As a recent graduate, I would encourage law students not to be too worried if they came to law school without a specific field of concentration in mind. Knowing what you want to do after graduation takes time and a serious amount of self-reflection. Looking back on my own experience, there were several questions that I had to answer along the way.
Why did I want to attend law school?
I joined the ranks of my colleagues equipped with a background in social justice and aspirations of being an international human rights attorney. I had spent time in Argentina researching the dictatorship of the 1970s and 1980s, volunteered at a nonprofit focusing on asylum cases, and even did a stint in Washington, D.C., working for Congress.
To pursue that interest, I became actively involved in international moot court and trial teams. I thought perhaps I would be a litigator. After all, I came from a family of them. Three generations in fact. My grandfather graduated from Creighton’s School of Law in 1963. My father and his brother followed suit in the 1990s. I finally joined the family tree of composite photos that line the hallways of Creighton in 2018.
What practice areas am I interested in?
Litigation initially seemed like a good fit. My grandpa always said there was nothing like the feeling of trying a case and waiting for the jury’s verdict. This past winter, I would know exactly what he meant. Shortly after I was sworn into the Nebraska Bar last summer, I joined Dowd & Corrigan, a firm founded by my grandfather and father in the early 1990s. My practice was focused on personal injury, workers’ compensation and representation of the local unions, including the Omaha Police Officers Association.
In December, I assisted in a two-week trial where a jury of six men and six women voted unanimously to acquit an Omaha police officer of charges of second-degree assault for use of a TASER on a suspect who died in police custody. Almost immediately the media began painting the officer as having engaged in excessive force.
However, the officer’s contact with the mentally ill suspect was taken out of context. The encounter, which lasted over an hour, was only being publicized in 30-second clips. It was our job to show all the facts. We had to demonstrate to the members of the jury that the genesis of this unfortunate event was not due to the officer’s conduct, but rather arose from an inadequate mental health system.
Over the course of those two weeks, the jury watched the officer’s entire interaction with the suspect. They heard from national experts who established that the TASER was malfunctioning and failed to administer a shock to the suspect as intended to gain compliance. The evidence showed that the individual in custody had unfortunately suffered and died from excited delirium, a condition sometimes associated with mental illness that is noted for the affected party’s extreme agitation, aggression and super human strength.
This case not only impacted the officer and the family of the individual who died in custody, but drew important awareness to larger issues in our community. While these societal conflicts and social justice issues had always played a large role in my education and volunteerism, I realized litigation would not be my longtime career. I wanted to work in a more collaborative environment to affect positive change.
I soon found myself thinking back to my clerkship with the in-house counsel of Union Pacific Railroad. In that position I touched on everything from employment and labor issues to environmental law. I particularly enjoyed the creation aspect of business, assisting in the formation of a wholly-owned subsidiary. For that reason, I chose to have two placements while working on my master’s degree through Creighton’s GOAL Program in Washington, D.C. I was fellow for both the Senate Joint Economic Committee and Futures Industry Association, a leading global trade organization for the futures, options and centrally cleared derivatives markets.
People always associate attorneys with trials, judges and juries, but through my experiences and self-reflection I realized litigation was not my calling. What I wanted to do involved business. I enjoyed the thought of working with innovative people, involving myself in complex transactions, and helping clients to create businesses that provide goods or services to assist others.
With that realization I began to intensely network, reaching out to mentors, researching firms and looking at counsel in specific industries. Within a week, I was interviewing with firms in Omaha, Chicago, the Kansas City area and St. Louis, focused on finding a position within a transactional practice group.
Where do I want to live?
I am a firm believer in putting in hard work, but also finding time to enjoy where you live. St. Louis was a perfect fit for what I was looking for. As a larger Midwestern city, it has a fantastic food scene, live music and professional sports. While work brings with it long hours, I still have found time to explore St. Louis’ free zoo, walk through the art museums in Forest Park, catch a few Cardinals games and cheer on the Blues in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Who do I want to work for and with?
Whether you work for a boutique firm or an AmLaw100, it is important to understand the culture of your workplace. When interviewing, I always inquired about the personality of the firm. I asked about everything from the emphasis on the billable hours to the likelihood you grab a bite to eat with your colleagues over the lunch hour.
Ultimately, I accepted a position at Carmody MacDonald, P.C., a mid-size firm as a transactional associate with a focus on corporate law, banking, real estate and finance. We work with a variety of clients, from start-ups to family-owned businesses to large corporations, and every deal I have worked on has been different. We have an open-door policy, monthly attorney dinners, and every Friday we rotate bringing in breakfast for the entire firm, attorneys and staff. It is this sense of camaraderie that drew me in. I could not be happier with my decision.
As I found out, there is not always a set path when it comes to your career. Sometimes it takes ruling out what you do not want to do in order to find out what you love. It is important to recognize that each experience helps you along the way, offering incredibly valuable lessons, both professionally and personally.
So, whether you hope to be a litigator, corporate attorney or work in a nonprofit setting, just know completing law school and passing the bar is a great accomplishment, and you will find your own path after some soul searching and addressing the right questions.
Ashley Dowd, JD’18, comes from an Omaha family of Creighton lawyers, including her father, Mike Dowd, JD’90; her uncle Tim Dowd, JD’95; and her grandfather Tom Dowd, JD’63.