Lawyers and Judges Advise Students on Public Sector Career Paths
Know your personality. Take advantage of the opportunities you are presented with while you are in law school. Choose an area of law that will make you happy over one that may make you rich. These were the key pieces of advice from the panel of accomplished judges and attorneys who spoke at Southwestern's Public Sector Career Paths Program.
Presented by the ABA Government and Public Sector Lawyer's Division and co-sponsored by Career Services, the lunchtime panel featured Deborah Brazil '96, a Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney and a member of Southwestern's adjunct faculty; Jeff Gilliam, Head Deputy in the Los Angeles County Public Defender's Office; Edwin Henderson, an attorney for the State Compensation Insurance Fund; and Hon. Richard Naranjo '91, a Superior Court Judge in Lancaster. Hon. Janet Coulter, a Workers' Compensation Administrative Law Judge, moderated the panel.
Professor Brazil emphasized the importance of using the time in law school to find out what you do and do not like through opportunities such as networking events and programs. "I encourage you to utilize Southwestern's Alumni Resource Network (ARN)," she said. "It's really fun for us to help you.... You can contact ARN attorneys and they will offer you their time and perspective."
As Head Deputy Public Defender, Mr. Gilliam oversees lawyers who are new to the office. He recommends that students serve as clerks or externs for the Public Defender to see if this is an area that they enjoy. "It takes a certain personality to be a public defender," he said, explaining that clients are often indigent, poor and mentally ill and that a good PD needs a unique sense of compassion as well as the desire to try cases in the courtroom.
The panelists agreed that self awareness and taking charge of your own behavior is essential, no matter which area of law you choose. "You have to have self-respect and always be prepared," Judge Coulter said.
Judge Naranjo pointed out that civility and professionalism are essential. "It's an adversarial system, but you don't have to be adversarial," he said. "And your reputation will go with you. So attack the evidence, not the person."
While public service and government positions may not pay as well as the big law firms, the panelists emphasized that money is far less important than career satisfaction. "There are a lot of unhappy lawyers out there," Mr. Henderson said. "That paycheck can look awfully good, but life's too short to be unhappy."