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Career Paths: Kathy McLaughlin ’19L

Kathy McLaughlin ‘19L is originally from Seattle, Washington. She graduated from Washington State University with a degree in Strategic Communication with a minor in history before working two years in the marketing field for different companies. Kathy spent her 1L summer working for the Unemployment Law Project in Seattle, Washington, and her 2L summer working for the Colorado State Public Defender. Kathy is a student attorney in the Criminal Justice Clinic, a Senior Articles Editor for the German Law Journal, the Vice President of Media for the Women Law Students Organization, the President of the American Constitution Society, and a law ambassador.

Where will you be working after graduation and in what practice area?

I will be working for the Colorado State Public Defender as a Deputy Public Defender. My exact office location is still to be determined, because it is a state-wide system with 21 offices.

Did you know coming into law school that you wanted to work in criminal defense?

I knew I wanted to do public interest work, but I was not sure about what exactly I wanted to do. While in Criminal Law with Professor Shapiro during my 1L fall semester, I became really interested in criminal defense work. After working in litigation, but not criminal defense, during my 1L summer, I knew that I wanted to at least intern for a Public Defender office for my 2L summer. I registered for as many criminal classes as I could during my 2L year and all the professors solidified my desire to do criminal defense work before getting my 2L internship with the Colorado Public Defenders Office.

What role did the size and location of the public defender’s office play in the search and decision process?

I was not focused on the size or location of the public defender office, I was more focused on the type of office it was. I knew I wanted to work for a public defender that had a great training program for incoming attorneys and was known for zealously advocating for their clients. I had heard great things about the Colorado State PD system before applying for my 2L summer internships with offices nationwide and am so happy I was able to join the Colorado State PD for my 2L summer.

Was there anything in your law school or summer job experience that confirmed this career choice?

The most helpful part of confirming my desire to work for the Colorado Public Defender Office was interning in their Brighton Office during my 2L summer. After working in that office and experiencing being a public defender first hand, I knew 100% that I wanted to be a PD and I wanted to return to Colorado. I had an amazing summer handling my own cases with supervision, helping try cases before a jury, and arguing my own motions. I worked with some amazing people and I am beyond excited to be returning to Colorado to join such a great team of lawyers.

With that being said, W&L has helped me know that I picked the right career path. I am involved in the Criminal Justice Clinic for my 3L year and my passion for the work is only growing. I have also taken almost every single criminal class offered at this school, minus I believe only two. Hearing first hand and learning criminal law from some of the greatest criminal defense attorneys has only continued to inspire me.

What classes do you think are helpful to take to prepare for this job?

So many of the classes I have taken, I believe, are going to be helpful. Taking criminal procedure, and other criminal classes, like sentencing law, death penalty, and the Criminal Procedure practicum helped prepare me for the nuts and bolts of criminal law. I also took trial advocacy to learn about courtroom presence and how to try cases before a jury. I also added immigration law to my class list because criminal defense attorneys are required to advise their clients about immigration consequences to convictions.

Can you describe your job search process?

My post-graduation position happened because of spending my 2L summer with the Colorado State PD. So, my post-graduation job search process was a little different. After my 2L summer, I knew I wanted to return post-grad and I prepared my job application materials to be ready to submit on the day they opened. I interviewed in early October and found out later that month that I was offered a position and immediately accepted.

For my 2L internship with Colorado, I reached out to an alumna working for the Colorado State PD Office after getting her contact information from a fellow classmate. I talked with the alumna on the phone to learn more about PD work and also more about the Colorado PD office. It was after that conversation that I decided to apply and was lucky enough to get an interview and then an offer to spend my summer in Colorado.

What are you most looking forward to about working at this job?

I am looking forward to many things, but I am really excited to start my work as a PD and to be in the courtroom advocating for my clients. I know that the office will give me the support and training I need to become a zealous advocate for my clients.