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Where a Law Degree Can Take You

By Lauren Karch

UDSL graduates wind up in a variety of legal and non-legal fields – and some follow particularly unique paths.

We talked to three UDSL graduates working in unique areas of law, to find out what they love about their careers, and how they got to where they are today.

Rodney Jacobs works as the Assistant Director for the City of Miami Civilian Investigative Panel. The CIP is an independent office tasked with investigating police misconduct, handling complaints from citizens, and improving police practices in Miami. Miami’s CIP is one of about 200 similar organizations across the country that serve as independent police oversight agencies. Jacobs also serves in the Army Reserves.

Prior to starting with the CIP in 2017, Jacobs interned for the New York State Attorney General’s office, the United States Air Force Judge Advocate General, and served as judicial intern for judge Walter H. Rice of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. He says he wanted to find something different than traditional law that still involved communities.

“From talking with complainants and community leaders to in depth long meetings with the city commission, police chief, city manager and panel members there is no such thing as a typical day.” He says of his current job. “Essentially, my position is responsible for assisting with directing the managerial and operational responsibilities, community outreach, and producing the annual report of the Civilian Investigative Panel.”

Susan Bridgman is president of Emerald Advisors LLC, a boutique law firm specializing in international regulatory compliance matters for companies with multinational operations and/or transactions. International trade compliance is a significant focus for her practice. Her clients in this area are publicly-held and private companies from a wide variety of industries that are engaged in military exports and general commercial exports. She also serves as the outside General Counsel & Chief Compliance Officer for Field Aerospace, a privately-held multinational aerospace company.   

Bridgman also recently won the 2018 Access to Justice Distinguished Service Award, which is presented annually by a cohort of legal aid groups to advocates for the rights of low-income and disadvantaged people living in the Miami Valley. She received the award in recognition of her longstanding dedication to pro bono services, her continued board service and leadership to pro bono organizations and her leadership as the co-chair of Legal Aid of Western Ohio’s campaign which raised more than $1.3 million to provide expanded legal services to low-income persons in the Dayton area.

After graduating from UDSL, Bridgman served as a staff attorney for The Honorable William Wolff, Jr. in the Second District Court of Appeals for Ohio. She then served as an international tax attorney with the NCR Corporation. When Teradata, a database and analytics services company, spun off from NCR, she served, and continues to serve, as Teradata’s sole international trade compliance attorney, handling all legal aspects of the company's worldwide trade matters.

Bridgman says that trade compliance is a great area for lawyers who are interested in varied legal work.

“Trade compliance is all tied to our country’s geopolitical and national security interests. Trade regulations are one way our government furthers and enforces these interests. It’s a very volatile area of law and the regulations and restrictions change frequently in response to changes in our national and geopolitical interests,” she says. “Trade compliance attorneys help companies navigate through this very complex area of law and help them plan for trade restrictions, to comply with trade regulations and to mitigate against the sometimes potentially harsh effects that regulations can have on the operations of a business.  ”

Drew Engel lives in Vienna, Austria and has been involved in Rule of Law Development work around the world. He is in the process of opening his own international consulting firm in Vienna, focused on advising and counseling international organizations, governmental bodies, and individual clients on various aspects of international RoL projects.

Engel started his career working for a year at Crowell & Moring, a prestigious law firm in Washington, DC. He later moved to the Butler County, Ohio, prosecutor's office, and eventually opened his own criminal defense practice in Oxford, Ohio. After about nine years of running his own practice, he decided to volunteer with the American Bar Association/Central and Eastern European Law Initiative program in Podgorica, Montenegro.

The volunteer position led to a posting in the Office of the High Representative (OHR) as International Prosecutor in Bosnia; following the OHR, Engel was funded by the US Department of State again in Bosnia, where, as Deputy Chief Prosecutor and Head of the Special Dept. for Organized Crime, he investigated and prosecuted serious cases of corruption, organized crime, terrorism and human trafficking – including cases involving high profile politicians and government officials; the work also involved his supervision and management of SDOC’s staff of 43 nationals and internationals. Later, he was posted for four and a half years in the EULEX Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo as an International Prosecutor in the Special Prosecutions Office for the Republic of Kosovo; the position was supported by the U.S. State Department as a part of its overseas efforts to improve the rule of law in emerging democracies. Through the EU, Engel was embedded in the Kosovo Prosecution Office, and given rights of audience to investigate and prosecute high-level corruption, terrorism, and war crimes cases. He also taught law students in four different law schools in Kosovo. When the position ended, he decided to continue work through consulting and teaching.

“I was led to my current situation by a combination of events:  wanting to come home to Vienna, wanting to try something new, and the prior mission closing in certain regards,” he said.

What advice would do these alumni have for students looking into similar careers?

When asked about advice for law students looking to enter similar career fields, Jacobs says common points of entry for police or government oversight include work as an auditor or inspector general. He also reminds aspiring lawyers that legal professionals should “engage in activities that push forward the profession of law and uphold our unequivocal responsibility to justice.”

“Partake in all opportunities that involve internal investigations, he says. “ Law students should keep an open mind when looking for future career fields, and grab opportunity when it presents itself. You never know when it will lead to a future career path.”

Bridgman says that there are multiple ways to enter the international trade field.

“Most attorneys get involved with international trade compliance by working in an in-house legal department for a multinational company in a corporate compliance area or in a general corporate area," she said. "Multinational companies generally have the most employment opportunities for attorneys interested in this practice area because multinationals have significant international transactions that are subject to a variety of trade-related regulations.”

Engel says that, as he was preparing to close his private practice to volunteer overseas, many friends told him he was crazy for leaving behind a solid career -- but he wanted to do something more.

“I never imagined being in this field - but look where a little curiosity and a bit of effort took me!”  Going further, Engel said, “My best advice is this: ‘Be curious, but don’t get too comfortable, complacent with where you are or what you are doing. Life and the practice of law are about expanding your knowledge, seeing what's out there, and finding where you can make a difference. That might mean going outside your comfort zone, but you never know where that’s going to take you”.

Tim Swensen, Assistant Dean and Director of UDSL’s Career Services Office, says that networking is a huge piece of the career puzzle for recent graduates, and that Career Services is seeing more alumni choose law careers in non-traditional fields.

“We do try to put in front of our current students or young graduates, alumni with a wide range of experiences and professional lives. That necessarily means that we have to go beyond the traditional areas of practice – with a firm, in a corporation, or with a judge – that make up the bulk of where our graduates end up,” Swensen said. He notes that UDSL provides many of the fundamentals – communication, critical thinking, and judgment – that help J.D.’s succeed in both traditional and non-traditional jobs.

“At an increasing rate, people are seeking and going into unique situations, and UD can provide access to alumni who, either by design or default, went down non-traditional pathways. Based on our alumni’s experience, we can teach students what to do and what not to do to put  themselves in a position to pursue successfully some of these paths.”
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