Conversations with Practitioners

Major Laura O’Donnell

Conversations with Practitioners is our ongoing series in which we ask current practitioners about their careers.

1. What do you currently do?

I am an active duty judge advocate and am currently the Director of the Professional Communications Program at the The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School. As part of that job, I am a professor of legal writing and public speaking. Further, I oversee the Oral History Program and the publication of the Army JAG Corps’ (JAGC) flagship publications, the Military Law Review and The Army Lawyer.

2. What does your job entail?

The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School is an ABA accredited L.LM. granting institution. Each year we have about 115 students attend the L.LM. program and one of their requirements is a scholarly paper. My main responsibility is teaching them scholarly, legal writing and overseeing this requirement of their L.LM. I also supervise three editors who select and edit the academic articles published in The Judge Advocate General’s Corps’ publications.

3. What drew you to doing this kind of work?

Since 9/11, I have always known I wanted to be in public service, but I wasn’t exactly sure where. After my second year of law school, I interned for the JAGC, and I knew that was where I wanted to go after law school. The combination of the people and mission make this the best fit for me. This is also the perfect job to combine a variety of skills and interests, and the environment is always changing, which definitely keeps life interesting.

4. What did you do in law school or immediately after law school that has helped you develop your career?

During undergrad and law school, I sought various employment opportunities to figure out where I wanted to be. I interned for the JAGC, Department of Justice, a Congressional Senator, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I also externed at state and local government offices. I spent time on a variety of activities throughout school so that I was well-rounded and would fit into any of the jobs I selected, or that selected me.

5. Do you have any advice for current law students who are interested in working in your industry (or law students in general)?

Do what you enjoy and take this time to explore who you want to be. Throughout my life, I have enjoyed running and being active, and I didn’t stop that in law school. In the end, I think that contributed to my selection to the JAGC. Examine what you like to do, then find a job that allows you to do that. For example, if you like traveling, make sure your job allows you to travel. If one of your goals is to contribute to society in a positive way, military service fulfills that; I cannot tell you how meaningful it is for me to put on my uniform and know that I am serving the people of our Nation (in my small way). I knew that government service, specifically the JAGC, was what I wanted, so when I joined, I didn’t have any doubts or regrets.


Major Laura O’Donnell, JA, Director of the Professional Communications Program and Associate Professor, Administrative and Civil Law Department. B.S., Manchester University, 2002; J.D., Valparaiso University School of Law, 2005; M.B.A., Indiana University, 2012; LL.M., 62d Judge Advocate Graduate Course,
2014. Judge Advocate Officer Basic Course, 2006; Editor, Military Law Review, The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School, Charlottesville, Virginia, 2013-2014; Operational Law Attorney, Space and Missile Defense Command, Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, 2012-2013; Trial Defense Service, Fort Carson, Colorado, 2009-2012; Trial Counsel/Operational Law Attorney, 3d Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, 2007-2009; Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 25th Infantry Division, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii (Legal Assistance Attorney, 2007; Operational Law Attorney, 2006-2007). Member of the Bars of Illinois, the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, and the United States Supreme Court.


Conversations with Practitioners

Aylin Skroejer

Conversations with Practitioners is our ongoing series in which we ask current practitioners about their careers.

1. What do you currently do?

I am an attorney at the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Competition, in the Mergers I division.

2. What does your job entail?

The Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Competition enforces the nation’s antitrust laws. The antitrust laws promote vigorous competition and protect consumers from anticompetitive mergers and business practices, such as monopolistic conduct, attempts to monopolize, and conspiracies in restraint of trade.

There are four mergers divisions within the Bureau of Competition that examine potentially anticompetitive conduct in the context of mergers and acquisitions. The mergers divisions are segmented by industry. The Mergers I division where I work reviews transactions in health care-related industries, including branded and generic pharmaceutical manufacturing and distribution, medical devices, and consumer health products, as well as matters involving scientific, industrial, and consumer products. The division has also been active in technology markets, such as those involving internet advertising and audience measurement services. With each case, we delve into a new industry to figure out who the market participants are and how competition works. Ultimately, we want to understand how U.S. consumers may be affected by the proposed transaction (for example, would prices likely increase? Would consumers lose one of only a limited number of options available to them?).

