Conversations with Practitioners

Vivian Kim

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 Assistant United States Attorney at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Columbia. Our office is a little different from other U.S. Attorney’s offices. Since there is no D.A. in the District, the office also handles local crime. I specifically handle domestic violence misdemeanors in D.C. Superior Court.

2. What does your job entail?

I’m more like a local prosecutor than a federal prosecutor. I am in the courtroom almost every day in the mornings, handling status hearings, detention hearings, motions hearings, arraignments, sentencings, and trials etc. If there is a trial, I will be there all day. If not, in the afternoons I spent a lot of time talking to witnesses and victims. Because of the work I do, I encounter a lot of people who are in vulnerable and tragic moments in their lives; it is crucial that I take the time and care to speak with respect and clarity during this time. I also spend the afternoons gathering evidence, investigating, turning evidence over to defense counsel, getting ready for upcoming trials, and negotiating plea deals with defense counsel.

My job involves a lot of jugging talking to different people: the court, defense counsel, witnesses, and law enforcement officers.

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

I have been focused on this kind of work for a while. Straight out of college, I worked as a paralegal at the Manhattan D.A.’s office in the sex crimes unit. In law school, I was in the Prosecution Clinic where I handled domestic relations misdemeanors in Albemarle County.

A big part of being a prosecutor is connecting with people in difficult, tragic moments in their lives. This includes victims, victims’ families, and even the defendant. There is something about the deep personal level of domestic violence cases that draw me to them. As a prosecutor, I want to bring about the best resolution to a case and for all those involved: whether that is by dismissing a case, getting the defendant help, or incarceration, if the case warrants that. The discretion you have as a prosecutor is incredibly intimidating – there is a lot of responsibility there that you have to take seriously – but you have the freedom to know that this is where you can use your intellect, training, and heart to hopefully find a way to resolve what is happening.

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

During law school, I was part of the first class in the Law and Public Service Program which played a great part in developing my passion for public service. The classes, especially the practical skills classes were great. I also appreciated the community of other like-minded students in the program who were committed to public service.

I also participated in the Prosecution Clinic. If someone wants to be a prosecutor, they should absolutely do it. It is an amazing clinic and you will get experience working one-on-one with great attorneys will take the time to train and mentor you. And it was my first opportunity to experience being a trial attorney, in the courtroom, advocating for victims as a lawyer.

After law school, I went to a firm for three years. If you go to a firm with the idea that you one day want to go into public service, be very intentional, which can be hard to do. I sought out white collar work, criminal investigations, opportunities to go to court, pro bono, and deposition experience to round out my trial skills and criminal law knowledge. It’s crucial to go to the firm with an eye to grow and learn – seek out mentors and assignments that will challenge you and help you become a better attorney all-around.

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

You should take as many practical skills classes as you can. I took Practical Trial Evidence with Judge Crigler, which I still use every day in court. I regret not taking any of the public speaking classes with Professors Saylor and Shadel. You want to practice oral advocacy in front of your peers, so when you’re in court you can walk in with more confidence and gumption. I also recommend taking courses that teach you how to tap into your heart in conjunction with your brain. It’s easy in law school to feel that you have to take all the legal theory courses – the “meat and potatoes” bar exam courses. That’s certainly true, and it’s good advice. But personally, I found the most rewarding courses were the ones where I was encouraged to consider human perspectives foreign to my own life experience and to tap into my empathy and compassion as well as my intellect and legal skills to truly advocate – courses like the Human Rights Clinic, Poverty and the Law, and the Prosecution Clinic.


Vivian KimVivian Kim is an AUSA in the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the District of Columbia. Prior to that, she worked at Morgan, Lewis and Bockius in New York. Vivian graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law in 2012. She did her undergraduate degree at Princeton University.

Conversations with Practitioners

Adam Heyman

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 public defender at the Legal Aid Society in the Criminal Defense Practice in Brooklyn, New York.

2. What does your job entail?

I represent low-income individuals accused of crimes, ranging from low level offenses to charges that carry a sentence of life in prison.  I meet my clients right after they have been arrested in criminal court arraignments and guide them through the entire criminal process, which can include trial.

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

From first grade to fourth grade I lived in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, because my father was working for the United States Agency for International Development.  Being exposed to abject poverty made me realize that I wanted to spend my life trying to help those in need in some way.   Then, during the summer in between undergrad and law school, I interned at the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia as an investigator.  In that role, I worked with an amazing public defender who drew me to this life-saving type of work.

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

While not the typical public defender path, working at a large corporate law firm for two years right after graduating from law school trained me to be a better public defender because I was required to provide high-level client services in an extremely intense environment.

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

Prior to interviewing with a public defender office, make sure you have a compelling reason for why you want to do this type of work.  What is presently going on in this country within our criminal justice system is nothing short of the civil rights issue of our generation.  Make sure interviewers know how deeply you care about this fight.


Adam HeymanAdam Heyman is an attorney at the Legal Aid Society, Criminal Defense Practice, in Brooklyn, New York.  Adam is a continuing legal education lecturer, intern supervisor and recruiter for the Legal Aid Society.  He also guest lectures at various law schools on his work as a public defender and criminal law.  In 2010, Adam took a six-month sabbatical to help run the nascent public defender system in Kathmandu, Nepal, as an international fellow with the International Legal Foundation.  Prior to joining the Legal Aid Society, Adam was a corporate lawyer at Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer and Feld, LLP, in their Manhattan office.  He earned his undergraduate degree from Georgetown University, magna cum laude, majoring in Theology.  He also attended Oxford University, St. Peter’s College, studying comparative law.  He received his juris doctorate from UVA Law in 2003.

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.

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.