Alum Finds Liberal Arts the Perfect Gateway to Law School
Every year students start college with dreams of law school, but falter when their studies become too much or the challenges of getting noticed by law schools admissions-boards prove too daunting. When she came to CU Denver in 2005, practicing law wasn’t yet on the radar for Erica Gutherz (then Herrera). While she always had professional drive and a strong work ethic, Gutherz credits the professors she met while attaining her Bachelor of Arts in Communication at the University of Colorado Denver not only with helping her make the decision to attend law school, but also with mentoring her through the process of getting accepted.
Gutherz started her education in Tampa, Florida, at Hillsborough Community College, near where she grew up. She was working toward an associate’s degree in Mass Communication while employed full-time, working two jobs to pay for her classes. This left her with study-time enough to take only two classes per semester. When she realized that in the time it would take her to finish an associate’s degree many students would be finished with a bachelor’s, Gutherz decided she needed a better plan for achieving her goals. In 2005, Gutherz moved to Denver after doing due diligence on several colleges in the West. The course descriptions, programs, and requirements for the communication degree at CU Denver appealed to her. She says, “When deciding to continue with school, I really just wanted a well-rounded education, and I felt that if I picked those courses I was interested in it would lead me down the right path. I can’t say I always wanted to be a lawyer, but I’ve always strived to be an intelligent, thoughtful, and competent person and CU Denver definitely fostered that.”
Her communication courses lead to law studies classes, taught concurrently within the program. One class in particular, Mass Media Law and Policy, taught by Omar Swartz, helped her understand the role of law in society and realize the magnitude of what one could do with a legal education. Says Gurtherz, “Mass Media Law and Policy was one of four courses that I took with Omar. His courses changed the way I see things. I still regularly apply what I learned to my personal and professional life.” Omar Swartz is Coordinator for the Law Studies program, a law school graduate himself, and became a mentor for Gutherz, as well as a valued and trusted advisor during the law school application process. He reviewed Gutherz’s materials, wrote a recommendation letter, and shared stories about his own law school experience. “I have been teaching at CU Denver since 2001, and out of all the students I have had the privilege to work with, Erica remains one of my top 3 students in terms of her intelligence, maturity, and commitment to her education, all of which will continue to serve the people of Colorado well in her work as an attorney and reflect well back on the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences,” says Swartz of Gutherz.
Gutherz finished her BA at the top of her class in 2008 with a 4.0 GPA, and buoyed by her undergrad experiences at CU Denver she excelled at CU Boulder’s law school. “Leaving CU Denver, I felt confident and ready for the challenge of law school. I had the foundation I needed to go forward,” Gutherz remembers. The training she received as part of her liberal arts degrees helped her to be successful in many aspects of law school. “Writing is such a huge part of being a lawyer and my liberal arts degree greatly developed that skill,” says Gutherz. She also credits the analytical and critical thinking her degree provided as part of her ongoing success in her field, and in life. Because of the positive experiences she had with professors in the past she was unafraid to form relationships with her Boulder professors, and these relationships helped lead to internships with the Denver office of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and a Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court. Alongside plenty of hard work, contact with all these important people resulted in a portfolio of letters that ultimately helped her land a clerkship with a Denver District Court Judge. Gutherz recently finished her first year clerking in a civil docket, and will continue for a second year. Her work involves managing the court’s division, conducting research, drafting orders, and assisting in trial. She feels that working closely with the judge is the highlight of the clerkship. “The experience I’m gaining during my clerkship will be invaluable to my practice,” says Gutherz.
Gutherz’s experiences have made her passionate about the law, and following her clerkship she will be open to a wide variety of opportunities. Regardless of what type of law she ultimately practices, of utmost importance to Gutherz is to work with a good group of lawyers. “It’s very important for me to find a firm that is in line with my ideals. I value hard work and dedication, but also a balanced lifestyle and commitment to family,” Gutherz says. “I want to have a meaningful career. I want to find personal satisfaction in whatever I do,” she adds.
Gutherz believes the work ethic and dedication she continued to develop while she pursued her degree at CU Denver prepared her well for the challenges of law school and rigors of her clerkship. “The quality of the professors makes all the difference with what you get out of the course, so naturally I got the most out of all the classes I took. The broad education and the great professors actually let me to do what I’m doing now. Their knowledge and direction helped me choose the path I did,” adds Gutherz. “And even though some say that this is a difficult time begin a legal career, if what you want out of it is personal satisfaction, you really can’t go wrong. The return on your investment is far greater if you look at it that way.”
Gutherz’s is very pleased the direction her life path has led her down, and happy to have found balance between her professional success and a full, happy family life. When a teaching position became available in the Humanities and Social Science Interdisciplinary Program this fall, Gutherz brought her education full circle and became an instructor. She says teaching Introduction to Law Studies has been a great experience, “It’s still early in the semester, but the students are enthusiastic and I feel privileged to introduce them to the study of law.” She is excited about training the next generation of liberal arts students, and perhaps even a few future lawyers. She hopes to impart to her students the same skill set—civil and intercultural knowledge, appreciation and engagement, along with great written, oral and reasoning skills—which she gained from her own CU Denver liberal education not so long ago.
Stacey McDole is a student at CU Denver majoring in English Writing with a minor in Film Studies.