Navigating the Field of Law After Hamilton
I did not know what I wanted to study or do when I entered Hamilton. So, I kept my options open. I took math and science classes through sophomore year as well as English, history and economics.
At my father’s urging, I took a public speaking class during my first semester. I am glad I did. The class made me aware that, while some have more natural ability than others for public speaking, almost anyone can be an effective public speaker through practice and preparation.
In my sophomore year, I chose economics as my major. I continued, however, to take classes in other disciplines. Again at my father’s urging, I took a number of writing classes, including fiction and poetry. Even though I had no strong desire to write fiction or poetry, I took the classes seriously and believe they significantly improved my communication skills. Aside from public speaking, I believe the essay writing class I took as a junior was the most valuable non-economics class I took at Hamilton.
During my senior year I considered going to law school, business school and graduate school for economics. I ended up going straight to law school, studying at the State University of New York at Buffalo. I was not sure I wanted to go to law school but I figured if I did not like it I could always drop out. I did like law school and graduated in 1989.
While in my last year of law school, I considered job offers from a Manhattan law firm and one in Buffalo. I liked upstate New York and decided to stay there at least for a while, so I accepted the law firm offer in Buffalo.
Although large for Buffalo (about 100 attorneys) the law firm was small and collegial enough to allow me to quickly get “real” experience. I conducted depositions and a few small trials within my first two years. This gave me confidence to handle larger matters.
During my third year, my firm needed help in the bankruptcy practice area, representing mostly banks and creditors, but also some debtors. So, I took on this opportunity and, for the next 15 years, practiced mostly in the litigation, bankruptcy and business areas.
In 2008, a position in Buffalo with the Department of Justice became available. I wanted to try something different so I applied and was hired to be the Assistant United States Trustee in charge of the Buffalo Office of the United States Trustee. The Office of the United States Trustee is the component of the Department of Justice that oversees the bankruptcy system. It monitors business reorganizations and consumer bankruptcy cases. We appear in bankruptcy court regularly. We work with the United States Attorney’s Office and the F.B.I. on civil and criminal matters.
In general, federal agencies look for attorneys with experience in the particular substantive areas of their agencies. Federal agencies do not hire many attorneys right out of law school. Thus, for someone interested in working for a federal agency as an attorney the best advice is to first acquire the substantive expertise that agency needs.
Hamilton has a long history of connecting students with alumni and parents whose advice, expertise, and resources help talented young people achieve success for themselves and in their communities.
For students pursuing a legal career, they should look for job opportunities that will give them the experience to handle progressively larger matters. While large law firms in big cities can provide exposure to the most sophisticated matters, younger attorneys at such firms may not always be given the types of work needed to appropriately progress. Sometimes it is just a matter of the luck of whom you work with. Many litigation attorney who have impressed me and who have been successful have come through routes such as military legal practice (the various JAG Corps) and district attorneys’ offices. Those attorneys were given trial experience at young ages making them valuable to future employers.
There is no one right or sure path for success in a legal career. Hard work and learning as much as possible will help no matter which path is taken. Learning to speak and write effectively is most important.