to home after graduation to attend law school at Washington University or St. Louis University.

“It took some trial-and-error, but now I have a direction for the future,” she said. “I’m excited, even though that means the difficult LSAT, because I have a good path planned.”