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English Major to Corporate Lawyer: Jasmine Johnson’s Career Path

Jasmine Johnson was advised by practicing attorneys to become an English major, and it was perfect for her.

Jasmine Johnson

Jasmine Johnson (2016) is an attorney in Atlanta, GA, where she practices corporate law. She spoke with Professor Katy Chiles about the value of learning to write well and how much she misses being in English classes. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Katy Chiles: It’s so good to see you! I was just thinking this morning that I can still see you and Jamesia sitting right next to each other in ENG/AFST 233.

Jasmine Johnson: Yes, it feels like it was yesterday.  

Chiles: Please tell me about your current occupation. What is it like and what do you do day to day?

Johnson: I am a corporate attorney at a large law firm in Atlanta. I do domestic and cross-border mergers and acquisitions. When different companies buy or sell each other, I’m one of the attorneys that helps close the deal. I also help clients with general corporate matters, such as entity formations, corporate governance matters, and general commercial contracting. Basically, I help with the full gamut of different corporate requests that clients have. 

My day to day work varies. Within the context of a deal, if I’m representing the buyer, I usually review the target company’s contracts and summarize key provisions that will impact the deal. I also draft a due diligence report for the client, which provides a legal overview of the target company, legal risks of acquiring the target company, and legal requirements for acquiring the target company. If I’m representing the seller, I coordinate with the client to provide relevant documents and information to the buyer. Whether I represent the buyer or the seller, I negotiate and draft the asset or stock purchase agreement and the ancillary transaction documents. 

Outside of the deal context, I may draft corporate governance documents for a client, draft a memo on a new law or regulation, or negotiate and draft commercial agreements.

Chiles: How did you get there? What was your work trajectory? And did you always want to be a lawyer?

Johnson: Yes! When I was a senior in high school, I realized that I was interested in practicing law. I went to UT wanting to become a lawyer, but impostor syndrome had a huge hold on me. So, even though I wanted to become a lawyer, in the back of my mind I kept thinking, “I don’t know if I can actually do that.” Fortunately, I was able to meet some attorneys and ask them about law school and legal practice. When I asked them what I should major in, they all said English. That was perfect because I was interested in English, anyway. I liked that an English degree would help me in law school and provide other career opportunities like teaching, magazine editing, or publishing if I didn’t go to law school. So, I majored in English with a rhetoric and writing concentration. After I graduated, I went to Vanderbilt for law school. When I went to law school, I didn’t know much about transactional work, so I began to learn about corporate practice, and here I am now! 

Chiles: Who are the attorneys that you spoke to? The ones who said you should consider being an English major?

Johnson: When I was at UT, I interned at City Hall, back home in Memphis, and met attorneys who said that. I worked with labor and employment attorneys at the time and became interested in that type of work. During law school, I was a summer associate at a law firm whose labor and employment group wasn’t hiring. I took on some projects in a corporate group and realized I liked the work. So, my becoming a corporate attorney was a mix of fate and opportunity.

Chiles: That’s amazing! Can you tell me how your time at UT helped you on your career path?

Johnson: The community I found at UT was really helpful. When I decided to actually pursue law school, despite not having any lawyers in my family or any basis for trying, I found a group of other Black female students who were interested in going to law school. That group was really helpful, because we were able to support each other as we took the LSAT, applied to different law schools, and transitioned to law school. I actually still keep in touch with some of those women. We also found and connected with local Black female attorneys who provided a lot of support and guidance. That community at UT really helped me because I had no touchpoint for the legal profession. It was good to go through the trenches with other people, especially people who look like me and have similar backgrounds. 

Chiles: How did your work as an English major help you on your career path, or what skills did you learn as an English major that have helped you succeed?

Johnson: My days vary, but no matter what I’m doing, every single day, I’m reading and writing all day, always, always, always. My English degree has definitely come in handy for that. When I was in your class, I was reading, writing, analyzing, and making arguments. And that’s basically what I do now. I read and negotiate different contracts for clients, and if I’m negotiating with the opposing counsel, I have to justify the changes I suggested. I feel the skills that I learned as an English major have directly transferred to what I do now, which is great. And now I can see why the attorneys I met when I was in college recommended majoring in English – the skills go hand in hand with practicing law.

Chiles: That’s so great to hear!

Johnson: Yes, and one of the biggest things that I learned as an English major is the importance of tailoring different communications to different audiences and being very particular about word choice.  Some of my clients are very sophisticated in the sense that they’ve done tons of deals. Other clients have only done one or two deals, or only one type of deal like an asset deal but not a stock deal. I can’t use the same jargon with the less experienced clients that I use with the more experienced clients. Or I can’t send the same email to a client that I would to a partner or to an associate. Always knowing who I’m talking to, what I need to communicate, and how I need to communicate it has been super helpful.

Chiles: Why should students major in English today? I can imagine undergraduate students looking at you living the dream in Atlanta and working at a law firm. For students who are at UT today, why would you say that they should major in English?

Johnson: Well, first, the thought that someone looks at me like that is hilarious. When I wake up, I’m just like wow! I can’t believe I have another day of real adulting, ha! Sometimes I would like to trade places with students. But seriously, I would say employers just universally desire the skills that you learn as an English major. Everyone wants someone who can read efficiently and write effectively, right? Everyone wants someone who can analyze well and connect with multiple audiences. As a part of connecting with multiple audiences, you learn emotional intelligence and how to practice empathy, which are very important to me, and I think very important in general. These are skills that are universally desired, and they aren’t just career skills, they are life skills. Emotional intelligence is important in personal relationships, your relationship with yourself, and in your professional relationships. So, majoring in English is more than “just” reading and writing. It goes farther and deeper.

Chiles: What are some of your memories about classes while you were at UT?

Johnson: Since I’ve graduated, and now that I’m working, I realize I really had it made back then. This is why I get jealous of the students! I think what I liked most about being an English major is the open dialogue being generated from the same source or at least credible sources. We would all have the same book, and we would just have open, honest, and free conversation about how we all felt about it, the implications of it, and that type of thing. Now there’s so much misinformation in the world and on the internet that people take as truth and use to make baseless claims. People don’t have intellectual conversation. This makes me really appreciate that I had a space for intellectual conversation in undergrad. My professors and classmates challenged me on my own views. I heard other people’s views, which helped me become more empathetic and more emotionally intelligent. That’s probably what I miss the most. 

Chiles: Did any particular classes stand out for you?

Johnson: Honestly, I really loved all of them.