Trading in a White Coat for a Black Suit
The following first appeared in the Summer 2012 issue of The Docket, the law school's biennial newsletter.
In 2008, Hiromi Sanders was putting her PhD in human physiology to excellent use, studying epilepsy at Columbia University, in New York City.
Although the research immersed Sanders in the very science she found fascinating, it also confronted her with a stark reality.
"The lab is a lonely place," Sanders said. "I have a passion for science, but I didn’t want to spend my life in a lab."
The South Jersey native decided a career in law would provide intellectual stimulation without forcing her to live amidst microscopes and microbes. Sanders arrived at the law school in 2009.
Fast forward to the end of Sanders’ second year, when she hoped to arrange a co-op placement that would take full advantage of her science background while immersing her in the worlds of law and litigation. Sanders credits Co-op Program Director Reena Parambath with helping her arrange a placement with Judge Sue L. Robinson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware.
As it turned out, Sanders’ very first assignment was a contract case that involved patents for cardiovascular stents, which are tubes that keep vessels or passageways open.
The second case also put Sanders on familiar terrain, since it involved exhibits related to organic chemistry and required a statistical analysis of data.
"I absolutely loved it," said Sanders, who opted to extend the placement for a second semester into the spring.
At times, Sanders played the role of advisor, untangling some of the science involved in the case for the judge.
But other aspects of the placement stretched Sanders, notably the task of drafting and editing opinions that needed to reflect Robinson’s preferred vocabulary and voice.
"It would be humbling for a strong writer, but as it was, I wanted to improve my own writing," Sanders said. Along with Robinson’s career clerk, Sanders labored over drafts and revisions that turned out to be a particularly valuable learning experience about legal practice.
The process helped Sanders see the importance of writing – and ultimately speaking – with clarity, specificity and confidence. And observing courtroom action including pretrial proceedings, oral arguments and post-trial motions underscored the power of an advocate’s language to win or lose a case.
"In one case, the jury was completely lost," Sanders said. "You have to be able to articulate your point so it’s understood without dumbing it down to where people feel insulted."
Sanders envisions a legal career that taps her scientific chops, possibly working as a patent examiner or practicing with a firm that handles intellectual property law or that represents academic research institutions.
"I want to further science," Sanders said, adding that she remains fascinated by the prospect of devising effective cures for degenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s Disease.
But now, Sanders can advance the cause by using law as well as science.