Alumni in Academia: Professor blends passions for trial work and teaching in the classroom
“I think I am lucky that I went to McGeorge because they picked very good teachers,” Peterson remarked. “The emphasis was always on the students.”
At the University of Wisconsin Law School, Professor Peterson wears a lot of hats. She is the co-director of the Legal Research and Writing program and directs the University of Wisconsin’s Mock Trial program. Peterson teaches Evidence, Legal Research and Writing, as well as Trial Advocacy. She is also a mom to four children.
While attending McGeorge, Peterson participated in some of the school’s most celebrated, ongoing traditions: editing the University of the Pacific Law Review, trying a jury trial from jury selection to verdict in Trial Advocacy, and taking Tort Law with Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Larry Levine.
Years after graduating, Peterson still vividly remembers how helpful and enthusiastic her professors were.
“The classes helped me with my writing and understanding of the law,” she said. “It was a great experience.”
While Peterson loved reading and editing articles as a member of Law Review, she says that she found her voice as an advocate and future litigator in Trial Advocacy.
“I was not a talker, and I did not want to be called on in class. But once I did Trial Advocacy, I loved it. All of a sudden, I thought, ‘Maybe I could be a litigator,’” Peterson said.
After graduating, Peterson began her career at Downey Brand, one of Sacramento’s top law firms. Her practice focused on intellectual property litigation. Peterson recalls that the coworkers situated on either side of her office were fellow McGeorge alumni: Sharon Sandeen, ’85, on one side, and Peter Glick, ’86, on the other.
After 20 years working in the demanding environment of civil litigation, Peterson turned to teaching. Assisting Glick in teaching a legal writing class at UC Davis School of Law was Peterson’s foray into teaching. After moving to Wisconsin, Peterson began working at the University of Wisconsin as an adjunct law professor; she was hired full-time in 2011.
In her role teaching Legal Research and Writing, Peterson drafts six original fact patterns for student research projects each year.
“I enjoy the creativity about it,” Peterson said. “Especially with legal writing, most people think that is kind of boring and not fun to teach, and I hate that. My class cannot be boring, anything to make it more active interesting engaging. I love that challenge.”
She also manages the other professors who teach in Wisconsin’s Legal Research and Writing program. Her job is to ensure consistency among the classes. In conjunction with teaching students how to be stellar oral advocates as the director of the school’s mock trial program, Peterson explains that her roles at the University of Wisconsin allow her to incorporate her favorite aspects of practicing law in a less adversarial setting.
Outside of teaching future lawyers, Peterson has had other opportunities to meaningfully contribute to the legal community in Wisconsin. She was appointed by the Wisconsin Supreme Court to be a referee in attorney discipline cases. In this role, Peterson reviewed cases to determine whether attorneys committed ethical violations.
Peterson especially enjoyed the aspect of this job that allowed her to draft a recommendation with a suggested punishment. That recommendation was then reviewed by the State Supreme Court, which would choose whether or not to adopt it. In fact, Peterson quite literally wrote the book on deciding these cases: she served on the committee that revised the Supreme Court's “Benchbook for Referees.”
For students interested in teaching Legal Writing in particular, Peterson notes that writing experience is critical.
“All of our law legal writing professors come from practice,” Peterson said. “Law schools want professors who are good writers.”
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