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Panel showcases legal careers

Kaitlyn Rabach | Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Saint Mary’s alumnae in the legal profession advised students interested in law about how best to pursue a career the field in a panel discussion Tuesday night.The panel, titled “Women in Law: The Lawyer Alumnae Panel” featured three alumnae from all different sectors of the field.


Director of Career Crossings Stacie Jeffirs said she values the insight alumnae involved in various professions can offer to students interested in those jobs.  

“Thinking about pursuing a career in law is something very common for our students to think about,” Jeffirs said. “Panels, like this, offers students networking opportunities and show students just how passionate our alumnae are about their careers.”

Jeffirs moderated the panel, which included a discussion on a wide range of topics.

Each panelist began by describing the unique paths that led to their acceptances into law school.

“From a very young age I always knew I wanted to be a lawyer,” Janet Horvath, a current partner at Jones Obenchain, LLP of South Bend, said.
Kristina Campbell, associate professor of law at the University of District Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law, said her path to law was “by no means direct.”

“I pursued other programs after I graduated from Saint Mary’s,” she said. “Ultimately, I knew I wanted to be active in social justice and a law degree is a great tool for instigating social change. I was an idealist hoping to change the world through law.”

MaryBeth Wilkinson, assistant general counsel of Owens-Illinois, Inc. said she joined law for the sole reason of “making money.””I grew up on a small farm in Michigan and wanted a ticket out,” Wilkinson said. “I joined law to make money, but over the years I have developed a strong passion for litigation. Litigation is like a war-zone or a game. I love being a part of this game.”

Horvath said she truly loves her job working in insurance defense and litigation.

“Not only do I work in a family friendly place where I can balance my family and my job, but I love going into work and knowing I am taking a burden away from other individuals,” she said. “When someone passes away in the family or a business needs to be passed down, a lot of people do not know what to do. I am there for those people, and it is truly rewarding.”

Campbell said she became better equipped to tackle the challenges associated with working in an adversarial profession because of the challenges she overcame as a woman beginning work as a lawyer.    

“The law profession, litigation in particular, is very adversarial. You really need to have tough skin and not let little criticisms bother you,” Campbell said. “I often look back on my career as a young female lawyer and think about how my gender was actually an advantage. People underestimated me and it turned out to work in my favor.”

The panelists said women have made significant strides in the legal field.  Wilkinson said she believes the legal profession asks its lawyers to handle great responsibility. “Law is one of the most powerful positions you can be in, especially for women,” she said.

“As a lawyer and as a professional, all you really have is your reputation. You can’t fake integrity and you can’t fake ethics.”

Wilkinson said the two most important assets to have when pursuing any profession – not only law – are integrity and passion for the job.

“Know yourself inside and out,” Campbell said. “My Saint Mary’s liberal arts education prepared me for the real world because I was well aware of my own personal values. With these values I could then start a career in immigration law that I now love.”

Horvath said students should begin to search for opportunities now.

“We are here to help facilitate your pursuits,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to speak up and take advantage of the different opportunities this college has to offer. We all cannot repeat enough that we are here for you. We want to see you succeed.”