3. What drew you to doing this kind of work?

I was introduced to the FTC through internship experiences. In college, I was a paralegal intern with the Bureau, and in law school I was an intern in Mergers I for both my 1L and 2L summers. I loved the work and got a great feel for what life would be like as an attorney here. I was treated like part of the team and responsibilities included conducting interviews with witnesses, writing portions of our internal memos, reviewing internal company documents, and writing customer/competitor affidavits.

4. Do you have any advice for current law students who are interested in working in your industry (or law students in general)?

If you think you might be interested in antitrust law, I highly recommend that you take advantage of UVA’s antitrust law curriculum. You should also try to make the most of the summer and semester internship opportunities that are available. For example, you can get direct exposure to antitrust law through the FTC’s Bureau of Competition, the DOJ’s Antitrust Division, a law firm, or a State AG’s office. Don’t be shy about reaching out to your UVA alum network at these institutions to learn more.

I’ll also note that, while our internship programs are unpaid, the Bureau of Competition is unique in that we hire heavily out of our 2L summer program. We’re looking for students that have demonstrated an interest in antitrust law.


Aylin Skroejer is an attorney at the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Competition. She is also the intern coordinator for Mergers I and is responsible for supervising, mentoring, and training interns in her division. Aylin is a 2009 graduate of UVA Law and a 2006 graduate of UVA, where she majored in economics.

Conversations with Practitioners

Michelle Harrison

Conversations with Practitioners is our ongoing series in which we ask current practitioners about their careers

1. What do you currently do?

I am a staff attorney at EarthRights International (ERI), a nonprofit human rights and environmental organization with offices in SE Asia, the Amazon, and Washington, D.C. ERI uses transnational litigation and advocacy strategies to support indigenous and traditional communities in protecting their human rights and their environment.

2. What does your job entail?

Our team uses a wide range of different tools and strategies to support communities and promote accountability. I have been involved in representing communities, activists, and advocacy organizations in civil litigation against multinational corporations such as Chevron, Union Carbide (now Dow Chemical), Chiquita, and Shell, as well as the International Finance Corporation (the private lending arm of the World Bank) and the American Petroleum Institute. I’ve had the privilege of working directly with communities in Papua New Guinea and India and facilitating workshops in Ghana for human rights and environmental lawyers from West Africa. I’ve advocated to strengthen extractive industry transparency rules and reporting requirements for new investment in Myanmar (Burma) following the easing of US sanctions, and fended off corporate attacks on the free speech rights of activists and journalists. I love my job and every day it challenges me to think creatively.

3. What did you do in law school or immediately after law school that has helped you develop your career?

The clinical work I did in law school was the most formative for me, both in terms of giving me critical practical experience but also in helping me learn what it means to be an effective advocate and figure out what it was I really wanted to do with my career. My experience representing individuals who had been wrongfully convicted with the Innocence Project clinic gave me the opportunity to learn critical fact-finding and investigative skills and gain experience interviewing witnesses and drafting legal arguments.  All of these skills are important in my work today. Through the International Human Rights Clinic, I worked on grass roots human rights advocacy training and capacity building and a project examining the social and economic impacts of extractive industries on indigenous communities. The experience not only gave me important training as a human rights advocate, but also helped me figure out more specifically what I wanted to do with my career. I didn’t love law school my 1L year, especially my first semester when I didn’t get choose any of my classes. But that all changed for me once I started work in a clinic, and felt like I was able to do something meaningful that actually made a difference.

4. Do you have any advice for current law students who are interested in working in your industry (or law students in general)?

Law school tends to push people towards certain well established paths, especially big law, and at times that can feel isolating if you know those paths aren’t for you. This is especially true for people who are trying to do something in public interest outside of working for the government.  If you know why you came to law school, whether it is a vague notion that you want to do something that makes a difference, or if you have a specific passion or an interest in a particular issue, don’t let the pressure of law school and the pressure to do what everyone else is doing push you towards something different. Don’t forget why you came here in the first place.

