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Catherine Redlich

Criminal Defense Attorney, Class of '71

Why did you choose to become an English Major?

I have loved language and writing since I was a small child. As crazy as this sounds, I can even remember the exact moment when I learned certain vocabulary words (back seat of the family station wagon when my Mom used “awe” in a sentence; eavesdropping on my grandma’s bridge party when someone said, “I doubt that”).  My English professors at UM were the first to tell me that I could go to law school if I so desired, pointing out that although women were in the minority, my writing ability and analytical skills would put me in good stead. They were right.

Tell us about your career.

My career has had several chapters. Following graduate school, I became a writer for Ford Motor Company, which led to my first published book: “Car Buying Made Easier”. To this day, I know nothing about cars!  I went on to work in publishing as an editor, and eventually went to law school. I have been a white-collar criminal defense attorney for over thirty years, specializing in complex criminal litigation and appeals. Recently I was elected to a judgeship in New York. In addition to my work as an attorney, I am a co-founder and trustee of a foundation focused on improving foster care practices and policy in New York, which has changed the foster care landscape in our state and has evolved into yet another interesting chapter in my life.

How has a literary education contributed to success in your career and/or other aspects of your life?

A literary education is like no other discipline in terms of understanding the human heart. You cannot read the great works of literature without becoming wiser, more empathetic, more insightful, and more forgiving. I would attribute many successes in my life to the fact that I can write persuasively and correctly. That skill catapulted me ahead of my peers in law school and in virtually every job I have held. It doesn’t take long for law firm partners (or financial firm executives) to figure out who amongst the new hires can write the best brief or research memo, and those will be the people they want on their team. I once got a job at a law firm simply because I could recite the beginning of the Canterbury Tales in Middle English (a required memorization in my UM Chaucer class)!  

Do you have any advice for incoming English majors?

Become a good writer, master grammar and punctuation, take advantage of the opportunities to develop an analytical mind and to express your thoughts orally. Read critically. Learn to defend your point of view. Some professors should not be missed…find out who they are and take their classes. You will be amazed when you enter the world after college how many people are poor writers and lack confidence as a result. If you become a parent, don’t assume that your children will learn writing in grade school or high school…teach them yourselves. Your children will thank you for it when they get to college.