Feature Stories Campus Events All Stories

Women Supporting Women Jasmin Oommen '26L interviews women law school graduates on successfully navigating a career in law.

jas-800x533 Women Supporting WomenJasmin Oommen ’26L

Jasmin Oommen is a first-year law student from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She graduated from La Salle University in 2020 with both her bachelor’s degree and MBA in Accounting. Prior to law school, she worked in tax at a public accounting firm. For her 1L summer, Jasmin will be a judicial intern in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Leading barrister Amal Clooney once said, “the worst thing we can do as women is not stand up for each other, and this is something we can practice every day, no matter where we are and what we do.” My experience as a 1L has reflected this sentiment, as my fellow female law students seek to support one another while navigating this crazy journey called law school.

As a first-generation law student and South Indian female navigating a career in law, I wondered: what does a career in law look like beyond the classroom? How do I know which area of law to pursue? What kinds of skills are attorneys looking for from recent law school graduates? What is being a woman in law like? How do you balance it all? The questions swirled around in my head. Thankfully, the supportive W&L Law alumni community has many women ready and willing to support current students. Braigen Britt (’25L), the Vice President of Education for W&L’s Women Law Students Organization (WLSO) for the 2023-2024 academic year, and I had the opportunity to talk to a handful of these incredible alumni. We interviewed women spanning from the class of 1988 to 2023 who were excited to share their career and general life advice. These women worked in many different fields of law—from public defense to corporate law, judicial clerks, and even judges. While their career paths varied, they shared the common passion of women supporting women. Below is a distillation of the common threads of thought and advice they shared.

  1. The “Typical Day” Is Not Always “Typical”—Embrace the Ebbs and Flows of Your Career

“As I enter my eighth year as a prosecutor, I can tell you that there is no busy season because we can’t predict when people are going to commit more crimes…” said Cristina Agee (’15L), a prosecutor at the City of Salem Commonwealth. As Lead Juvenile Domestic Violence Prosecutor, Cristina is in court weekly to handle felony, juvenile, and domestic cases. When not in court, she spends her time reviewing evidence, meeting witnesses, preparing materials for submissions to court, and engaging in criminal investigations with the police department located across the street.

While there is no “standard day” as a prosecutor for Cristina, the positive impact that the court system can have in peoples’ lives is what continues to inspire her. Over time, she has seen an increase of outreach in the community as more services become available to domestic violence victims. Amplifying the voice of survivors, a passion for public service, and speaking out for justice are what fuels her. Cristina explained that “there is always something to do because there is always a need for the court system…”

For those interested in being a prosecutor, Cristina recommends getting comfortable in the courtroom through internships and externships. “Until you’re out there doing it, you’re not going to know what it’s like,” Cristina says. “As early as you can, get to know judges, attorneys, and law enforcement to practice as a prosecutor and home in on those skills.”

Kristen Zalenski’s (’11L) advice rings of a similar sentiment. Kristen started in 2012 in Rockingham County, Virginia as a prosecutor. As a 1L, she interned in Montgomery County, Maryland before working in Loudoun County during her 2L summer and after her law school graduation. As for what a typical day looks like for Kristen, she says “as Chief Deputy Criminal Commonwealth Attorney, my typical day is pretty hectic… I’m in court most days and when I’m in the office, I’m reviewing cases, returning calls, tracking down missing evidence, filing motions, and speaking to victims.” What makes her position as a prosecutor worthwhile is that her job is “not to lock people up and throw away the key,” but instead to bring about justice and advocate for rehabilitation. Kristen emphasizes that she has seen rehabilitation change the lives of defendants and the criminal justice system. “I really like to also help the defendant fix the problem that got them in this situation in the first place,” she said. Kristen shared that she commonly sees this approach work well in the drug court process. In addition to all the positive change Kristen sees, what keeps her inspired is when victims reach out to her with gratitude for the help they received. For Kristen, it is about being a part of making someone’s life better.

