Back in high school, no one had the 20/20 vision to see where Daniel Cardwell would be in the year 2020 – not even Cardwell himself. Moving around to different states growing up, as his entrepreneurial parents launched businesses, his education suffered. He even dropped out of high school. It wasn't until later when he discovered his struggles in school were due to an undiagnosed learning disability that things changed.
It was then that Cardwell started turning things around for himself, and in a big way. He first went back to school to earn his GED, then he moved on to community college, where he studied with a professor to really overcome his reading issues. From there, he earned his bachelor’s degree in English from the University of South Florida, then a master’s degree in English and a master's degree in library science. Since then he has been teaching as an adjunct professor of English at Hillsborough Community College.
Then Cardwell started thinking about something he had always wanted to do, but never thought he could – until now.
Law school bound
Today, Cardwell is in his fourth term at WMU-Cooley Law School, and exploring ways to combine his library science and English degrees – especially in the areas of rhetoric and composition – with his passion for the law.
“With rhetoric,” he explained, “you study this power dynamic of arguing and the ability to communicate effectively and evaluate ideas. From that perspective, law school has been a natural fit. (I like) being able to research and track court decisions throughout different cases and different time periods, but also being able to understand and communicate effectively what the court said and how it applies to our case or the fact pattern.”
With so many professional possibilities with his English and library science degrees, and soon his J.D., he has a lot of options ahead of him for a career.
Originally, he said, he “was looking at law librarianship, which is that intersection where lawyers work professionally in libraries to help serve the information needs of the legal community.” But another path has also emerged. “One of my interests is appellate practice and working within the appellate court setting where you’re researching legal issues and researching legislative histories and statutes. Researching both the moving parts of law but also the traditional parts of the law that are foundational.”
The study of law has added an analytical component that resonates with Cardwell.
“It’s the mental work behind it. What fascinates me about this particular area of practice is that you are able to research really complex issues that can involve multiple peoples, multiple parties, and even public policy behind court rulings and decisions. It’s strategy, but it’s also the intellectual side of it. Being able to really dig into not only the law but also the politics behind it,” Cardwell said.
Putting Pieces Together
“The thing that fascinates me about the law is that it is like working with a mental puzzle and you have different pieces that you have to work with. You have to consider the context and the frame within which we are working and you have to understand at what point does the law or social policy fit this particular case, group, dispute, or how it doesn’t fit,” he added.
As busy as he is with his studies, Cardwell is keeping a sharp eye on the future. “One of the things I would want to focus on eventually is to get a position as a law clerk. For me, what attracts me to the judiciary is that it is also an area that focuses a lot on the ethics and moral standards that come with the job.”
What has led to Cardwell’s success? As important as encouragement and support are, Cardwell notes that the drive has to come from within.
“Pursuing the legal field is something that I had to come to for myself. I’ve had people suggest going to law school before but I knew unless I was able to make that commitment myself I wouldn’t make it through law school. And that is certainly true after I have finished my first year of law school. That dedication and commitment has to come from the inside. It cannot be another person pushing you through it. It has definitely helped me grow as a person and as a student as well.”