The law is a powerful tool, and one you can use in more ways than you could ever imagine as a student. Take advantage of your time in law school to do as many different things outside the classroom as possible. In addition to finding diverse internship experiences, do as many different clinics as you can, get involved in pro bono projects in subjects that interest you, get experience in direct services, use winter break to volunteer somewhere, spend a semester doing an externship. Not only do these experiences give you practical skills and experience that make you more valuable to employers after school, but it also gives you exposure to the different ways people can use their law degree and the different strategies you can use to make a difference.

Lawyers have immense potential to contribute to positive change and find positive solutions that make a difference in peoples’ lives. Even if you aren’t in a public service career, find ways to do pro bono projects and use your legal skills to volunteer in your community. Life is short. Find something that inspires you, drives you and something you can feel proud of.

Michelle Harrison is a staff attorney at EarthRights International, an international human rights and environmental organization with offices in Washington DC, SE Asia and the Amazon. After graduating from UVA Law in 2012, Michelle began working at ERI as a Robert F. Kennedy Public Service Fellow. While at UVA, Michelle worked as a clinical student on human rights issues ranging from grass roots human rights advocacy training and capacity building to examining the social and economic impacts of extractive industries on indigenous communities. During this time, Michelle also worked in Tanzania for the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and with the Innocence Project, providing post-conviction representation. Michelle holds a B.A. in Political Science and Environmental Science and a minor in French from Miami University. At ERI, she focuses on transnational corporate accountability litigation and advocacy strategies to support communities in protecting their human rights and their environment. She has worked with communities in Papua New Guinea and India, advocated to strengthen extractive industry transparency rules, defended the first amendment rights of activists, and challenged the immunity of international organizations like the World Bank.

Student Posts

The Advice That Wasn’t for Me…

I am the only person in my family who has graduated from college. Before law school I didn’t know a single lawyer. To say that I came to law school with a romantic vision of what it meant to be a lawyer and nothing else would be an understatement. With that context in mind, as a first year student I was like a sponge. I listened to everyone’s suggestions and tried to absorb as much as I could. I took note of the professors to take and the ones to avoid. I listened to advice on which hornbooks were the best, which offers from firms were the most validating, basically all of the do’s and don’t of law school. Looking back, I am grateful for all of the advice, but most importantly, I now realize that the best decision I made was ultimately ignoring about 95% of it.

Here is why – everyone is different and public service is especially different. So as I embark on my last week of classes as a 3L I thought I would share some of the advice I was repeatedly given that I feel was wrong for me.

  • OGI: “Everyone does OGI. You should just do it.” Wrong. Everyone does not do OGI. Most people do OGI. As I spent my days laying by the pool while many of my peers rushed around in suits, interviewing for jobs that some of them didn’t even want, I realized that this was one piece of advice that I felt extra great about ignoring. As a person who came to law school for one reason, to do public service, there really was no point in me personally participating in OGI. That does not mean that making the decision to defy the norm, to miss out on a right of passage, was easy but it was the right decision for me.
  • The Public Service Center: “The PSC will not be helpful…” I will admit that hearing this deterred me at first. At some point my second year I finally decided this whole “doing it on my own” thing wasn’t working and so I began to meet with staff in the PSC. I think by the end of 2L I had actually met with each person in the office to review a resume or do a mock interview. I think the key thing to remember is that, like I said everyone is different, including each staff member who works in the Public Service Center. I didn’t mesh well with everyone but meeting with everyone showed me that I did mesh really well with one staff member and that relationship kept me sane during the fellowship process my third year. She was my shoulder to cry on when I needed to just cry, she read every draft I sent her, she helped me craft a project that allowed me to pursue my passions. For me working with the PSC turned out to be one of the best decisions I have made during law school.
  • Third Year: “Just wait…your third year will be easy.” Lies. I don’t write this to scare anyone, I write this to be real. As a public service person 3L for many people is the time where you finally get to shine, when it is your turn to do your interviews, to track down your dream job. The public service timeline is longer than the firm timeline and in many cases the public service job search doesn’t even begin to gear up until 3L. I honestly don’t know all of the timelines, but I do know that I spent my entire fall of 3L crafting my fellowship project, applying for fellowships, interviewing and still doing all of the regular law school stuff. When I got the call that I would be doing my dream job it was all worth it but along the way I did keep thinking, “but I’m a 3L…Isn’t this supposed to be my easy year?” So in this case, I don’t know that I ignored any words of advice per se, or maybe more accurately I didn’t have a choice in ignoring the words of advice because 3L was my time to get it done.

