University News

UW-Whitewater launches a new major in legal studies

February 05, 2021

Written by Kristine Zaballos | Photos by Craig Schreiner

Beginning in fall 2021, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater will offer a major tailored to students who have their sights set on law school or careers in legal professions. The new legal studies major, housed in the Department of Political Science, includes coursework on constitutional law, gender and law, ethics, legal writing and research and a required legal internship.

The University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents approved the legal studies major on Friday, Feb. 5, at its regularly scheduled meeting.

The legal studies major will eventually replace a popular legal studies emphasis within the political science major, according to Jolly Emrey, associate professor of political science and chair of the Department of Political Science, which resides in the College of Letters and Sciences. Emrey was instrumental in developing the major and shepherding it through the application process.

“We know there’s a demand for a program that provides students with the transferable skills that will allow them to hit the ground running in any legal profession and give them a leg up when it comes to applying to and being successful in law school,” said Emrey.

Emrey credits Susan Johnson, assistant dean of the College of Letters and Sciences and associate professor of political science, Joan Cook, interim associate provost and director of academic assessment for UW-Whitewater, and Angela Harlan, professor of mathematics, as being critical members of the team that developed the curriculum and a proposed budget for the new program.

The B.A./B.S. in Legal Studies will be a multi-disciplinary program that will allow students interested in careers in a legal field to take a full range of courses in public law, private law (business law), political institutions, public policy, and theory and ethics, and hone their skills in quantitative and information literacy through applied coursework.

“Courses within the major are housed in departments in three colleges across the UW-Whitewater campus,” said Emrey. “Linda Yu, professor of finance and business law in the College of Business and Economics, and Kathy Brady, professor of communication in the College of Arts and Communication, were very supportive during the proposal phase of the new program, and curriculum from both departments is featured in the legal studies major.”

Creating a new major allows for a curriculum more intensely focused on legal topics such as the history of American Indian law and policy, international law, gender and law, environmental law and policy, and journalism and the First Amendment.


Two students high-five while in class.

Students Brittany Gonzales, left, and Nate Kelty were among students in Emrey's legal research and writing class who researched cases pending on the federal Supreme Court's docket from a particular justice's perspective, wrote a full legal brief based on research and then gave oral arguments acting as their justice near the end of the semester. "The students tend to get a bit invested and really take on their role as justice seriously," Emrey said.


“Assistant Professor of Political Science Monica Lineberger, who recently joined UW-Whitewater, brings an expertise in comparative legal systems and international law to our already strong foundation in American legal systems,” said Emrey. “Other critical points of strength in this major are UW-Whitewater’s focus on student success, our department’s track record with placing students in challenging and prestigious internships, and a number of great alumni who are happy to connect with and mentor current students.”

Recent graduate Brian Martinez, who earned a B.A. in political science with an emphasis in legal studies, was afforded a unique view of the legal system through an internship with an alumnus, Chief Judge Jason Rossell of the Kenosha County Circuit Court, who earned a B.A. in history with a minor in political science in 1999 at UW-Whitewater.

“I was able to be right on the front lines of the legal system — attending trials, arraignment hearings, seeing it all. I was given the opportunity to participate in a ride-along with Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department and was able to see the entire legal process: first the arraignment hearing and then the actual trial, all the way to sentencing,” Martinez said. “I got to experience family court, criminal court, juvenile court, and voir dire, which is jury selection.”


Brian Martinez, Warhawk alum, speaks with UW System Vice President for Finance Sean Nelson in the Hamilton Room of the University Center.

Brian Martinez, right, then a member of Whitewater Student Government, talked to UW System Vice President for Finance Sean Nelson in the Hamilton Room of the University Center. Martinez was among the students at a business lunch with regents and staff during the UW System Board of Regents meeting hosted by UW-Whitewater Dec. 5-6, 2019.


Martinez, who eventually plans to attend law school and possibly specialize in election law, now serves as a legislative aide for State Senator Robert Cowles, who represents Wisconsin’s 2nd District. He is already putting the skills he learned in the legal studies program to use on the job.

“Not only am I constantly reading and writing, which is a major part of legal studies, we often have constituent cases that go far beyond basic knowledge of past and current legislation, and you have to call the Wisconsin Legislative Council and ask for all the information they have on a particular issue,” he said. “I’ve been sent 6- to 7-page ‘brief statements.’ I have to read it, understand it and distill it down to something manageable — and to do so you have to understand the statues and terminology. Dr. Emrey really drilled learning your Blue Book inside and out, and I’ve learned to always have my Blue Book on hand, especially when creating citations for letters and emails.”

Alumna Kayla White, who earned a B.A. in political science with an emphasis in legal studies in 2019, first met Emrey when she took her law and society course, POLI SCI 204. White’s experience exemplifies the opportunities the legal studies program provides.

“Jolly was integral to my falling in love with law. It’s the way she teaches it.”


Kayla White talks with Jolly Emery.

Kayla White, left discussed a brief with her legal studies professor, Jolly Emrey.


Emrey reached out to White about a prized internship opportunity with the American Civil Liberties Union in Milwaukee.

“I had no intention of interning at the ACLU,” said White. “But she said, ‘You’ve got to do this.’”

Interning for an organization that’s nationally recognized opened up a world of opportunities for White.

”I prize my internship because it opened up my eyes to see that the law can be a helping profession,” said White. “And it led to the opportunity I had to observe the presidential elections in El Salvador, which in turn led to working on a case on El Salvador’s Supreme Court and running an immigration clinic in San Vicente. Now I’m working with a LGBTQ refugee shelter in Sonsonate. That is really the work of my heart, and I’m so thankful the ACLU internship opened that door for me to do such meaningful, life-changing work.”

White, who talks about her experience with Professor Emrey and her internship with the ACLU in “Meant to Be a Warhawk” and elaborates on the opportunities in El Salvador that the internship opened up for her in “Driven to Opportunity,” will be attending law school in the fall of 2021. Her coursework at UW-Whitewater leaves her feeling confident she will be successful.

“The program sets people up for success with the writing course, and the constitutional law I studied is on par with what I can expect in law school. The program gets you a step ahead of where you need to be.”


In “Meant to Be a Warhawk,” Kayla White talks about how she did not believe she would succeed in college after struggling in high school. But through the encouragement of professors like Jolly Emrey, she learned how to do research, write persuasively and present oral arguments (above). She also landed a prestigious internship, earned a college scholarship and graduated with honors. (UW-Whitewater video/Jeffrey Pohorski)

In “Driven to Opportunity,” White talks about the life-changing experience she had when she traveled to El Salvador to take part in historic presidential elections (above), an opportunity made possible by a Professor Emrey, who pointed her toward the internship and scholarship that made it possible. (UW-Whitewater video/Jeffrey Pohorski)


Emrey added, “Brian and Kayla are two examples of qualified students who found our legal studies emphasis through their coursework in political science and put it to excellent use. By creating a legal studies major, we hope to signal to prospective students who are interested in going to law school that UW-Whitewater is an excellent place to do their undergraduate degree.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in legal occupational areas is expected to increase by 5 percent between 2019 and 2029, representing 67,000 new jobs.

For more information about the B.A./B.S. in Legal Studies at UW-Whitewater, contact Jolly Emrey, chair of the Department of Political Science, at or 262-472-1124.