Margaret Marshall

2021 | Traverse City, MI

University of Michigan | Screen Arts and Cultures

Some people see a charging elephant and think: “Maybe I should’ve stayed home today.” Margaret Marshall, ’21, looked at that elephant – and decided to go to law school.

Marshall graduated with her degree in Screen Arts and Cultures from the University of Michigan and followed her aspiration to do wildlife filmmaking to South Africa. One day while she was out filming for a documentary with her team, they encountered two fighting elephants. Marshall hopped out of the car with her tripod and camera in tow, eager for a closer shot, and quickly attracted the attention of one of the animals.

She was 20 or 30 feet from the car, following the instructions of the ranger to stay still. Meanwhile, the elephant would charge toward her, and then stop, charge again, and stop. Before long, the elephant backed down, and Marshall rejoined her group.

As a Traverse City native, Marshall grew up in a family that embraced the outdoors and valued the environment, including the animals that inhabit it. But, her time in South Africa opened her eyes and inspired the idea of advocating for and implementing change, and having a direct role in that process. The elephant was Marshall’s tipping point that directed her down a different path, navigating a new journey that she had never considered: becoming an environmental attorney.

“I just don’t think filming will ever be enough for me,” she said. “I saw all the negative impact that mankind has had on the environment, and also its effect on the people we were helping in South Africa. I thought, ‘I want to do more,’ and I thought law would be the best option.”

Marshall sat down with her mother, an attorney, when she returned home and pitched her idea of going to law school. “Within a week, I was like, ‘That’s it. I want to go to law school’,” she said.

She picked up a LSAT book and set her sights on MSU Law, aware of the law college’s well-established environmental and animal law programs and faculty. MSU Law houses the Animal Welfare Clinic, one of a handful of similar clinics in the country, led by Professor Carney Anne Nasser. “It was a big factor in me coming to MSU Law,” Marshall said.

Marshall’s mother warned her about the first year of law school, and while it has proven to be a challenge, she said she is excited for what’s to come. She has elected to take several animal law classes in the upcoming academic year, and she was accepted for participation in the Animal Welfare Clinic.

In addition to her core classes at MSU Law, Marshall is also a member of the inaugural cohort of the Michigan Leadership Initiative – an exclusive group that recognizes students who have proven leadership experience, volunteer history, and a commitment to community engagement. “It was really rewarding interacting with students and other attorneys,” Marshall said. “It’s a good way to network and meet people.”