Featured Alumnus: Justin Torres, ’97

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Justin Torres, B.A. ’97, is an attorney specializing in constitutional and administrative law in the Washington, D.C. office of the firm King & Spalding. After graduating from the University of Dallas, he returned to his native state of Washington and worked for several years as an editor for various magazines, as a speechwriter in the second Bush administration, and as a public policy researcher and writer. After eight years of that he went to law school at the University of Virginia, where he graduated with honors and clerked for a federal appellate court in New Orleans. He has also done stints with the firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and the U.S. Department of Justice. Most importantly, he and his wife Katherine have five wonderful kids.

Q: As an English major, what drew you to the field of law?

Much of legal practice — especially litigation, either trial or appellate — comes down to arguing about the meaning of words. I recall spending the first three classes in Lit Trad discussing the meaning of the first few lines of the “Iliad” and how they foreshadowed the entire poem; that kind of exercise was very good training for constitutional and statutory interpretation and for learning how to build an argument about the meaning of a text.

Q: You chose to do your Senior Novel project not on a novel, but on works by the contemporary playwright Tom Stoppard. Could you speak a little more about that experience and the connection you see between English and drama?

I came to UD on a drama scholarship and performed in a number of mainstage productions, so it was a natural combination for me. So many of Stoppard’s plays are about theater as a metaphor for our attempt to construct order out of a reality that seems fractured and disordered. That seemed like it fit well with the themes of the Senior Novel class and allowed me to spend some time drawing some conclusions about both experiences — my work on stage and as an English major.

Q: You’ve been a writer, reporter, associate director of the Corporation for National and Community Service, and now a lawyer. What is a common goal you have striven for in these different careers?

Not to be bored, and to do things that I care about and that make a difference. Statistics show that very few people working or entering work today will have the same job or even career over their lifetime, so having some fundamental and portable skills — reading critically, writing clearly, and thinking strategically — are more important than ever. In that sense I think UD actually provides the most modern education you can get.

Q: What was your favorite UD class?

 

Hard to say. Watching Father Maguire lean backwards over a desk and act out Emma Bovary’s pink tongue lapping at the bottom of her glass is definitely not to be forgotten, and Southern Literature with Dr. Louise [Cowan] still has a glow in my mind 20 years later. But I have to go with reading Milton with Dr. Davies, and understanding for the first time that really reading poetry was nothing like I’d ever done before: it took as much discipline as philosophy, as much effort as science, and could reveal truth better than both.

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