When Catalina Sanchez began her legislative career in public service working at the California State Assembly, she knew that earning a graduate degree was part of her plans. What she didn’t know, though, was whether that degree would be Master of Public Administration, a Master of Public Policy, or a Master of Public Health degree.
While working as a legislative aide, Catalina, MSL ’17, assessed the skills she needed to advance her degree. “I learned,” she says, “that to be effective I needed to hone in on the political basics for building a legislative career either as legislative staff, a lobbyist, an advocate, or working in a state agency.” “I determined I needed ‘soft skills’ like debate, negotiation, communication, and public speaking.” Beyond that, Catalina continues, “I needed to possess confidence in a fast-moving political world. And this would all be heightened by a law school education: the critical thinking and analysis skills, the ability to diagnose problems, read policy proposals and interpret case law.” Finally, she says, “I needed to be able to look at data, develop strategy, and execute that strategy.”
The Rigor and Value of Law School—Without a JD Degree
Catalina says a law school education appealed to her because of its rigor and because of the value a law degree offers. But she says she has always been clear she did not want to become a lawyer: “People encouraged me all the time! I said, ‘no, thank you.’ That would have been an entirely new career path for me.”
Catalina investigated McGeorge’s Master of Science in Law (MSL) in Government Law & Policy program. As part of that process, she attended a panel presentation at McGeorge for prospective graduate students. “I heard from two recent graduates and a current student,” says Catalina. “Every panelist had a unique and different story. Each had different careers, different reasons why they were interested in the MSL program, and different long-term plans.”
“I grew up low-income,” Catalina continues. “I’m a first-generation college student from a rural agricultural community in Butte County. Places like McGeorge always felt so far away and unattainable. But hearing from those panelists made the possibility of attending law school real for me. That’s when I knew I was ready to move forward.”
Catalina says: “I saw that the Master of Science in Law program would help me cultivate and strengthen the skills I needed to advance my legislative career. And it has. The MSL degree was exactly what I needed for my chosen career path.”
Flexible and Relevant Curriculum
Catalina was drawn to the MSL program’s flexibility and its curriculum, with a structure similar to a JD program. “I wanted to study the theory of law, legal research and analysis, and case briefing,” she says. “I wanted to develop the same abilities that lawyers have a command of.”
She chose a curriculum that emphasized policy-making, with topics such as torts, administrative law, contracts, and constitutional law. Catalina also focused on her passion for health law issues. “I took classes in health law, environmental law, and mental health law,” she says. “The curriculum gave me the specific focus I wanted to build my foundation on and translate those skills into building and thriving in my career.”
Beyond an MSL Degree: A History-Making Electoral Win
Catalina says her McGeorge education had a payoff beyond her current work as a lobbyist and legislative manager. In November 2020, she was elected to the Gridley City Council in Northern California. “I’m the first Latina to serve in that position,” she says. “My hometown roots, professional experience, and academic preparation by way of receiving a public education through California State University, Chico. Also, my private education at McGeorge Law School all contributed to the person I am now. I am one of a few Latina lobbyists in Sacramento politics, and now the first Latina serving and representing a rural community of 7,000 residents.”
“The academic rigor of McGeorge and the lessons I learned while I was there,” says Catalina, “along with my personal experiences—they all fuel my discipline and resolve to fight for all people in rural Northern California and in Sacramento.”
About the MSL Program
McGeorge’s MSL in Government Law & Policy program is a fully online graduate program. It is designed for people interested in a deep dive in government law and policy but who do not need a JD to achieve their career goals. The Master of Science in Law is earned through a convenient part-time program. This program is specifically designed for students and professionals who need flexibility due to professional or other obligations, and for those who want to further their education and advance their careers.