Law & Criminal Justice Panel: Career Advice

Law & Criminal Justice Panel: Career Advice

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Maha Neouchy
June 24, 2013

TWC welcomed back five TWC alumni for a panel on "Careers in Law and Law Enforcement." The symposium was particularly unique because for the first time in over two years, the entire panel was made up completely of alumni, some of which wrapped up their semester in Washington, D.C. as early as 1976.


The panelists included:


Each panelist took time to discuss the road to their careers in the law and criminal justice field, and answered questions moderated by David Slavick, TWC's Law & Criminal Justice Academic Program Advisor.


Moderated Panel Discussion


When students look at a future career path, their next steps are not always clear. When was your "aha" moment and when did you first discover what you wanted to do?


Wachtel: I felt instant comfort in Washington, D.C. I had worked in law firms protecting bank interests but took time off to work on the 1992 campaign. During that time off, I worked in an environment where I interacted with a lot of eccentric personalities and I realized; those are the people I want to deal with on a day-to-day basis. Now, I work on a lot of cases with one-to-one interactions; everything from sexual harassment to whistleblower cases.


Turner: I had my "aha" moment when I was at TWC for two weeks during the Women Leaders Seminar I was attending. I spent the day with my mentor who was a female lobbyist. She provided some major influence and I eventually pursued law and graduate school. The best advice I can provide: Don't take a job just for the money. You should take jobs that interest you and that will make you happy. You never know where your career will take you and you don't want to miss an opportunity because you are looking at the paycheck.


Longosz: I had multiple "aha" moments when I was with TWC. My biggest "aha" moment happened when I was working on a new communities program. There were so many talented people coming in and out of government.


Mugavero: I never had one "aha" moment, I had many. The first was during my internship with TWC. I came to the realization that I wanted to go in a completely different direction. Next, I worked for a law firm for three years and understood what it meant to build a career in that area. I came to the decision that law school was the right choice for me and I worked for different law firms throughout the year and gained different experiences. Because I had those experiences and I remained open, there was always something new to learn.


Carleton: I had two big "aha" moments. One happened while I was here and the second one happened while I was speaking to other students about their internships. Having discussions with other people about their careers helped me explore what I wanted to do.


One thing we do at TWC is ask students to set goals. Can you tell us what skill you have found indispensable?


Wachtel: It is not what comes out of your mouth but what you absorb in your ears. When people testify, we tell people to listen to the question that is asked and actually answer it. It is important to listen and then react.


Turner: You should know how to write. That skill will translate to every job you have. It is also important to use everyday language. Talk to people like they are your 8-year-old brother or sister.


Longosz: It is nice to be important, but more important to be nice. First impressions are key. It is also just as important to kiss down as it is to kiss up. In government that is always key and teamwork is huge.


Mugavero: Know what is important to your boss. Part of your job is to make your boss look good, your team look good and your organization look good. This will help them to trust you with more responsibility. Also, never be afraid to make mistakes.


Carleton: Whether preparing for a meeting, deposition or trial, try to keep the following three things in mind:


  1. Know your objectives.
  2. Be prepared for any meeting, especially if you have control over timing.
  3. Listen and respond to what is happening at the moment.

How does someone get a job in law today? What are you looking for in a candidate?


Wachtel: We are always looking for two criteria: academic skill/accomplishments and demonstrated interest. We want to hire people that enjoy what they are doing. We're almost always going to choose someone who shows interest in the field already. It is important to figure out your interest early on, especially in this competitive environment.


Turner: Network, network and network. You never know who the next person to give you a job will be. You never know who is connected to who. It also never hurts to do an informational interview.


Longosz: Even though we're furloughing seven days this summer, we are still hiring college graduates. Grades matter and we cannot hire anyone who is not at the top 25% of their class. Also, make sure you follow-up and write a thank you letter after every interview.


Mugavero: You never know what on your résumé will attract someone, so put your most important experience on there.


Law & Criminal Justice Student Questions


Kevin Davis, student at the University of Central Arkansas, geared his question towards Donni Turner in regards to her advice about writing: "How do you break down your writing in a way so that you don't come across as condescending?" Turner responded by letting him know that it's important to "simplify language and break it down so that it is clear."


Brandy Nowicki, student at the University of Toledo in Ohio, asked the entire panel if they could point out "the main difference between a small and large firm?" Patricia Mugavero responded first, saying that she had always preferred her experience in a large firm because "you receive better training and have more resources at your disposal. Unfortunately, once you are at a large firm for a while, you start to weigh all these benefits against bureaucracy." Vickie Longosz, on the other hand, who has been in government for the last 32 years, was able to raise three children and teleworked part-time. You just can't get that in a small firm because you need to be accessible all the time. It really depends on what you're looking for in regards to flexibility." David Wachtell believes it's a "personality thing. If you're comfortable selling yourself as a brand new product constantly, a big firm might be the right place for you."


A Special Thanks


The Washington Center would like to thank our alumni for taking the time to participate in this panel discussion with TWC students currently enrolled in the Law and Criminal Justice Academic Internship Program. This is the first time in TWC history that we hosted a panel of five alumni in the Blinken Auditorium.


[View photos of the event on our Flickr channel]

[Read more about our Law & Criminal Justice Program]

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