Elisabeth was profiled in the Mentor in Law newsletter, "Recovering Lawyers! Alternative Careers for JDs."
- Were you a first-generation law student?
I don’t think I knew a single lawyer until I got my first job out of college. At The White House, I worked for and looked up to lawyers. It only occurred to me once I started law school that the folks that I had admired at The White House were non-practicing lawyers. Oops!
- What is your current role?
My position at the Richardson School of Law has provided me with an exciting series of professional challenges that have required me to continuously “up my game.” In 2020, the Dean asked me to chair the Richardson Law School’s COVID Task-Force Subcommittee on Online Instruction Readiness. I developed a passion for teaching law professors and legal professionals how to feel more comfortable on (web)camera.
- What kind of law did you practice before?
After graduating from law school, I taught in the Women’s Studies Program at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa. Teaching is my passion. In addition to my work at the law school, I am an affiliate faculty member of the UHM Center for Teaching Excellence. In Spring 2019, I was selected for the UH President’s Emerging Leaders Program that identifies and develops future campus and system leaders. I presently serve on the UH Commission on Racism and Bias.
- Why did you decide to leave the law and how did you make that transition?
- What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?
One of my law school professors bought us all pizza on the last day of class and asked us to evaluate his class honestly. He knew that he wasn't a dynamic teacher, and he told us that his necktie always grew longer reading his class evals. I was touched by his humility; and I wrote a long, long, long evaluation with all kinds of ideas for upping his game(!).
Even now, I draw on my experiences at The White House and the Federal Emergency Management Agency where I learned the importance of soliciting input, listening actively, managing expectations, and communicating successes. I have learned that you can only begin to work on complex and challenging problems after you have established yourself as a knowledgeable partner, an honest broker, and a supportive colleague. And you can only build momentum and make measurable progress when your partners understand that their contributions are recognized and valued. Ask for feedback. Take it to heart. Repeat.
- Since hindsight is 20/20, what is one thing you would have done differently in law school?
I was incredibly lucky to reach out and get excellent health care. But my health issues were certainly complicated by feeling like a fish out of water. I kept my head down, made a few very dear friends, and focused on surviving.
Had I been in a better place in Law School, I would like to think I would have sought out mentors, shadowed attorneys, attended conferences, and widened my circle to include more classmates with different backgrounds and experiences.
There were high points! I acted in and directed theatrical productions at the law school (with Mentor-in-Law Asha Rangappa). I took several classes at the Yale Drama School and the Yale School of Management. I spent my 1L summer working at a video production company in New York City. I adopted a sweet cat from a shelter that kept me company. My aunt and uncle, my godparents, and several close family friends lived nearby. I spent countless weekends with them. I comforted myself by watching plays and films. So.many.films.
In my career, I have benefited mightily from the advice and experiences of generous mentors on our campus and in our law school admissions community. Early on, I made a point of shadowing my counterparts at the University of Virginia, Boston University, USC, and many other law schools.
Professional development conferences and leadership programs have provided dazzling opportunities to learn best practices, discuss trends, puzzle over data, commiserate, and strategize. I have been very successful in bringing back what I’ve learned and putting it to work for our law school.
In a competitive profession, I advocate for sharing resources and improving consistency among admissions processes among other law schools. My relationships with other law school admissions professionals have helped me in my work at Richardson.
- What advice would you give new lawyers entering the profession?
Surround yourself with people who enjoy you and lift you up. A colleague posted this on social media recently. I printed it out and taped it to my monitor. We all need reminders.
- What is one myth you'd bust about law school?
After law school, I interviewed with limited success for non-lawyer jobs with a law degree. Folks didn’t know what to make of me! I was “over-qualified.” Would it be a pain to have a lawyer around? Would I be stuck up? I think I solved for that by volunteering at the State Legislature long enough for people to suss me out, before I got hired into the first of two roles there. Working at the Legislature was a great place to start my career and my life in Hawai’i.