For Rebecca Mitchell (’21L), who was finishing her two-year clerkship with the Vermont Supreme Court when we interviewed her, things look a little different. Rebecca said that each day is entirely within her control, as she has a lot of agency and self-imposed deadlines. One day might be entirely dedicated to research, while another to writing. “It’s a lot of individual responsibility and about being self-determined,” says Rebecca, “you really have to set your own deadlines.” Rebecca expressed that the exposure she has had as a law clerk to “challenging and novel issues of law” helped refine her research skills. In addition, being mentored by a judge and building relationships with people in the judicial system is invaluable to her professional growth. To Rebecca, being a law clerk is a great option for someone interested in learning more about judicial processes and procedures.

Jackie Fitch (’19L), an associate in the antitrust group at Covington & Burling LLP, also explained that a typical day simply does not exist in her role. Sometimes she will spend the day strategizing about the approach she should take when interfacing with the government on behalf of her clients. Other days, she works on a lot of document production, utilizing documents as a tool for advocacy. “Antitrust is really interesting right now,” says Jackie, “there is a lot of current litigation and agencies rethinking how their overall approaches… trying to get ahead of the problem and thinking like the government helps me to navigate my client’s situation.”

  1. The Pursuit of Your Career Goals Starts as a 1L, So Immerse Yourself in the Law School Experience

Never underestimate how much professional and personal development law school can bring. Angela Kerins (’16L) started her career as a public defender in Manhattan Family Court and is now a Criminal Court Supervisor for the New York County Defender Services. For Angela, helping clients who have been systemically ignored while also diving deeper into the functioning of the court system is what makes her position worthwhile. “I can’t think of doing anything else,” says Angela, “it is so fulfilling.” During her time in law school, the Criminal Justice Clinic greatly helped her gain valuable knowledge and experience, jumpstarting her career in defense. Angela also encourages law students to participate in the Moot Court Organization’s negotiation and client counseling competitions. She stressed that negotiation plays a big part in the role of a defense attorney, and that practicing these skills through law school competitions is a great, low-stakes way to develop and refine them while getting practical feedback.

For those interested in clerking, Rebecca (’21L) says to take a variety of doctrinal courses and have a balance of criminal, civil, and writing courses mixed in. She also recommends fostering relationships with the professors at W&L Law, as they are incredible resources for those seeking a clerkship. Sophia Henderson (’23L), a law clerk to federal district court Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove of the Eastern District of Kentucky, recommends being on a journal and working as a research assistant. “I recommend getting as much practice writing as possible,” says Sophia. As someone who spends most of her time reading briefs, doing legal research, writing, and preparing for hearings or trials, she said that developing solid research and writing experience while in law school was a must. In terms of substantive doctrinal courses, Sophia said federal jurisdiction and procedure, criminal procedure, and habeas corpus were helpful courses.

  1. Be Committed To Refining Your Craft

If one thing is certain, it is that legal practice is an exercise of continuously recommitting to the mastery of your craft. Brittany Dunn-Pirio (’16L), Assistant United States Attorney in the Eastern District of Kentucky, has seen a lot in her career, first as a former state prosecutor in Virginia and now as a federal prosecutor in Kentucky. As a state prosecutor, she worked on child victim cases, misdemeanor reviews, juvenile cases, assault and battery, property crimes, and much more. As a federal prosecutor, she works closely with the federal sentencing guidelines to suggest proper sentencing reductions where appropriate, mainly prosecuting fraud cases. In this role, she presents cases to the grand jury, issues subpoenas, and investigates alongside law enforcement. “I work on making a case as perfect as I can, and a lot of my work is more proactive than reactive,” Brittany expressed. What makes her role worthwhile is representing the people, protecting victims, and upholding the rule of law in society. Brittany credits the Black Lung Clinic as being “the best experience of law school” and developing her practical lawyering skills. Brittany emphasizes the importance of putting yourself out there, being comfortable with getting uncomfortable, and constantly working to perfect your research and writing skills. “Be kind to law enforcement, your coworkers, and support staff,” Brittany said, emphasizing the collaborative nature of the role and the impact that being kind can make.

