Law and Journalism Experience? You’re Covered

Law and Journalism Experience? You’re Covered
March 5, 2019
Hartford, CT

When Dick Lehr graduated from UConn School of Law 35 years ago, he didn’t intend to practice law – at least not for long.

“As a young kid from New England, it was always my dream to work for The Boston Globe,” he says. “When they came calling after I completed my legal education, I knew my career in legal would be short-lived.”

Lehr’s journalism career at The Globe, where he was a member of the legendary Spotlight investigative team and a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize, spanned decades. He has written several books, including Black Mass about the mobster Whitey Bulger, and is now a professor of journalism at Boston University.

Although he spent only a short time practicing law, Lehr in no way considers his legal education wasted. “It cannot be underestimated how helpful it has been to understand criminal procedure,” he said in a recent interview. “How to learn what to look for in legal records and police reports, how to ask the right questions of the Boston Police Department.”

Tom Condon ’75, who retired three years ago after 47 years as a reporter and columnist at the Hartford Courant, agrees. A reporter needs the confidence to grasp a story and communicate it, he says. Condon enrolled in evening classes while he worked at the Courant to help build those skills.

Condon also found that his journalism skills were useful in law school. “To be able to write concisely and clearly are skills that not all lawyers and judges have. I remember reading cases in law school written in turgid and verbose language, and it would be a pleasure to read a case written by a judge that wrote clearly,” he said.

Jessica Schneider ’10 says her training in television news helped her at UConn Law, particularly in moot court competitions. “The speaking ability that comes with refining your verbal communications as a journalist really helped me distinguish myself in law school,” she says.

Likewise, Schneider, now a justice correspondent for CNN, finds that her legal training informs her journalism as she covers the special counsel’s investigation and other national legal news. “I am able to talk to the lawyers on cases, know the procedural aspects, and with that, be able to get more information and translate that into how I write my stories.”

Matthew Eagan ’14, who enrolled at UConn Law after 13 years as a sportswriter and news reporter at the Courant, has found the reverse is also true. His journalism background helps him conduct his appellate practice at Sexton & Company in Hartford, which involves writing a lot of briefs. The ability to write concisely is “in some ways invaluable,” he says.

Perhaps even more important, Eagan says, is the skepticism he developed as a journalist. “We’re trained to look at something and say, ‘C’mon, that’s not right,’” he says. When he analyzes an appeal, he finds himself wondering, “What doesn’t make sense here?”

Taylor DiChello, now in her first year at UConn Law, finds many of the same connections between her legal education and her professional journalism background. She earned a journalism degree in 2017 from Boston University and began a career in news that brought her to the Hartford area.

“The journalist has people skills and can connect to clients in way that puts them at ease and helps draw out what they really want to say,” she said. “In both professions, you are going to meet people who don’t want to talk to you, and it will be such an advantage to have those interviewing skills that will allow you to dig deeper.”

As a student by evening, DiChello continues to report for Hartford television station Fox 61. She’s not sure yet where exactly her career will take her, but she knows her opportunities are expanding.

Eric Parker, who graduated in 2010, is not ready to choose between journalism and the law. He works part-time as a morning anchor for WFSB, a Hartford-area television station, and as a partner at Romano Parker & Associates in Rocky Hill, Connecticut. Straddling the two professions, he sees a natural connection between the skills each requires.

“Being a journalist forces you to learn to think quickly,” he said. During law school exams he recalled sometimes looking around and realizing others were still reading well after he had absorbed the material and begun to write his answer.

“Similarly, while working as a lawyer you write motions. You may decide the route to take is X,” he said. “Because of the pivoting skills I learned as a journalist, I can easily change direction.”

As for the future, he acknowledges that he may eventually have to choose between journalism and law. “I don’t have to right now,” he says, “so I’m not going to.”