Legal lens: Former photojournalist is pursuing a career in law

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

While many people thought it strange when Erin Malone went from a career as a photojournalist/field producer to life as a law student, it made perfect sense to Malone.

“In the news realm, I was taught the focus is on balancing both sides of the story, in a concise and accurate manner—even if that meant knocking on doors for hours on end,” says Malone, who spent six years at 9 & 10 News/Fox 32 - Heritage Broadcasting in Petoskey. Some of her work has been featured nationally from other affiliates to Buzzfeed and even an episode of Snapped.

“In the legal realm, of course, it’s important to have your facts straight and to take all sides of an issue into account when creating the ‘legal story,’” she says. “It also means remaining unbiased and taking your own perspective out of things as much as possible, while also serving as a reliable representative to your community.

“Also, just as importantly, the news world really teaches you how to work on a tight deadline and be on call. I've been known to be editing a story for the 6 o'clock news and getting it on air in just minutes after breaking news. One of my first couple of days starting the job I was called in at 3 a.m. for a gunman standoff that lasted all night. News doesn't just happen in a tight 9-5 timeline where things can be done at your own pace, and the legal realm doesn’t either.”

The youngest of four and the first in her family to attend law school, Malone was hesitant to take this step at the threshold of her third decade.

“I received feedback from some people that perhaps it was too late to go to school, and I’m thankful I had people in my life that told me otherwise,” she says.

She had wanted to attend law school after graduating from the University of Michigan, but at that time, the cost and idea of continuing her education for three years were prohibitive. Now she is glad she waited to pursue this dream.

“During the time I spent outside the college setting I gained valuable life experiences that school just can’t teach you,” she says. “I think with more life experience, people gain a sense of confidence which in turn allows for better reception to constructive criticism, desire to ask questions and understanding of what dedication can yield.

“I have memories of my father, who passed when I was in high school, telling me I should be a lawyer even when I was just a little girl,” she adds. “I pursued other goals for awhile exploring the arts, sciences and journalism. My parents always instilled in me an appreciation and desire for higher education and while I enjoyed my life as a journalist, I yearned for a more specialized expertise that incorporates reading, writing and communication in more complex setting.”

Another factor in her decision was that, during the last few years, someone she cares deeply for had their world turned upside down by unexpected legal issues.

“I realized that, of course, at any time someone may be subject to having to go to court, but the realities of doing so mean the layman has to try to understand a whole new, confusing language that is legalese—which can be exhausting and dispiriting when trying to make decisions,” she says.

“Quickly, I knew I wanted to be that person on the other side of the table to help clients easily understand what options they have, instead of reporting on the story while it's happening or afterwards.”

At this point in her studies, Malone does not yet have a specific legal focus.

“From my time working in the television news realm, I enjoyed that every day I walked into work I usually had new content to work on unless we were doing continuing coverage,” she says. “I like the idea of keeping my day-to-day fresh in that way. If there is another piece of insight that being an older student brings, it would be that life often brings out the unanticipated in really amazing ways.”

Malone also finds her visual and artistic skills have been an unexpected boon to her studies.

“I didn't anticipate creating flow charts and having a brain that works well with visuals would serve me so well in helping organize complex patterns and elements, or to memorize material with color and illustration,” she says.

Malone is living in a cabin in Good Hart, in northern Michigan, near Harbor Springs where she lived from the age of 12 after moving from Illinois.

“I’m near my family and I couldn't feel more blessed to be able to grow intellectually while being near those that I love,” she says.  

“I never anticipated law school would happen online, but I'm just happy I’m able to continue my education. I also get the perks of being able to live near my family now and work on classwork, as well as a remote externship at the Michigan Court of Appeals Research Division, so I feel very blessed.”

In her leisure time, this former photojournalist has returned to her love of still photography and videography.

 “Most recently, I’ve been using my drone to capture beautiful aerial imagery and I’ve also re-ignited an old love for astrophotography. I live near one of the International Dark Sky Parks and the stars are incredible up here.”

Three years ago, she certified as a Remote Pilot for Unmanned Aerial Systems through the FAA.

“I love being certified and often get questions about it, when I’m seen flying—about if I'm certified and how to operate safely in an airspace and I love sharing that knowledge.”




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