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Catherine Perez (B.A. 2011) Attorney, District Attorney’s Office, Buncombe County, North Carolina

Catherine Perez (B.A. 2011)
Attorney, District Attorney’s Office, Buncombe County, North Carolina

Catherine PerezAs a state prosecutor for a North Carolina district attorney’s office, Catherine Perez creates positive social change at the local level. It’s what she likes most about her job: “I love being a part of the community” and “if you’re engaged, you can influence your local leaders to change policies.”  

Also—somewhat paradoxically—in her prosecutor role, Catherine is able to assist community members facing criminal charges.  She specializes in drug prosecutions, but her main goal is getting drug offenders alternative sentences—such as rehabilitation programs or extensive community service.  Indeed, the most rewarding part of her job says Catherine, is when people actually complete these options because “it’s just a different person walking out than the person who walked in.”  She also advocates for the accused, who are typically the most economically disadvantaged in the community, by asking judges to waive their costs and by assisting them if they can’t afford their own attorney.

After graduating in 2011 with her B.A. in English (Literature Track), Catherine continued her educational journey at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (UNC) School of Law, one of the top law schools in the country.  She credits her English degree with preparing her for the intellectual rigors of both law school and law practice. As she puts it, “Anybody who can get through the English program at CSUSB” can make it in a high-level program like UNC.  Her literature courses also gave her experience weighing different interpretations, a skill she applies every time she prepares for a trial.

Catherine also cautions, however, that law school is tough and competitive—with tons of reading and studying for classes full of high-achieving peers.  She got through it by treating it like a job, getting to campus at 7:30 AM and not leaving until the end of the day. She advises current English majors to think carefully about whether they want to go to law school, to take an LSAT prep course, and to intern at a law firm or clerk at a courthouse in order to “figure out if you really want it.”

Catherine also encourages minority students, including Hispanic students, to consider applying to law schools in the South (such as UNC), which give generous financial support to students from underrepresented groups.  UNC also offers financial incentives to students who wish to pursue public interest law, an area focused in part on advocacy for disadvantaged populations.

A final piece of advice that Catherine offers to English majors is to simply talk to your professors and meet with them for mentoring. “I would not have made it where I’m at if it were not for the professors who helped me get here,” she says.  She offers special words of appreciation for Professors Renée Pigeon, Chad Luck, Luz Elena Ramirez, and Jessica Luck for their engaging courses on crime fiction, literary theory, British representations of Latin America, and Garbage in twentieth-century literature, as well as for their support in the law school application process.