Ask an Alum: Heather Doherty Clark '98
|UM Carey Law Affiliations:
Alumni Board President
1. Describe how you arrived at your chosen career path:
When I graduated from college with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, I thought that I might want to go to law school, but I was not certain that it was the right path for me. Instead of jumping right into my legal studies, I decided to take a year off and got a job in marketing and communications. Taking that year off proved to be really valuable for me. While I enjoyed my stint in marketing, it made me realize that a career in the law was my true calling. Going back to school after some time spent in the “real world” made me appreciate my legal education all the more. I spent the summer after my second year of law school as a summer associate at a local litigation firm. It was during that summer that I solidified my interest in litigation. After graduation from law school, I practiced in Baltimore and Washington D.C. for a number of years before opting to put my career on hold for a little while so I could stay home full-time to raise my three young children.
2. What is important for students to get out of law school to prepare for a career after graduation?
Writing, writing and more writing! I know it has been said before, but I feel that it cannot be overemphasized. So much of your career will require exceptional legal writing. It is difficult to learn how to be a good writer on the job, so every opportunity to hone your legal writing should be pursued while in law school. Small seminars with papers, membership on a journal and judicial clerkships and internships are wonderful ways to get more experience and feedback on your legal writing.
3. Describe a day on the job:
When I was in practice at a large D.C. law firm, my days varied greatly. I primarily worked on complex litigations involving environmental insurance coverage claims. One day may have been spent traveling across the country to take depositions or to make a court appearance and another was nothing but reviewing documents for hours on end at my desk. The variety in the work was one of the things I really enjoyed about the litigations I handled. The work was exciting, and it seemed there was rarely a dull moment.
4. What has been a rewarding experience for you as a professional?
One of the best experiences I have had as a lawyer was my federal clerkship. My judge was a wonderful mentor and really taught me so much during my time in his chambers. As a litigator, having that behind the scenes view of the courtroom is really very valuable.
5. What would you have done differently during law school or early in your career?
In law school, I would have tried harder to take advantage of the wonderful opportunities the school provides for learning outside of the classroom – things like panel discussions, brown bag lunches with local practitioners, and mentoring opportunities. It is easy to become too focused on law school classes and grades and in doing so, you may miss some really valuable experiences.
6. Other than the challenging legal job market, what are the challenges you think attorneys face professionally in the coming years and how can they prepare now?
Attorneys must find ways to provide legal representation to their clients efficiently and economically. Whether the client is a large corporate entity or an individual, clients are more sensitive than ever to legal fees. The legal profession may have to find new and creative ways to alter the traditional billable hours model in order to fit these new economic times.