Kiyomi Bolick (’10L), who previously worked as a state public defender in Colorado and is now a solo practitioner, emphasized the fluid nature of a legal career and the significance of developing a varied skillset to best serve your clients. “Your actions as a public defender have a direct impact and outcome on your client’s life,” she says. “You’re a barrier to make sure they are protected and have all constitutional protections they are afforded.” To be a successful public defender, Kiyomi says that it is important to be a savvy researcher and to have solid negotiation tactics. She also emphasizes that developing strong written advocacy and interpersonal skills will better enable you to earn the trust of a client, interface with police, and develop good rapport with other attorneys and judges. Additionally, she stresses the importance of being a good advocate at all stages of your representation. Kiyomi encourages law students to “use law school as a time to explore” what they want to do and to not be afraid to talk with law professors about what area of law they can see you practicing in, too.

Jackie (’19L) emphasizes the importance of learning how to write concisely and taking initiative and ownership of the work given to you. She also expressed how valuable it is to be a good, reliable team member. Julianne Freeman (‘16L), an attorney who works in-house at Norfolk Southern, also highlights the importance of being reliable and gaining the trust of others. As a regulatory attorney, she works on customer contracts, anti-trust projects, and operational safety regulations. Julianne underscores how important it is to be comfortable with not immediately having an answer to a question or issue, and instead willing to be honest and say, “I need to research and get back to you.” “Always be willing and open to try new things, because those skills can still be so helpful, even if you do not end up staying on that path.”

“Work on your public speaking skills,” Kristen says. As a prosecutor, she sees jury trials happening more often now than before, so being able to clearly articulate a victim’s experience and thinking quickly on your feet are important. To Kristen, it is important to be your own advocate and put yourself in positions that enable you to develop these skills and to continue refining them as your role and experience evolves.

  1. Remember the Impact You are Making

The days might be long, and the work might be hard, but it is important to remember just how great an impact you are making. As the first Chief Magistrate Judge for Fulton County, Judge Cassandra Kirk (’92L) has shaped the court into what she envisioned it should be—a service to the community. ‘Inform, Engage, Empower Our Community’ is the mission of the magistrate system she has developed. In her role, she championed a non-profit to provide rental assistance on-site when the court reopened during the pandemic. Judge Kirk and her court are committed to connecting with the Fulton County community and established the R.E.A.C.H. Clinic to support individuals with small claims, garnishment, and private warrant cases. She also encourages court interns to be involved in the community by aiding members of the public as they navigate their cases. Judge Kirk also established Star-C, a non-profit focused on affordable housing and medical services for families and providing access to educational support through after-school care and summer camps. As you can expect, making such a meaningful impact on the Fulton County community is what makes Judge Kirk’s role as Chief Magistrate Judge so worthwhile. If you are interested in a career as a Judge, Judge Kirk recommends gaining a diverse range of experiences that help you think outside of the box. Additionally, she highlights the importance of seeking out mentors and understanding that every aspect of your experience can positively shape your future.

Judge Rebecca Connelly (’88L), United States Bankruptcy Judge for the Western District of Virginia, is also grateful for the opportunity to make a difference. What inspires Judge Connelly is addressing disputes and making a positive impact on the judiciary, society, and economy. Judge Connelly says it is important for law students interested in being a United States Bankruptcy Judge to take the skills and lessons they learn in law school very seriously and to remember that you are both interpreting and applying the law to a set of facts. Specifically, being competent in reading the law, applying the relevant code or statute, and recognizing the substantial impact you have on each case before you is essential to being an effective decisionmaker. Lawyers’ actions always have real-world consequences—ideally positive ones.

  1. The Glass Ceiling Is Breaking, But There Is Still Work to Be Done

Women belong in all fields of law, and it is a beautiful thing to see how the legal field is moving towards making this goal a reality. Kiyomi expressed a concern that many women worry about: how should I look as an attorney? Must I straighten my curly hair? Do I have to where skirt suits? Do I just let offensive comments roll off my back? Can I be a mom and an attorney? Kiyomi shared that that it is important for society to understand that there is more than one way to be a professional, successful attorney and it is not, and should not, be one size fits all.

