Current Job: Assistant U.S. Attorney, Criminal Division, Northern District of Alabama
YLS Year: 2007
What do you do, and how did you get there?
I’m an Assistant United States Attorney with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Northern District of Alabama. How did I get there? Partly luck that there was an opening when I was looking, and partly having the right credentials (summer stint with the Connecticut U.S. Attorney’s Office, clerkships, private law firm, some experience in criminal law through pro bono cases) on my resume.
What is your day-to-day like? What is your favorite part of your job?
My day-to-day ranges from sitting at my desk researching case law, to meeting with agents on my cases to get an update on their investigations or to give guidance as to how the investigation should proceed, to meeting with witnesses, to appearing in court. My favorite part of the job is probably being involved in the investigatory stage of a case.
How many hours a week/day to you work?
Between 40 and 60 hours, depending on the week. Possibly more if I’m in trial.
Did clerking help your career? If so, how?
Clerking helped my career, first because it carries a certain prestige, but second and more importantly, because it gave me a good appreciation of how important it is to be well-prepared when I appear before the court, and to listen to, and answer the judge’s questions as straightforwardly as I can.
2. LAW SCHOOL
What was most valuable about your YLS experience? What is the most important lesson you took away from your time at YLS?
The access you have to so many impressive, knowledgeable, and experienced people (through classes and speaker events). Interactions with my classmates. And, perhaps surprisingly to some, the theoretical focus of classes. I think classes like Procedure and Evidence, theoretical as they can be at YLS, really helped me develop good instincts for what the right answer should be even when I don’t know a specific rule or the case law on a particular issue.
What skills do you rely on now but that law school did not emphasize enough?
What expected or unexpected professional obstacles have you faced? What has been your biggest challenge?
My biggest challenge to date has been probably working to avoid getting lost among the multitudes at a firm. A big law firm can provide excellent training if you get staffed on the right cases (with the right people), but you have to make a concerted effort to make that happen.
What do you view as your biggest accomplishment?
I’m not really sure. I guess a number of the cases I’ve taken on as an AUSA. Also, at my former law firm I was part of a team that oversaw the development of a new test for the Firefighter Department of New York. That test has led to more diversity in the FDNY.
How have you balanced work/life? How do you deal with all your obligations? Throughout the course of your career, how has this changed?
It’s tough, but having a good partner and/or family support is key. It’s also easier when you are in a part of the country where family life is prioritized. Those aside, I think the keys to attaining work-life balance are to be as organized as possible and to streamline your life where you can. For instance, I order all my baby supplies through a monthly subscribe and save plan with Amazon. It might seem silly, but it helps to have part of your life on autopilot. The point is to identify things that would make your life easier and do them. Also, I’ve learned not to take on too much and set up myself to fail.
What advice was helpful to you as a law student, or what advice did you wish you had received?
I wish I’d been more aware of all the possible career paths and how to best position myself to get on them. I also wish I’d fully appreciated exactly how important work/life balance is. I think a lot of law students, especially those who have not previously been in the workforce, don’t appreciate that working very long weeks can really take a toll on you, as brilliant and hardworking as you may be. Certain practice areas can be more conducive to work/life balance, and it would have been helpful to have been aware of them. Also specializing in an area of law sooner rather than later can help. I think a lot of the stress that goes with being a young lawyer comes from the tension between the demand for perfection and the feeling that you’re constantly playing catch-up.
What traits impress you most in young lawyers?
A willingness to learn, do the work and to ask questions. I’m concerned when I come across the “strong and wrong” types, especially when they lack the experience, and haven’t done the work, to be so sure of an answer.
What is the most direct path to where you are? If you could re-do it, what would you change?
I went from two clerkships, to a firm, to my current job. That’s probably the path most people take and the path that gives you the skills necessary for the job, so I guess one could describe it as “direct.” If I could change anything, it would be to have taken on more small pro bono cases while at the firm so as to get more stand-up courtroom experience.
How was the transition from private to public interest, and do you have any advice for students interested in both law firms and government work?
The transition was remarkably easy once I adjusted to the reduced pay. My current job is wonderful, especially because, for the most part, I control my cases.
How has being a woman affected you in your career? How do you handle work/life balance?
As a general rule, I think women have to make sacrifices when they have children. I’m always in awe when I meet those women who haven’t had to, but I think I’d be setting myself up for much frustration if I didn’t just admit it. So, for instance, if there’s a case that involves a lot of travel, I might ask that it not be assigned to me. It’s not easy, and I’m sure it will impact my career somewhat, but there you have it. I also don’t think women should make apologies for having family responsibilities. The more “here’s how it is” you are about it, the less likely colleagues and/or clients are to question your inability to participate in a meeting, etc. But, obviously, you also have to work hard and produce good work to make that palatable. Also, like I said, I try to streamline my life as much as possible.
Do you see any differences in the challenges that men/women face in the legal profession?
Yes. I think it is pretty obvious that women face different and more challenges. Women’s comments are more likely to be ignored, sometimes because they are offered with less confidence than those of their male counterparts. I think women can come across as more confident while simultaneously stating any doubts they have as to a conclusion. Sometimes it’s really about simple things like making eye contact, speaking in a more audible tone, etc.