STUDENT SPOTLIGHT: Tatum Carlson Stetson J.D. Graduate '24

May 22, 2024

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This month’s interview is with Tatum Carlson, a full-time 3L at Stetson Law from Akron, Ohio and a graduate of Furman University in South Carolina. A member of the Stetson Student Ambassadors, she’s specializing in insurance and property law.

So what made you want to go to law school?

I started off college with an interest in pre-med, but the classes that I took just weren’t sticking with me. I didn’t like biology, I didn’t like chemistry, I didn’t like physics. So I thought, okay, maybe I shouldn’t do pre-med if I don’t like any of these classes. [Laughs]

Meanwhile, my college had these prerequisites in different areas in order to graduate: you had to take an arts class, you had to take a politics class, etc. And by taking an intro to political science class I found I really liked it. I talked to an adviser in the pre-law department and realized that maybe law school was something that I’d be interested in.

What did you major in?

I majored in Political Science, really, but it was called Politics and International Affairs. And I had a minor in what is the equivalent of Women’s Studies, but it was called Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies.

What was the connection between political science and law that stuck out to you at the time?

Well, I knew I liked talking, and even as a kid I knew that I liked being in leadership positions. I got involved with leadership positions in college, and at one point my political science professors were talking about what I could do that summer for internships. They suggested I could either do something more on the politics side or I could do something more related to law.

So at first I worked for the Joe Biden campaign for a little bit, and I just didn’t really love the feeling of being in political offices and working for a political campaign it just didn’t connect with me. So I tried working at a family law firm over the summer, and I just loved the work.

What made you choose Stetson?

Stetson just seemed like the best fit based upon the people I connected with. I really connected with [Admissions Director] Darren Kettles when I met him, and that was really great to meet someone who made me feel special. At a lot of other law schools where I’d been interviewed or spoken with an admissions officer over the phone, I felt like they were giving me the basic information but they didn’t really want to get to know me or especially want me there as a student.

"But Stetson was really the first place where I felt like they wanted me just as much as I wanted to go there."

And that was something that was important to me because it made my college experience so much more valuable, feeling wanted at the school that I was attending.

How do you like living in Gulfport and the greater Tampa Bay area?

The area is great I love it! I’m definitely going to end up staying here after graduation. There’s just so much to do, and there’s something for everybody. If you’re an introvert, there are really cool coffee shops and bookstores, and if you’re extroverted, there’s a really great night life scene. When you’re stressed one day you can go to the beach, or if you’re feeling overwhelmed you can go to the Saturday Market downtown. There’s always something to do to offset the stress of law school, no matter what you’re interested in.

What course did you enjoy the most in your first year at Stetson?

I think it was probably Constitutional Law which I enjoyed the most during my first year. I enjoyed all my classes my first semester, but I was so worried about the transition and adjusting to law school that I think I just over-stressed myself. So I was able to enjoy my second semester 1L classes a little bit more. The course was taught by Professor Virelli, and he’s just one of the best professors at Stetson. He’s super engaging, and the course also kind of reminded me of my undergrad major in political science, so it just felt really comfortable for me.

Which course did you find most challenging your first year?

It’s a toss up: I think the hardest classes for me were criminal law and civil procedure because I didn’t have much background with a lot of the general legal terminology used in those areas. No one I knew growing up was a lawyer before I came to law school. My parents aren’t attorneys. So I really didn’t have a handle on much about law school or the general jargon of lawyers. Pretty much all I knew was from TV. So it took some time to catch up to people whose parents were attorneys or who had been on mock trial teams in undergrad and thus were familiar with legal terminology from the start. Once you get that your first year, it clicks right away, but I think not having that legal background made those classes a big transition for me.

What area of law do you want to specialize in?

Definitely civil law. Right now I work on the plaintiff side in property insurance law: I work at a firm called Kanner & Pintaluka. It’s mostly personal injury law, but I work in their property department. Last summer I was a summer associate in their Tampa office and currently I’m just clerking a little bit during the semester. So I’m looking into property and insurance law as a future job.

"Pretty much every job I’ve applied to has someone who’s connected to Stetson, went to Stetson, and is looking for Stetson graduates to work these jobs."

What do you think it is that draws you about civil procedure and civil law?

I think the reason I like the job I currently do is that it’s a lot of working with contracts, and I really enjoyed that class at Stetson.

"Looking through insurance contracts is like figuring out a puzzle."

