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Elisabeth was profiled in the Mentor in Law newsletter, "Recovering Lawyers! Alternative Careers for JDs."

Elisabeth is the Director of Admissions at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa William S. Richardson School of Law. Before joining the Law School faculty, Elisabeth taught undergraduate courses about gender and law in the UHM Women's Studies program.  Elisabeth previously worked in The White House and at the Federal Emergency Management Agency. She is an alumna of Carleton College and the Yale Law School. She is also a virtual presence coach (see her webinar ?).
  • Were you a first-generation law student?
I am the descendent of enslavers and enslaved people and European immigrants to the United States. I am a proud product of Prince George’s County, MD public schools. I am a first-generation law school graduate. I come by passion for educational institutions honestly. I grew up “off-campus.” My father was a professor of psychology, the Associate Dean of the College of Behavior and Social Sciences, and then the Director of Diversity Initiatives for the Graduate  School at the University of Maryland at College Park.
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?
I am the Director of Admissions at Hawaii’s Law School.  I am passionate about educational institutions and the systems that maintain them. My approach as a university administrator is informed by my own experiences as a student, my love for teaching, and my facility for creating and managing systems.
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?
I never practiced law. I summered at two fancy national law firms during law school. And those experiences confirmed what I already knew – I didn’t want to be an attorney.
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? 
I realized at my very first law school class meeting that I wasn’t cut out for law practice. We were asked to discuss the ethical considerations of defending a serial child murderer. The professor asked us what we would do if the parents of missing children that we knew were dead, asked us if we knew what had happened to them.  My classmates argued vigorously that they would deny the knowledge and that their denials would not constitute continuing harm to the children. I was APPALLED.  I argued (alone, if memory serves) that withholding this knowledge from the suffering parents would constitute a continuing harm.  I felt like everyone looked at me as if I’d grown a second head.  After class, I called my father in tears and told him I had made a huge mistake. I was not comfortable taking on a position that did not jive with my own values. I still am not.
  • What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?
'Ask for feedback.  And take it to heart.'

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 struggled mightily with depression and anxiety in law school.  I closed myself off to people and opportunities that made me feel uncomfortable.  As a public high school graduate, first-generation law student, and a woman of color, there were a ton of things that made me uncomfortable. I shied away from law-flavored stuff.  Moot court.  Journals.  Speakers. I regret that. 
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?
Let them say “no.”  Don’t take yourself out of the running.  Imposter syndrome is hella REAL.  I could kick myself for not applying for clerkships, jobs, and fellowships that  - looking back - I was a great candidate for. 
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? 
“You can do anything with a law degree!”  While it may be true for some folks sometimes, I think it is dangerous advice for most of us.  A legal education can be VERY expensive, and it prepares you to…practice law. 
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.