In the end, I think the best advice is to march to the beat of your own drum. Know that your road might be less traveled and that’s okay. Know that what is best for everyone else may or may not be what is best for you.


Megan Lisa Watkins Headshot

Megan Lisa Watkins is a third year law student from Baltimore, MD.  She graduated from Davidson College in 2010. After Davidson, Megan taught High School Spanish for three years as a Teach For America Corps Member in Charlotte, NC. After graduation, Megan will be working at the Legal Aid Justice Center in Richmond as Powell Fellow. She will provide  direct representation, outreach and community education to enforce the educational rights of youth in the Greater Richmond area who have experienced trauma and are at risk of entering the juvenile justice system. Megan enjoys cooking, traveling, and spending time with her two adorable pups.

Student Posts

Costs and Constraints: The Price of Access to Legal Information

The cost of access to legal information is a serious constraint on public service lawyers who serve low-income clients. As many public service attorneys represent clients in disputes with large, well-funded opponents, access to reasonably priced legal information that is accurate, up-to-date, and comprehensive will help level the playing field. This is evermore important for legal aid organizations that have seen their federal funding significantly decreased since the early 1990s. This post will briefly describe the current landscape with regard to legal information databases and trends that may emerge over the next decade.

As is well known, Westlaw and LexisNexis (Lexis) have a duopoly on the $8 billion legal services market. Although it is difficult to ascertain information on how much these services cost, the consensus on the blogosphere is that it is about a $600/month subscription for a solo practitioner for the full gamut of case law, statutes, and regulations.

One might ask why Westlaw and Lexis are able to dominate the legal information market when all of the information in their databases is publicly available. But Lexis and Westlaw add value by accumulating, sorting information and by making it searchable. Yet, the lucrative nature of the market and the fact that all the information is publicly available has attracted many potential competitors to Westlaw and Lexis. But few have succeeded. To illustrate, in 1977, there were twenty-five different legal information companies; today there are two. Recently, Bloomberg Law has attempted to enter the market, but having used it myself, it lacks many features that I would consider to be worthwhile as a paid subscription service.

But in the age of fast-paced technological innovation, many more competitors are popping up and with better quality products. One such competitor is Ravel Law. Ravel has all the basics in terms of case law and statutes in state and federal jurisdictions. Like Westlaw, it allows both plain text and Boolean searches of its database. In addition, the platform in which the cases are presented is arguably more convenient and aesthetically pleasing than Westlaw or Lexis. CasemakerX is another promising alternative to Lexis and Westlaw. Like Ravel, it allows users to Boolean search its database and to filter results by jurisdiction. It also has a basic “shepardizing” feature, which provides a clue as to whether a case is still good law or not.

While these startup services are still developing and lack some of the more obscure content and advanced features that are available on Lexis and Westlaw, they represent the possibility that Westlaw and Lexis’s dominance of the industry can be challenged, at least in the near future. Most importantly, most state bar associations provide at least one of these new services to their members for free. Thus, lawyers working outside of large firms have access to relatively high quality legal information at no cost. At the very least, this will encourage Westlaw and Lexis to innovate and to lower prices. At best, sites like Ravel and CasemakerX will develop into low-cost or free alternatives to Westlaw and Lexis, which would be an enormous benefit to many public service lawyers. Considering how much progress these sites have made in just a short time period, I am hopeful that the best-case scenario will pan out. Going forward, however, we should expect Westlaw and Lexis to continue to protect their market positions by either buying out startup sites or persuading state bars to discontinue providing free access to these sites. Given the stakes for low-income clients, we should be active in encouraging state bars to continue providing free access to these sites.

