Hailing from Birmingham, Ala., Melissa Lonegrass joined the LSU Law faculty in 2008 and has been a leader in the teaching of civil law and the Law Center’s Academic Tutoring Program.
Why did you choose to study law in college?
In college I learned quickly that what I enjoy doing most is not necessarily tied to any particular discipline. I loved just about every subject that I studied in college. Whatever the discipline, I enjoyed the process of learning the basics, identifying unanswered questions, reading and thinking critically, and most of all, writing. In law, I recognized a profession that would continually present me with opportunities to engage in that process of learning, problem-solving, and communicating. While the law is itself a field of study in which one can gain expertise, it is neither practiced nor studied in a vacuum. Practicing lawyers and legal academics must immerse themselves also in the fields in which law is applied — medicine, environmental studies, international relations, sociology, housing, immigration policy, etc. Law touches every field imaginable, and I found that incredibly enticing.
What brought you to LSU Law?
I moved to Louisiana in 2002 to study law at Tulane Law School. While a student there, I expressed an interest in eventually teaching law to several of my professors. When I graduated, I went to work as an associate with a firm in New Orleans, Irwin Fritchie Urquhart & Moore. Although I loved my practice, I always felt that I was called to teach. When a position opened up at LSU Law, I was fortunate to have mentors at Tulane who encouraged me to apply. I recognized immediately that LSU Law is a wonderful place to pursue an academic career. The faculty is engaging and supportive and the students are bright and energetic.
You’re active in the legal community, serving on committees and writing articles. Why is it important to stay involved outside of the classroom?
Law is dynamic. It evolves through the work of courts and legislatures, to be sure. But also it evolves through the work of legal scholars whose work informs the decisions of courts and legislatures. As a teacher, it is absolutely essential for me to not only stay informed about changes in the fields in which I teach, but to be as engaged as possible in making positive changes in those fields. Moreover, I hope to show my students through example that lawyers have an important role to play in not only studying and applying the law but in its development.
How valuable is being a good writer to law graduates?
Writing is the most important skill in the practice of law. Lawyers write motions, briefs, contracts, legal opinions, and memoranda. The skill of thinking critically about legal problems and distilling one’s thoughts into a piece of writing, whether descriptive, analytical, or persuasive, is essential to the profession.
As someone who works closely with the Law Center’s tutoring program, how valuable is that program to the student body?
The Law Center’s Academic Tutoring Program has been a wonderful development at the Law Center. Students who performed well in a particular course work hand-in-hand with the professor who teaches the course to provide an additional layer of academic support for students. Tutors meet one-on-one with students to answer questions and give guidance on class preparation, problem-solving, and studying for exams. They also work with professors to organize and hold additional review opportunities for students throughout the semester.
From my vantage point as the program’s coordinator, the Academic Tutoring Program has been a great success, not only for struggling students, but for all students — even the tutors themselves. Studying law is a collective endeavor. The deepest learning occurs when students engage in discussion — whether with their professors or their peers. The Tutoring Program provides the students with many additional opportunities each semester to discuss and debate the material, to identify the strengths and weaknesses in their own learning and understanding, and simply to become better lawyers. I also believe the program builds community, a sense that the students are “all in it together,” which is incredibly healthy in a law school environment where students are often quite competitive.
As someone not originally from this state, what’s your favorite thing about living in Louisiana?
I have loved nearly everything about the state of Louisiana since I moved here, with the exception perhaps of the weather during the month of August. Quite obviously the food, music, and culture are exceptional. But, the best part of living in Louisiana is the people. Whether native to Louisiana or not, the people who choose to live here are overwhelmingly welcoming and open-hearted. I hope to never live anywhere else.