Wesley Garrett, the director of legal studies at the W, is a practicing lawyer and a professor. She is from Dyersburg, Tenn., and graduated from the W with a degree in Legal Studies. She went on to pursue law at the University of Alabama’s School of Law. Garrett is the MUW Alumni Association Parliamentarian, a member of the Lowndes County Bar Association, and a member of the Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers program. She completes more than 20 hours of pro bono legal services a year and says finds helping people rewarding in many different ways.
Q: What led you to work at the W?
A: “That’s very easy. I got my degree here. I went through the legal studies program many moons ago. I worked as a paralegal for a number of years. I could do this lawyer thing, went to the Alabama School of Law, I opened my own practice here in Columbus and happened to run into one of my old professors, Mr. Smith, who actually still teaches here, his office is right next door and he said, ‘Have you ever thought about teaching paralegal class?’ And I said, ‘I have not, but I’ll give it a try.’ I started out as an adjunct, loved it, and about two years later I became a full-time professor. I started adjunct teaching in 2007, became a full time professor in 2009 and I just got my five year pin.”
Q: What was the biggest change from practicing law and having your own firm to teaching?
A: “That’s a great question. I ran into Mr. Smith at a continuing legal education seminar, and he asked how I liked practicing, and at that particular moment I said, ‘I hate it.’ Some days I sit at this desk and things come up and having to fix things and figure out what’s best for the program and the students I think, I’ll just go practice law, but then I go sit down with a client — I do still practice — and I think, ‘I’d much rather deal with my students.’ [Laughs]”
Q: What would you say is the best part of your job here?
A: “The students, definitely. I remember being just like them. I remember these classes and these teachers. These students are going to be my peers. They are going to be working in the same field that I’m in. I’m going to deal with them again as paralegals or police officers or attorneys. Make sure I keep that in mind and respect them, because I’m going to have to deal with them throughout, and not just the four years they’re here.”
Q: What made you first interested in legal studies?
A: “I’ve always wanted to be a lawyer. When I was a little girl I remember watching Sandra Day O’Connor being sworn in as the first female U.S. Supreme Court Justice. My mom talks about me talking about it as a little girl saying that’s what I wanted to be.”
Q: What is legal studies, and what advice would you give students pursuing a degree or a minor in legal studies?
A: “The program has been around the W for 35 years. It is one of only two schools in Mississippi to be approved by the American Bar Association. Only one approved for online classes. We train paralegals; they are an attorney’s right hand man. We have people who become private investigators, police officers, clerks, people who work in human resources. Of course, we have those that go on to law school, like I did. In fact, we have 11 of our graduates in law school right now. The skills you learn in legal studies transfer to other jobs. The advice I would give to people pursuing legal studies is that there are only two types of people: people that love the law and people that hate the law. These are things you’re going to be dealing with in life. I would tell them to find their niche. I don’t like criminal law, so I don’t do it. I do civil, it’s just my thing. It’s OK not to like it all, so find it and pursue that track, and not just give up on it because you can’t stand one class.”