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Alumnus Finds Passion for Law Thanks to CAHSS Education

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Susan Dugan


Profile  •
Alumni  •
JJ Khan

When Alumnus JJ Khan (BA ‘19) enrolled in Professor Derigan Silver's media law course in spring 2016, he knew he had found his true calling.

“It captured my interest immediately,” said Khan, today an associate at the Cincinnati law firm Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP. “Derigan warned us that the class would be very challenging because he taught it the way classes are taught in law school. The material was very difficult but really engaging. We talked about things like defamation, the First Amendment and obscenities.”

Khan also found those topics particularly relevant during the 2016 presidential election.

“It was the first election I ever voted in,” he said. “Being on campus in that political climate and having related discussions with my peers and professors about all the issues had a huge impact on me.”

Khan’s class participation distinguished him as “both intelligent and intellectually curious,” Silver said. “His critical thinking and analytical skills were evident from day one. JJ was also a genuinely nice person to work with and knew how to balance his time and commitments. He had multiple majors as an undergraduate, maintaining high grades while also conducting research. I am not sure how he did it all.”

A lifelong fan of puzzles who excelled in math and science and pursued a STEM path through high school, Khan began at DU in fall 2015 as a biochemistry major. He later pivoted toward research psychology and other social science classes, including courses with Political Science Professor Josh Wilson that introduced him to “the ways in which laws and social dynamics are pervasive and affect everyone on a daily basis,” Khan said.

Wilson’s courses helped Khan understand the impact laws have on “how we communicate with each other and engage with the world in good and bad ways,” Khan added.

The recognition led to his decision to major in Socio-Legal Studies, where he focused on examining the intersection of law and society through an interdisciplinary lens.

Like Silver’s media law class, the constitutional law class he took during his junior year with Assistant Political Science Professor Sara Chatfield helped prepare him for the rigors of law school.

“She’s an excellent educator who takes a lot of pride in making sure you learn the material and get helpful feedback on your work,” he said.

Chatfield said Khan “really stood out for his insightful contributions in class” and was “particularly impressive in his role as a Supreme Court justice in our oral arguments simulation.”

Khan believes the variety of classes in Socio-Legal Studies along with the heavy emphasis on writing “set me up to understand the expectations I would face in law school.”

Finding His Niche in Law School and Beyond

After graduating from DU in June 2019, Khan moved to Cincinnati to attend the University of Cincinnati College of Law.

“I had lived in Colorado all my life and wanted to try somewhere new,” he said. “It was a very affordable law school with a good reputation. Like DU, it offered a highly personal environment and that was important to me.”

He admits that the first few weeks were tough but “those undergraduate media law and constitutional law classes helped me rise to the challenges.”

Khan did well his first year and landed a summer internship with the same firm where he works currently that exposed him to a range of law specialties, including estate planning.

Long curious about wills based on movies and TV depictions of dramatic will readings, he took a class in wills his second year of law school that further piqued his interest.

“I’d always been a people person, and this struck me as an area of the law where I could help people with something very important to them personally,” he said.

An internship that summer with the same firm provided hands-on experience in drafting wills and trusts, living wills and powers of attorney documents, and exposed him to estate litigation to resolve problems that arise among beneficiaries.

Khan also applied to be a clerk with an Ohio Appellate Court judge following graduation, even though he was already quite sure about wanting to practice estate planning.

“Most clerkships are really more focused on litigation but the partner that I’m working with in my firm right now told me it would be a really valuable experience,” he said.

Following graduation in 2021, Khan took a year off for the court clerkship and Vorys pushed his acceptance to the firm to September 2023.

“I got to do a lot of legal research and draft some opinions that are now part of Ohio law which is really cool,” he said. “I thought I was already a good writer and had had a piece published in the University of Cincinnati Law Review while I was in law school but working with this judge improved my writing immensely.”

Now settled into his new position as an associate at Vorys, working mostly on estate planning and sometimes drawn into related estate litigation cases, Khan appreciates working with “really excellent people who are very kind and willing to teach me even though they are incredibly busy.”

He recommends the Socio-Legal Studies major to CAHSS undergraduates who are interested in law school. “I’m very thankful to have had such excellent professors who put in a huge effort to get to know you, meet with you, provide feedback and help you improve,” he said.

“I honestly think Derigan’s class provides almost a litmus test to find out if you can handle reading, absorbing and applying the kind of material, cases and opinions you’ll encounter in law school.”

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