Daniel's PictureDaniel is a 2L from Cincinnati, Ohio. He graduated from George Mason University in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. Last summer, Daniel worked for the General Counsel at Apex Clean Energy, a wind energy company in Charlottesville. In his spare time, Daniel enjoys playing piano and beach volleyball.

Conversations with Practitioners

Emily Martin

Conversations with Practitioners is our new series in which we ask current practitioners about their careers.

1. What do you currently do?

I am General Counsel and Vice President for Workplace Justice at the National Women’s Law Center.  The Center is a DC-based organization dedicated to expanding opportunities for women through policy advocacy, public education and engagement, and litigation.

2. What does your job entail? 

I head up the National Women’s Law Center’s efforts to achieve fairness in the workplace for women.  Some of our key areas of focus include fighting for equal pay, addressing pregnancy discrimination, raising the minimum wage, and advocating for fair work schedules.  As far as what this means on a day to day basis, it can include talking to Congressional staffers or state legislative staff in support of a bill, drafting comments to a federal agency like the EEOC supporting or critiquing policy proposals, talking to the press about the wage gap, revising a Supreme Court amicus brief, mapping out a communications campaign around workplace issues important to women, putting together a factsheet that makes the research case for a particular policy proposal, making a pitch to a funder, or reviewing the work of staff doing any or all of the above, to give a few examples.  I also act as GC to the organization, which entails tasks ranging from reviewing contracts, to figuring out employee benefit questions, to ensuring that we are properly tracking our lobbying expenditures.

3. What drew you to doing this kind of work?

I was always interested, from my undergraduate years forward, in issues related to women’s equality.  I think a formative moment was a class I took on women and U.S. history that the late Ann Lane taught when I was a second-year undergrad at U.Va., which just really excited me about thinking through the role of gender in constructing our imaginations, our families, our society, our nation.  That became a through line for me as an undergrad, and what motivated my choice to go to law school was that law was a way to do work that spoke to these questions in my career, in a way that would have a practical impact that could potentially help achieve concrete progress on some of these issues.  I am exceptionally lucky that the vision that I had for what I would like to do that led me to law school actually matches pretty perfectly with the work that I have been able to do.

4. What did you do in law school or immediately after law school that has helped you develop your career?

I always feel the need to explain that this is not the only path, because my own story is unusual in that it is so single-minded and direct.  But in law school, I really focused a lot on gender issues—in the classes I took, in the extracurriculars I did.  I never took Corporations, or Evidence (though I regret that decision), but I took courses on reproductive technologies and sex discrimination and equal protection and related areas like labor law and social welfare law.  The big papers that I wrote in law school centered on gender issues.  And my summer internships were with the ACLU and the National Women’s Law Center—the two places that I ended up working after I graduated.  So all of that helped!  The other thing that I did immediately after law school was clerk, which I think is always helpful for an lawyer to gain facility in legal analysis and writing quickly, and most importantly to learn how to gain a working understanding of an area of law very quickly.

5. Do you have any advice for current law students who are interested in working in your industry (or law students in general)?

Demonstrate that commitment however you can—whether it is in the writing that you do, the classes you take, the internships you seek out, the things you read in your spare time.  When I am interviewing candidates, almost everyone is persuasive in saying that they would really like to feel that they are a part of something meaningful—and that is important—but the candidates who we pay attention to are the ones who have clearly been thinking in a rigorous way about the issues we work on and who have new ideas to bring to these issues.  This doesn’t mean that we expect people to be experts before they walk in the door, but we do want people who are really mentally engaging with at least some of the issues we work on before they get the job.