For Sophia, being a woman has only made her more determined. “Women lawyers must fight a little harder to get to where they are… that has made me more driven and tenacious.” She encourages individuals to be confident and assert themselves, even if they feel uneasy on the inside. Judge Connelly noted that her law school class was the first class of only twenty women at W&L Law and that when she was in school, professional attire was mostly masculine and so young women were challenged by how to dress professionally if they opted for attire that may appear feminine or colorful. However, Judge Connelly expresses how important it is not to hide or diminish the important parts of who you are—for anyone or any reason. Judge Connelly advocated for what was important to her as a woman in the legal field with different responsibilities, which has led to greater flexibility in her job.

Julianne expresses how important it is for there to be women mentors who champion other women. Additionally, she encourages women to self-advocate, whether asking to be on a project or inquiring about a promotion. On the flip side, she expresses that it should not go unmentioned how unfair it is that women must be especially mindful of their tone and delivery to not be deemed “bossy” or “unsure.” For Angela, there have been several experiences during her legal career that have made her feel uncomfortable, including a time when a male attorney spoke about her saying, “this is why pretty women should not be lawyers.” While she notes that sexism and negative perceptions of women in law still exist, Angela tries to focus her attention on facilitating other female positions within her office to combat these issues. She asserts that support from fellow women can be very powerful and shared about a specific time in which fellow women attorneys supported her when dealing with a very sensitive, highly emotional court experience.

Finding balance as an attorney is an ongoing journey. Jackie says to take breaks when they are presented because the work will always be there, but breaks are rare. Sometimes life forces you into a break, but you also should advocate for your capacity and seek to work with people that make it an enjoyable experience. For Judge Kirk, finding balance as Chief Magistrate Judge of Fulton County has been a challenge. It is her job to represent the court and uphold the law in her community, so balance for her looks like delegating and managing a team that keeps things moving. Brittany said that going through life’s ups and downs made her appreciate the importance of family and enjoying life’s special moments. For Brittany, more than a career, coming home to the people she loves is important and has inspired her to appreciate the good in her life and not focus entirely on her work.

  1. Self-Doubt May Not Completely Go Away, But Remember That You Belong

It is easy to think that self-doubt will go away once we hit a particular goal or reach a certain stage of life. However, a common takeaway from our conversations with these impressive women is that everyone, no matter how accomplished, deals with self-doubt in some respect. The alumni we chatted with all reiterated what I hear my fellow peers and professors tell me in the halls—I am here because I am capable, and I have a great community at W&L to lean on as I forge my own way. In her career as a prosecutor, Kristen says a key lesson she learned is that no one is perfect and that “even the best lawyers in the world make mistakes.” She expresses that it is important to remember that you are enough and that if you are uncertain about an area of law you want to practice in, take as many classes as you can and be unafraid to pursue internships. Judge Kirk shared how important it is to trust your unique voice and believe that you can contribute great things to the legal profession. Jackie expressed that there is a certain comfort in knowing that your fellow law students and practitioners all struggle with self-doubt. The key for Jackie is to remember that you are capable, and if you don’t know what you want to do with your career, take heart knowing that you have a strong W&L Law alumni network willing to help you.

We want to sincerely thank the following W&L Law alumni for their time and contribution to this column. Your advice is much appreciated, and we know it will help many law students—both now and to come!

  • Cristina Agee ’15L
  • Jackie Fitch ’19L
  • Julianne Freeman ’16L
  • Angela Kerins ’16L
  • Brittany Dunn-Pirio ’16L
  • Judge Rebecca Connelly ’88L
  • Kiyomi Bolick ’10L
  • Rebecca Mitchell ’21L
  • Kristen Zalenski ’11L
  • Judge Cassandra Kirk ’92L
  • Sophia Henderson ’23L

Written by: Jasmin Oommen (’26L),Chair of Education for W&L Law’s Women Law Students Organization (2023-2024)

Edited by: Braigen Britt (’25L), Colleen Karlovich (’24L), Rachel Silver (’24L), and Sydney Layne (’25L)