Outstanding Undergraduate Alumni: Maria Jhai

Maria Jhai received her B.A. in Anthropology (summa cum laude) from the University of Arizona in 2007 and her J.D. (magna cum laude) in 2011 from the University of Michigan Law School. She is currently a litigator in the law firm of Munger, Tolles & Olson in Los Angeles, specializing in litigating complex civil cases.

Before entering law school, Ms. Jhai worked as a courtroom clerk in Arizona Superior Court and interned for U.S. Congressman Raul Grijalva. As a student attorney in the University of Michigan Law School’s Innocence Clinic, Ms. Jhai uncovered evidence that led to the exoneration of her client after nine years in prison, and submitted briefs at all levels of the Michigan court system.

Ms. Jhai speaks regularly on various litigation topics. In 2017, she presented a webinar titled “Updates in Class Action Food Litigation” for the State Bar of California. In 2016, she led a roundtable discussion at the FoodVision USA conference titled “Legal Pitfalls and Opportunities in On-line Subscription-Based Sales.” Ms. Jhai also maintains an active pro bono practice. She co-authored an amicus curiae brief in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court addressing individuals’ Sixth Amendment right to be confronted with the witnesses against them. Ms. Jhai has also represented clients in immigration proceedings and in wage-and-hour matters before the Labor Commissioner.

When asked about how her training in Anthropology at the University of Arizona and the impact it had on her career, Ms. Jhai replied:

Studying Anthropology at the University of Arizona was excellent preparation for the kind of thinking I’ve been called upon to do as a law student and a lawyer. In Anthropology I learned in a disciplined manner to identify my own cultural assumptions and to actively question them. That process, which I understand to be essential for anthropologists, provided excellent training in open-minded inquiry that I think makes me a better lawyer.

I think it’s important to question the assumption that law schools are looking for students to major in typical pre-law subjects. In my experience, it worked well to study a subject of genuine interest to me that nonetheless allowed me to develop the critical thinking and writing skills that are foundational to good lawyering. Anthropology was perfect in that regard. There was plenty of time to learn the nuts and bolts of our legal system when I got to law school.

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