Emily Martin is General Counsel and Vice President for Workplace Justice at the National Women’s Law Center. She oversees the Center’s advocacy, policy, and education efforts to ensure fair treatment and equal opportunity for women at work and to achieve the workplace standards that allow all women to achieve and succeed, with a particular focus on the obstacles that confront women in low-wage jobs and women of color. She also provides in-house legal advice and representation to the Center. Prior to joining the Center, Ms. Martin served as Deputy Director of the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, where she spearheaded litigation, policy, and public education initiatives to advance the rights of women and girls to fair treatment at work, at school, and in housing. She was a law clerk for Senior Judge Wilfred Feinberg of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and for Judge T.S. Ellis, III, of the Eastern District of Virginia and previously worked for the Center as a recipient of the Women’s Law and Public Policy Fellowship. She has served as Vice President and President of the Fair Housing Justice Center, a non-profit organization in New York City. Ms. Martin is a graduate of the University of Virginia and Yale Law School.

Student Posts

Early Training

One thing on a lot of law students’ minds is the best way to get good training early on. As we learned in the Law and Public Service class, the law school curriculum has largely been shaped by the interests of private firms that want law students to walk through the door as blank slates, ready to be trained on the job. Without many practical requirements and training opportunities built in, students seeking to enter public service work may feel the best way to build a strong foundation is to start in the private sector. I don’t think there is any one best way to get solid training, so this post will discuss different opportunities to do so, considering some potential pros and cons.

A starting point is to consider what public service minded students can do to supplement the law school curriculum, so that you leave having done more than read thousand page books and write out stream of consciousness exam answers. You can take part in pro bono, clinics, oral advocacy classes, independent studies, and moot court/mock trial. You can get your J.D. without doing these things, but with some extra work, you can better prepare for the work ahead.

As a side note, a common complaint about clinics is that they are incredibly B+ heavy and are more time consuming than the credit hours reveal. Regardless of whether this is true, the perception is harmful, and the school’s administration should make more of an effort to either dispel these misconceptions or improve the grading scheme and credit allocation for clinics.

Right after school, a great way to get your feet wet is by clerking. At UVA a “clerkship” tends to be synonymous with a fancy appellate or federal district court clerkship—but these aren’t the only clerkships out there. If you plan to work in direct services at legal aid, or in prosecution or defense at the state level, a state-level clerkship may be even more valuable. Government agencies also offer clerkships in their judicial arms—for example, I summered at Department of Labor, Office of Administrative Law Judges, where I learned that clerking after law school in a particular agency can be a great way to get your foot in the door. In any case, working for a judge, doing research and writing for a year or two is a great way to improve skills that are neglected by the law school curriculum.

Starting in the private sector is also a viable option. There is no doubt private firms have more resources to spend on your training. And if you’re after a job in the federal government, it’s a fairly well trodden path to start at a firm. However, working at a firm is not necessarily a sure bet in terms of training. Even though firms have tightened their belts a bit following the 2008 financial crisis, outsourcing more mundane work like document review and hiring more staff support as opposed to associates, as a young associate you’re still not going to be speaking with clients, stepping into a courtroom, or drafting briefs—and you may still get stuck doing document review. That being said, the private sector offers a level of handholding and individualized attention that most public service outfits don’t have the time or money for.

You can also jump right into the fire (go straight into a public service job). In fact, people who start at firms are often encouraged to engage in pro bono for the training value. So why not skip the middleman? Learning on the job isn’t easy and you’re bound to make mistakes, but you will instantly be given responsibility. You’ll be the one meeting with clients, going to court, and writing briefs. The downside is you may not be given as much guidance and feedback.

The main takeaway is that where you end up first doesn’t really matter. There’s something to be learned from each experience and regardless of where you are, you’ll have to advocate for yourself and check in with yourself to make sure you are getting the opportunities you need to develop as an attorney.

 To end with an anecdote, my PILA alumni mentor worked in big law before having a medical crisis and religious awakening that led her to quit work and start volunteering at Catholic Legal Charities where she eventually obtained a full-time position. She said the writing, management, and interpersonal skills she obtained at the law firm prepared her to quickly move into a leadership position and expand the reach and services provided by the nonprofit.


Michelle LPS headshot Michelle Garafalo  is a 2L. She graduated from George Mason University in 2012. Last summer she interned at the U.S. Department of Labor in the Office of Administrative Law Judges. Michelle enjoys doing yoga and drawing people and animals in her spare time.