Most students come to law school with the intention of becoming a lawyer. But not all. Some pursue a law degree for the intellectual rigor it entails. Others do it knowing they can use the degree in a different way, in a so-called “JD-preferred” or “JD-advantage” career.
The options for JD graduates who never intend to practice law are endless. The obvious traditional choices include banking, regulation, government, health care, insurance and academia. Yet there are other nontraditional career opportunities in the nonprofit world, public relations and executive coaching.
Who are Creighton’s School of Law graduates who decided to pursue a different career path with their law degree?
Creighton Lawyer spoke with four of them — Krissy Hamm and John Heine, both of Omaha; Lisa Andrus in Phoenix; and Debra Gerardi, who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.
From Law to a Tech Startup
Lisa Andrus, JD’03, the chief operating officer of tech startup Hye Tech Network & Security Solutions, LLC, in Phoenix had aspirations to work in public service when she began law school at Creighton in the fall of 2000. A trip to the Dominican Republic with other law students in her third year of law school solidified that interest and “serving disadvantaged children would remain a constant in my life, regardless of where I go,” she recalls.
Andrus did work for a time as an attorney — she landed her first job out of law school with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office in Arizona as a deputy county attorney. Before long, she was transferred to a sex crimes division and her work focused on the production and distribution of child pornography.
“Those cases were challenging, gut-wrenching and meticulous, all woven into one,” Andrus says. “(The job) was a realized dream and a privilege to serve the community, helping families through a tumultuous time and being the voice for those unable to speak up for themselves.”
Andrus worked in this role for a number of years, but trial schedules were often rigorous and could last for six to eight weeks at a time. Once she was a mother, it was difficult to maintain this schedule and finding work that was challenging, unique and semiflexible became her goal.
“Hye Tech has always been a part of my life as it was founded by my husband, Saro, in 2005. While he focuses on clients and engineering, my focus has been on the opposite side of the house — hiring, employee benefits, contracts, finance, state/local government and education procurement and more.
“A juris doctor is not required for all of the areas I oversee today; however, it is extremely beneficial and encouraged,” Andrus continues. “Every aspect of what I work on daily contains legal analysis, contracts, negotiations and risk evaluation. I have always been grateful to Creighton for my education. It gave me a professional edge that I would not otherwise have. It also instilled an instinct and perspective that many nonlawyers may not possess.”
While Andrus’ everyday career has changed tremendously from her original vision of how to use her law degree, she still has held close her desire to help children.
“I had to find something within the legal community to advocate for children, and I am the judge pro tem for Maricopa County,” she says. “Throughout the year, I cover a criminal or family calendar when the commissioner is out ill or on vacation. I also serve as a surrogate parent for the Arizona Department of Education. My legal background is a significant asset in navigating that environment for children who are wards of the state.’’
Filmmaker of Legal Documentaries
“From a young age, I always thought I would become a lawyer or a doctor,” says Krissy Hamm, BA’02, JD’05, owner and producer at Unpaved Road Productions and Pretrial Productions. After graduating with honors from Creighton School of Law in 2005, she began her career in legal defense at the Douglas County Public Defender’s Office.
“I loved that job, but after having my second child, I went part time with a private firm,” Hamm says. “I later broke both my arms in a biking accident and had to have a series of surgeries. At this point, I decided to take a step back and stay home with my kids for a while.
“I had been debating whether I should do that, anyway, before I had been in the accident, but that solidified my decision. I had always intended to go back to practicing law as the kids got older, but after being home for a year or so, I took up photography and filmmaking as a hobby,” Hamm continues.
Filmmaking has since turned into a career for Hamm. She is commissioned by individuals, nonprofits and businesses to produce short documentaries.
“A plaintiff’s attorney, who had seen my work, asked if I could produce a longer, more in-depth documentary for one of his cases to aid in settlement negotiations. It has been successful and led to more work in adding legal settlement documentaries to my repertoire,” Hamm adds.
Hamm utilizes her law degree “all the time” when producing her films. “It helps with communication on the front end, spelling out what the agreement is as far as what I am being hired to do. I deal with intellectual property and copyright issues. I draft different releases for different projects and my training in contracts helps in that. I use my legal knowledge on the business and incorporation side of things,” she adds.
“A law degree is never wasted, even if you don’t end up practicing law,” Hamm says. “I could do the work I do without a law degree, but I wouldn’t be nearly as good at it.
“Attorneys trust me to put the case together in a legally relevant and emotionally compelling way. I think understanding how to construct a story specifically for a legal purpose is not something someone could be very effective at unless they had gone through that legal training,” Hamm says.
Advocate for Health Policy and Public Health
Debra Gerardi, BS’84, BSN’87, JD’92, is a conflict engagement specialist and a professional certified coach with her own business in the San Francisco Bay Area. Gerardi went to law school never intending to be an attorney.
“I did not have an interest in practicing law in a traditional sense. I was already working as a critical care nurse, and I was looking to supplement my health care background with a law degree, given the highly regulated nature of working in and leading health care organizations,” Gerardi says.
During her last semester of law school, Gerardi worked for a senator and lived in Washington, D.C. “I was responsible for health policy issues and had the opportunity to complete the fellowship and then return to Creighton to graduate with my class.
“I moved to Los Angeles after graduation and while working at UCLA Medical Center, I completed my master’s degree in public health at UCLA with an emphasis on health policy and administration. Because of my law degree, I was able to work on several policy projects and I was able to use my legal education to manage union-related issues and participate in statewide union negotiations,” she adds.
Mediation is a skill Gerardi picked up while working in Los Angeles, and she completed mediation training at the Los Angeles County Bar Association. In 1999, Gerardi started a private mediation practice, working with national and international health care organizations to resolve disputes and improve work relations.
As part of her mediation practice, Gerardi began to receive requests for executive coaching from leaders seeking enhanced skills in addressing conflict and managing complex organizations. In 2011, Gerardi completed a certification as a professional coach and shifted her work toward executive and team coaching and consulting services with health care, government, high-tech and academic organizations.
“My law degree helps me appreciate the complexities of the legal and regulatory constraints my clients are working within and it is useful to me as a business owner in managing contracts, business operations and legal issues associated with my private practice,” Gerardi says.
Law Firm Never in the Picture
John Heine, BSBA’02, MBA’05, JD’05, a commercial real estate broker at Investors Realty Inc. in Omaha knew that working for a law firm was never in his future. “But I thought it was important to obtain more education after I finished my undergraduate studies with a degree in finance,” he says.
“I pursued Creighton’s dual JD/MBA program. I knew that a law degree would be valuable, but never foresaw myself working for a big law firm,” Heine says. “To be fair, I don’t think the big law firm would have wanted me either.”
Heine’s day-to-day has him working in transaction-oriented tasks regarding sales and leases of property.
“I am constantly reading leases, purchase agreements and other contracts. I’m also communicating with real estate attorneys on a daily basis,” Heine says. “Knowing how the world works from a legal perspective is very valuable.”
Heine advises students who are interested in law but aren’t sure about being an attorney to pursue the education anyway. “A law degree shows you were able to work hard and complete a rigorous program. I wouldn’t feel disappointed if you aren’t working at a large firm. Frankly, I wouldn’t have enjoyed the culture.
“I enjoy not being glued to my desk, touring buildings, meeting clients and customers at their locations, earning a commission when the work is done and making investments happen. I help clients build or create something which provides a lot of gratification,” Heine says.
Article written by Lisa Foster, BA’92 and published in the Fall 2019 Creighton Lawyer magazine.