Like many students who choose philosophy as a field of study, attorney Ivanna Boychuk, of Chetek, was not exposed to the subject in high school. She just happened to take a philosophy course during her first semester at Macalester College — and loved it.
After transferring to UW-Eau Claire, Boychuk continued to take philosophy courses. It got to the point where she was taking so many philosophy courses that it just made sense to major in it. She eventually narrowed her focus to ethics, graduating in 2013 with a major in philosophy and a minor in sociology.
After graduation, Boychuk went straight to law school at the University of New Hampshire School of Law. She graduated in May 2016. Because she completed the Daniel Webster Scholar Honors program — a unique, rigorous, bar examination practicum where bar examiners evaluated her work each semester throughout the program instead of the traditional two-day exam — she was admitted to the New Hampshire Bar upon graduation.
Boychuk is now an associate attorney with Black, Vitelli & Pennock, a small law firm with offices in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Since her firm practices in both states and she is only licensed in New Hampshire, she will be studying for and taking the Massachusetts Bar this summer.
It was studying philosophy at UWEC that laid a great foundation for law school and her choice of profession.
“While I may not be involved in furthering a philosophical conversation daily, I think what I do now is the practical application of my college major,” says Boychuk. “Philosophy requires strong analysis, reasoning and argument crafting skills, all of which are requirements for me in my current role.”
She needs to examine case facts and create legal arguments, anticipate opposing counsel’s arguments and think of ways to overcome them. This also requires paying close attention to detail and examining issues from different angles.
At her current practice, she focuses primarily in the area of family law. This includes divorce and post-divorce matters involving custody, child support, parenting time, alimony and modification of existing judgments. The work itself includes writing petitions and pleadings, reviewing documents, negotiating settlement, preparing for and attending hearings, and, importantly, communicating with clients to work toward their best interests. This communication often involves explaining the law to lay people and managing client expectations.
“Many clients are emotionally driven during such a difficult time in their lives,” she said. “They appreciate sound, strategic and practical advice.”
From becoming a stronger writer to learning to simplify complex arguments by articulating them step-by-step, she credits philosophy for helping her gain those communication skills. While legal writing is much different from other types of writing, the ability to simplify an idea and focus on the relevant part of an argument is a valuable skill that is transferable to any career.
Looking back at her time at UWEC, she remembers how all of her professors were genuinely interested in teaching. She loved the program because it was challenging, but also understood the value of the skills she was building.
“Philosophy is a subject where you can explore all sorts of ideas,” she added. “It’s interesting and fun, but the skills you gain of creating and identifying sound arguments are very valuable and transferable.”
She concluded her time at UWEC with a presentation at the Provost’s Honors Symposium, which showcases exceptional student research, project and creative activity. Boychuk’s topic was forgiveness as a supererogatory act. In ethics, an act is supererogatory if it is good but not morally required to be done. She looked at whether forgiveness is always supererogatory, and the implications of it being a supererogatory act.
It was a presentation she needed to tailor for both philosopher and non-philosopher ears, and she was surprised that people not familiar with the topic found it interesting. It turns out that tailoring to a non-philosophy audience is very similar to the interactions she regularly has with her clients now.
The value of philosophy for Boychuk is that she is not pigeonholed by her education. As she says, “learning philosophy was about the skills of thinking and analysis, not about a particular idea.” But in choosing law, having studied philosophy allows her to do best what she truly enjoys: delving deep into analyzing arguments.