By Joe DIBacco
This past Friday, Trinity’s Pre-Law Society held the first panel of its newly-sponsored “Careers in Law: A Pre-Law Society Speaker Series.” Casey Quinn, the President of the Pre-Law Society, introduced the day’s panelists, Eleanor Michael, Deputy Counsel of Connecticut Governor Daniel Malloy, and Abigail Williamson, professor of Public Policy & Law and Political Science here at Trinity. The intention of this speaker series is to make Trinity’s students more informed when it comes to applying to graduate school, surviving graduate school, and then finally entering the realms of law and politics.
Eleanor Michael kicked off the event by sharing her educational and professional experience and how it all culminated with a job at the Governor of Connecticut’s office. Michael received a degree in American Studies from Wesleyan University before entering the University of Connecticut School of Law. Undecided on a career choice until virtually the end of her undergraduate years, Michael decided on law school because “I am a pragmatic person with strong writing and analytical skills.” While at UConn Law, Michael did an internship at the Public Defender Service in Washington, D.C., which inspired her to pursue a job that enabled her to help people.
After law school, she deferred a high-paying offer from a financial services firm to do a judicial clerkship. Upon completion, she accepted another offer to work in the legal department of a large financial services firm. After a few years of that, Michael got into politics to get away from the fast-paced lifestyle of a corporate lawyer. She obtained a policy position working for the Connecticut Senate Democrats. Several years later, she was able to continue working for the Connecticut Senate Democrats as an attorney. Looking for another change, she began working for a law firm that handled trusts and estates, but that was not for her. She finally settled down with a job as the Deputy Legal Counsel to Governor Malloy. In that capacity, she covers the Connecticut State Police, the Department of Corrections, the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, as well as any ethics issues involving Governor Malloy. In addition, Michael works on the Governor’s legislative proposals.
On what it is about her job that makes her love doing it, she said, “I enjoy my job because I get to collaborate with people on issues I care about.” She said she could never be the type of person that hides in a cubicle, staring at a computer screen her whole career. Her last bit of advice: “Think about not only what you can do, but also what you want to do.”
Abigail Williamson double-majored in Political Science and Russian at Williams College, during which time she took up a serious interest in education policy. After she applied for Teach For America, she studied Russian in St. Petersburg, Russia for six months. With the help of a Williams alumnus, Williamson got a job at the Eurasia Foundation in Russia. Reflecting on that experience, Williamson said, “If you have the chance to work abroad after college, strongly consider doing so.” She said it was the best career decision she ever made.
Later on, Williamson earned a Masters Degree in Public Policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. An M.P.P. prepares you for leadership positions in either the public sector or in a non-profit organization, which is exactly what Williamson had in mind when she was at the Kennedy school. Upon re-entering the workforce,
Williamson realized that she still did not have what she needed to do what she loved. “For me, what was important was being able to evaluate policy.” She resolved to earn a Ph.D. in Political Science, but she was rejected from the Kennedy School’s program the first time around. After taking some refresher courses in economics and mathematics, she gained admission to the program.
As the panel neared its close, Williamson and Michael left the audience with a few career lessons they felt were crucial in getting them where they are today. Williamson said that you only need a Ph. D. for a select few careers, such as academia or at a think tank such as the Brookings Institution, but certainly not to be a lawyer or to work in politics. She also warned the crowd to think long and hard before joining a large corporate law firm that pays a lot because, “I have many friends who ended up as unhappy attorneys who had worked at big firms.” To enjoy that line of work, you need to love a fast-paced work environment. She also told everyone that law school and graduate school are not just financial costs, but opportunity costs as well. An opportunity cost is simply what you give up in potential gain from other alternatives when you choose a course of action. Three years in law school is time you could have spent networking and gaining real-world experience.
Michael added in at the end that she actually spent a year at Grinnell College before transferring to Wesleyan. She said it wasn’t the right fit, so she went to Wesleyan, where she found a home and met her future husband. “If you are unhappy in what you’re doing, there’s no shame in changing course,” she said. She also advised students that when they are applying to grad schools or law schools, and if they are not wealthy, they should highly consider the ones that offer scholarships and have reasonably-priced tuition. Some law schools have people paying off their loans their entire careers, and that is not a desirable path to take.
Williamson ended the event with a few remarks about networking and meeting people that can help you in your career. “It’s really good to have an elevator speech – which is when you tell someone all that you wish to accomplish in your career.”