L.A. County Counsel Shares Her Experiences with Professional Responsibility Class
Andrea Sheridan Ordin, a prominent attorney who has combined high-level positions in the public and private sectors, recently visited Professor James Fischer's Professional Responsibility class to share her experiences and some valuable professional advice. A trailblazer throughout her career, Ms. Ordin is the first woman to hold the position of Los Angeles County Counsel and is also Vice President of the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners. She previously served as the first female Assistant District Attorney for Los Angeles County, the first woman to serve as U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California, Chief Assistant Attorney General for the State of California, and a litigation partner for over 17 years at the firm of Morgan Lewis.
Ms. Ordin explained to Professor Fischer's class that when working for the state, one of the most important things an attorney needs to consider is who truly is their client. Lawyers working for the government may represent individual entities, but they also have a responsibility to the people of California. "My whole life changed going into the Attorney General's office," she said. "Many of the best lawyers (minorities and women) who didn't get into top firms were drawn to the office, in part for public service, as well as a sense of purpose and a productive environment to focus their energy."
When making career decisions, Ms. Ordin said you have to go with your gut. "Sometimes you take what looks to be a step backwards or sideways or out but it turns out to be fortuitous... Public life has always been the most exciting part of my career. There's something very special in saying 'I represent the United States or the State of California or the citizens.'"
But whichever sector attorneys choose to work in, it matters what the people and the culture are like, Ms. Ordin explained. The public sector tends to have more job security, the potential for more serious learning and the freedom of not having billable hours over your head and you are truly doing a public service. However, salaries are not as high as in private firms, which can cause more difficulty in paying off student loans. In the private sector there is great potential for great rewards, and it will give young attorneys the opportunity to work with some of the brightest people in the world. Smaller firms and niche practices can offer lawyers a productive and satisfying environment.
When looking to hire new attorneys, Ms. Ordin says law school grades are important as they tend to translate into work potential. But other factors are considered as well: the applicant's energy, sense of pride, desire, and diversity of experience and background. Job candidates' writing and critical thinking counts as well, and participation in law review/journals favors applicants, too. Government employers also look for interest in public service and externship experience.
No matter what positions new and experienced lawyers take, Ms. Ordin said it is important to develop strong relationships in these jobs. The workplace, whether in the boardroom, the office or the courtroom, are where reputations are built, and as Dean Garth has explained to students, legal careers today are long and diverse, but the legal community is small, and it is vital for lawyers to build and maintain his or her good reputation.