The couple that goes to law school together . . .

By John Foren

Legal News

In this marriage, there's one Marine, a pair of elite athletes, and two soon-to-be honors graduates at the Michigan State University College of Law.

Oh, and a 6-year-old who already has heard plenty about the law.

That's because as husband-and-wife classmates and sometime-competitors, Katy and Jason Hegg use any chance they can to bounce things off each other and prep for class. Jason's son, Carter, gets to listen in, too.

"Katy and I will be at home doing opening statements during dinner to each other," says Jason, 33.

"Poor Carter," Katy, 31, says with a laugh.

The mealtime practice has paid off. Both have excelled at MSU. Jason is graduating with a 3.9 grade point average and numerous honors, while Katy has been selected as the student speaker (winning a competition against Jason, among others) at the May 14 law school commencement.

And they've done it while married and taking most classes together, no mean feat.

Law school romances are nothing new but husband-and-wife graduates is fairly unusual. It's not easy to maintain togetherness in the all-encompassing and intense atmosphere of law school. Competition among classmates is fierce and that doesn't usually foster warm and fuzzy feelings.

Friends and school officials say the East Lansing couple - who met as first-year students and married last August - is an exception.

"With Katy and Jason it's very different," says Tabby McLain, a friend and fellow law school student. "Either one could do something and the other is very happy. They don't so much compete as support each other."

McLain recalls Jason's excitement at Katy being selected the student speaker and how Katy would bring sandwiches for him during a transactions class all three took together.

What they share is being incredibly nice and down to earth, special qualities amidst the nerve-wracking drama of preparing for a legal career, McLain says.

"They're the kind of people who you never think you'll meet in law school," she says.

What's helped the couple is how different they are from each other. And how similar.

Both love the courtroom - "Home," Jason said with a sigh as he recently walked into one of the law school's courtrooms.

But Katy says she's better at verbal presentations. She and her husband were both admitted into the select Trial Practice Institute at MSU and were on opposite sides of each other in a case ("I won," Katy says with a laugh).

Jason, a former engineer, is in Katy's words "brilliant" and the better student. She likens him to Dustin Hoffman's "Rain Man" film character because he doesn't take notes.

"I just have a very visual memory," he says.

His study habits have rubbed off on her.

"He's really helped bring me up to a higher academic level that I ever would have achieved. I'm walking with honors that I never thought would have happened," she says.

Jason says he's more of a big-picture theorizer, while Katy excels in breaking down an issue.

"Our discussions are never coming from exactly the same place. We're able to see both sides of what's going on, what's happening. I see the grand scheme, Katy talks about how it directly affects the individual," he says.

Veronica McNally, associate director of the law school's trial advocacy programs, says both are incredibly intelligent and have a great work ethic.

"Things come a little easier for Jason, Katy works harder for success," McNally says.

"Jason is naturally talented in some ways, Katy is naturally talented in other ways. Together, they're unstoppable."

The pair has an advantage over other students because of their maturity and the wealth of experiences they had before coming to law school, McNally says.

"They have a focus on the future. Some people are still stuck in getting through law school, some are stuck in figuring out what they want to do," she says. "These two really have a path they've been on and have a good goal in sight."

The goal for Katy is military law.

While she is quick to laugh and converse, Katy is "very uptight" (her words) and has the manner of the active-duty Marine that she is.

The Grosse Pointe native (her father is well-known attorney Gary Spicer) is the last of four siblings in the Marines, commanded a unit, and served two tours in Iraq.

Her law school education is funded by the Marines through a select program. She'll become a military attorney, or JAG, when she graduates, and head to Camp LeJeune, N.C.

She says she loves the structure of the military and had to adjust to the "very liberal, very young law school atmosphere" in which some students struggled to get up in time for a 10 a.m. class.

"It was very hard for me to accept a different standard," Katy says.

She and Jason are both intensely outdoorsy and athletic; she received a soccer scholarship to Florida State University and, like Jason, has competed in triathlons.

Jason, a native of Minnesota whose father was the warden of a juvenile facility, is a bit more laid back and has something of the tousled Nordic air of a champion downhill skier.

He competed in the U.S. national championships while skiing for Michigan Technological University and was later invited to try out for the U.S. national skeleton team and possibly the Olympics. Skeleton involves racing a sled down an icy track face first.

In fact, the couple first met at MSU when she commented on his U.S. bobsled/skeleton team jacket.

They began dating after they learned they both did triathlons and started training together. Their first date was going on a run; the marriage proposal came while hiking a mountain at 14,000 feet in Colorado.

Clearly, these two have a lot of similarities, though it may be their differences that helped get them through law school intact.

"What his strengths are are my weaknesses and what my strengths are are his weaknesses," Katy says.

Says Jason: "Our discussions are never coming from exactly the same place. We're able to see both sides of what's going on, what's happening.

"I don't know," he says, "it works."

Published: Thu, Apr 29, 2010