You figure out how you can work the contract for your client, where there are any loopholes through the contract, etc. In Florida there are a lot of property insurance claims from all the storms and hurricanes, so there are always a lot of interesting cases, and working in insurance and property law, it feels like you’re able to help someone in an impactful way.

What extracurricular organizations have meant a lot to you during your time at Stetson?

One of my favorites is our Stetson Ambassadors program. My first year I felt a little bit disconnected just because I was really involved in undergrad and coming to law school was a transition. Everyone is really focused on academics, and you take the same classes with everyone so people are always talking about school. That wasn’t really something I had in my undergrad experience. In college all my friends were in different majors, different classes, etc., so being able to join some organizations that weren’t just focused on law was important to me.

Last year I served as the chief of tours for the admissions department: I worked with admissions to plan the tour schedule for prospective students. And then this year I’m the chief ambassador. It’s meant a chance to work with a lot of different students and faculty, which has been great.

I’m also vice president of the Stetson Anti-Trafficking Coalition. It’s been a way for me to explore my interest in women’s issues. I mentioned I was a minor in women’s studies in college, and this was a way for me to explore those interests a little bit more and help other students on campus explore those interests as well. 

And then I’ve been working pro bono at Bay Area Legal Services’ Family Forms Clinic, where I get to help people who are of indigent status or just very low income, so that’s been a way to explore those interests as well.

What clinics or externships or clinics have influenced your experiences?

Fall of my 2L year I did an externship with Gulfcoast Legal Services. It’s the equivalent of a public defender’s office for family law. The people who work there are really awesome, and they let me explore a lot of different things within the organization: everything from doing research for them, to writing up motions that they needed, to being able to listen to client calls. And I think being able to listen to and observe client meetings was really informative for me because it helped me understand how to deal with difficult situations with clients. They take on very complex family law situations, and being able to observe attorneys who handle those situations with grace really helped me develop my client mediation skills for the future.

Are there particular professors who you’ve especially liked working with?

I think my favorite professor is Judge [Thomas] Ramsberger. He teaches arbitration, which is a skills course at Stetson. There are a lot of ways at Stetson to satisfy that skills requirement: you can do a trial advocacy course, you can do arbitration or mediation, which are alternative dispute resolution methods. I chose arbitration because it’s pretty big in the property law world, and that’s where I’ve been working the past two summers. Professor Ramsberger and I just really clicked. I really enjoyed the class, and now I’ve been able to be his teaching assistant for the past year and I’m doing that again this semester. He’s someone who’s really made an impact on my experience and who’s really gone out of his way to teach me about things in the classroom and outside the classroom. He’s still a practicing judge, and he always invites all of his students to come witness his trials. That’s really made an impact not just on me but on all his students.

"Being able to go see things in practice really makes such a difference in law school."

What advice would you give to people deciding whether to go to law school?

I would just say trust your gut and go for it if you’re interested, because I think it really pays off for most people who choose to do it. This is what my dad told me when I was looking to go to law school. He said if you look at anyone in a position of power in the U.S., most of them have a J.D.

"It’s something that will always look good, no matter what you end up doing. So that’s kind of what convinced me."

What advice would you give to someone just starting law school?

Go out of your way to meet people outside of class. I think that that has made the most impact on my law school experience, being able to network. The people in your classes are going to be your colleagues: they’re going to be your opposing counsel, they might be your boss one day. So being able to have a connection with people outside of the classroom really pays off: it really gives you an edge to connect with people in your classes.

And I would also say: focusing on school is important but stressing about school won’t get you anywhere. Everybody struggles with a little bit of testing anxiety and school anxiety and it can get very overwhelming. But being prepared is really the only thing you can do because stressing about it really won’t get you anywhere.

What experiences from college or life in general do you feel best prepared you for law school?

I think any situation where I got out of my comfort zone and then was able to adjust. One for me was when I went abroad in college. I went on a trip to Rwanda that was centered around the Rwandan genocide so there was a lot of learning about peacekeeping and lawmaking. I think that was helpful for me going to law school, having a background on different legal procedures in different countries. It pushed me out of my comfort zone to do something like that completely on my own, but I just felt called to do it. I think that was really impactful for my law school experience.

What’s your favorite thing about Stetson?

The student body is really great. Stetson does a great job of choosing their students. Everyone is very connected, engaging, and competitive without being cutthroat. I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about other law schools: about people ripping pages out of textbooks and not sharing their notes with you, and that’s been completely the opposite of my experience at Stetson. There was a time I missed class and I didn’t even have a chance to text somebody and someone sent me the notes from class anyway.

Topics: Spotlight