The first lawyer in her family, Erin Steward (J.D. ’16) initially came to law school to become an FBI agent. Between leading the UMKC Federal Bar Association, Phi Delta Phi and the Honor Court, she also participated in the first Thomson Reuters Product Design Challenge. She and her team won the competition, and Steward is now a design advisor at Thomson Reuters.
Why did you choose the UMKC School of Law?
I come from Lincoln, Neb., where there aren’t quite as many job opportunities. Kansas City was a bigger job market to begin with, especially in terms of a legal job market. When I came down here to visit, it was during winter break and the building was empty of students, but the faculty and staff who showed me around were amazing.
How did you become interested in forensic science in the first place?
I transferred to University of Nebraska-Lincoln as a business major. It was a safe place to start, but I soon realized that it wasn’t really my cup of tea. I went into the course catalog and tagged some degrees that I thought were interesting, and science was one of them. I was a kid who played outside all the time and looked at plants and things of that sort. I didn’t really mind running into critters — I don’t get grossed out like other kids — so when I got into entomology in undergrad, that was really, really fun to me.
Tell us more about the Thomson Reuters Product Design Challenge.
Thomson Reuters is a science and business-based legal research firm. That competition day, our challenge was to take a product that already existed on their website and improve it. They were starting a new practice point, so they wanted our input. They gave us a couple of guidelines, but it was pretty open. In the end, our whole team won $5,000, which was amazing. Then, to three people from each of the competing law schools, they offered the opportunity to apply for a temporary design advisor position. I was one of the three who applied from UMKC and I got it.
How has your law school experience been?
You hear a lot about law schools that are very competitive because you’re graded on a curve for pretty much all your law school classes. UMKC was never like that for me. Everybody was there to help you. If you were sick and couldn’t make it to class, you’d find someone who was willing to share their notes. If you got to the end of the semester and you needed help, someone was bound to want to study with you.
Are there any faculty that have inspired you during your time here?
Yeah — everybody! Associate Dean of Students Allen Rostron helped me do something different for a summer internship. I’ve also gone to him when I’ve been stressed out and needed somebody to talk to. Associate Dean Nancy Levit really means it when she says, “Come to my door and I’ll be there for you.” She even keeps healthy snacks in her office. Michael Robak has also been a huge help to me, especially in the last year of law school. I wouldn’t have known about the Thomson Reuters Design Challenge to begin with if it weren’t for him.
How is the law profession changing?
In some respects, I think it’ll get a little bit easier to access between online document sharing and document storage, which will help streamline the work. I also wonder if the profession will become too impersonal. With all this document sharing over a secure site, can’t you send client intake forms electronically? Can’t you video chat because it’s simpler? But then, won’t you lose a little bit of personal touch because you won’t be meeting with your client in a more traditional way? Those who are used to doing intakes and paperwork one-on-one will probably stay that way throughout their careers, but for the lawyers who start their careers 20 years from now, I wonder if it’ll still be as personal of a relationship between attorney and client.
This Q&A is from our latest issue of Res Ipsa. Read the full issue here.
Written by Deena Essa