Teri McMurtry-Chubb is a Professor of Law at Mercer University Walter F. George School of Law. She researches, teaches, and writes in the areas of discourse analysis and rhetoric, critical legal studies, hegemony studies, and legal history. She has lectured nationally on structural workplace discrimination, state violence against African Americans, racial and gender inequities in post-secondary education, and African Diasporic cultural forms. She has also facilitated narrative mediations of racial disputes in the academic workplace.
Professor McMurtry-Chubb has taught at Loyola Law School-LA, California State Polytechnic University at Pomona, The University of Iowa, Des Moines Area Community College, Drake University School of Law, and Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies at Western Washington University. While at Fairhaven College, she served as an Assistant Professor of Law and Hegemony Studies, and was the co-founder and first director of Fairhaven’s Center for Law, Diversity and Justice.
Prior to returning to academia, Professor McMurtry-Chubb was a civil litigation associate at a mid-sized law firm in Des Moines, IA. At the time she joined the firm, she was the first person of color ever to be hired there and one of two African American women in the entire state of Iowa in private practice. She practiced in the areas of insurance defense, employment discrimination, and employee benefits involving the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). Before entering private practice, McMurtry-Chubb became the first African American woman hired as a law clerk for the 5th Judicial District of Iowa.
In addition to teaching, Professor McMurtry-Chubb is a Past President of the Association of Legal Writing Directors (ALWD). Upon taking office in August 2015, McMurtry-Chubb was the first person of color to head a national legal writing organization. She is also the past Chair of the Legal Writing Institute (LWI) Diversity Initiatives Committee. McMurtry-Chubb has served as the Chair of the Iowa National Bar Association (the founding chapter of the National Bar Association), and as a gubernatorial appointee to the Iowa State Historical Society Board of Trustees. She is the author of numerous publications including the article #SayHerName #BlackWomensLivesMatter: State Violence in Policing the Black Female Body (2016), the textbook Legal Writing in the Disciplines: A Guide to Legal Writing Mastery (Carolina Academic Press 2012), and chapters in both the three-volume series Controversies in Affirmative Action Volume II: Contemporary Debates (Praeger 2014) and Feminist Judgments: Rewritten Opinions of the United States Supreme Court (Cambridge University Press 2016).
The Pre-Law School Days
● What was your life like before you went to law school?
Intense. I knew that I wanted to go to law school before I entered my freshman year of undergraduate study at Spelman College. I majored in U.S. and Caribbean History and minored in International Relations with a concentration in French and Japanese language study. For me, every year of matriculation at the undergraduate level was preparation for law school.
What was unexpected for me is that I so fell in love with my undergraduate major in history that I was conflicted about whether to get a PhD in history or a law degree. During my junior year of college, I was a domestic exchange student at Wellesley College. While I was there, one of my professors said: “Why decide? Do both.” So I did. I applied to a PhD program in history and to law school at the University of Iowa and was accepted into both programs.
● What did “being a lawyer” mean to you then? How did you come to this understanding?
Being a lawyer meant that I could help people by doing the things I loved most – reading, writing, and oral advocacy. I am a voracious reader, and from reading biographies about lawyers and watching documentaries about them I understood that much of what I saw lawyers doing in popular culture (arguing in front of a jury or panel of judges) was a small part of what lawyers actually did.
● What drew you to become a lawyer?
The Civil Rights greats, Charles Hamilton Houston, Thurgood Marshall, and Constance Baker Motley, all influenced my understanding of the sacrifices and tremendous burden inherent in serving as an attorney. Reading about their fight to end segregation and the violence of the Jim Crow era spoke to me, and let me know that as an African American attorney I would be continuing the struggle for equity in my era. My dual degree study in history and law gave me an understanding of how my people fought to achieve what we now have and a sense of the fight yet before us. Becoming an attorney has given me the tools to fight and fight effectively.
The Law School Days
● What was studying law like for you? Was it what you imagined it to be?
I loved just about everything about law school. The experience was actually better than I thought it would be. I think my experience was due in no small part to envisioning myself as a career academic rather than as a practicing attorney; I was enrolled in a PhD program in history and in law school simultaneously. My vision of myself as a professional evolved, but this initial conception of myself influenced how I approached the study of law. I wasn’t stressed about finding a job or getting good grades, although I was blessed with both. I was solely interested in learning as much as I could from anyone who would teach me.
● What stories, images, or practices sustained you while you studied?
I grew up working class on the edge of poor, and in a family that supported and loved me. They sustained me, they believed in me, as did my goal to be able to help out my parents and siblings financially. I also had the unwavering support and love of my husband. He believed in me from the time we met as freshmen in college and supported my dreams through law school, graduate school, and beyond. My husband was in graduate school while I was in law school and graduate school, which allowed us both to focus on our studies without guilt and to inspire one another to do our best.
● Besides taking the bar exam, how did you transition from being a law student to being a lawyer?
Having a judicial clerkship helped me to envision myself as a practicing attorney and made my transition to practice easier. I was good at researching the law and writing draft opinions for judges, which gave me confidence that I could do the work of a practicing attorney. I also had the privilege of clerking and practicing with my classmates from law school, and with established attorneys who had attended my law school. They made me feel “welcomed in” to the practice of law and supported as I learned to practice. It was like having a giant safety net. I was not afraid to make mistakes.
The Post-Law School Days
● How have you incorporated your legal studies into your everyday life (either in your career or outside of it)?
I am an employment discrimination, employee benefits, and civil rights attorney. I am also a tenured law professor. I keep an active bar license in the state where I presently live, and take and/or help with cases when I can. As a professor, I see it as my duty to teach the next generation of social justice lawyers. I practice what I teach, and use my scholarly work to shape impact litigation strategy and policy-making statewide and nationally. I have written white papers on proposed legislation, participated in think tanks with academics, legislators, and businesses to influence legislation, and contributed scholarly work to advance the cause of civil rights by providing context, analysis, and solutions for social justice challenges at the grassroots, state, and national levels.
● What do you tell people who ask you what it’s like be a lawyer?
I tell them that, at least for me, nothing is worth doing if not done with excellence. Being an excellent lawyer takes a lot of work, sacrifice, and dedication. Law is the biggest public service profession. To think otherwise is to mislead yourself and jeopardize your clients.
● One Last Question: What, if anything, do you want to share with our readers?
Service is the rent you pay to live on this earth. Only a small percentage of the population has the privilege of a legal education. If you are part of that percentage, use your skills to advance the cause of justice in your small corner of the world. Don’t wait for others to fix the problems to which you hold solutions. You are the one you’ve been waiting for.
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