Rutgers' Eagleton alumni panel discusses career, law school prospects
The Rutgers Eagleton Institute of Politics hosted an Eagleton Institute Alumni Panel on Nov. 28, which focused on careers in politics, policy and public affairs.
Five Rutgers alumni were at the panel, all of whom were either involved in the Eagleton Undergraduate Associates Program or the Eagleton Fellowship Program. Gene Lepore, a 2006 Eagleton Fellow, is the deputy executive director of the New Jersey Senate Majority Office. He manages policy initiatives, policy research staff and legislative operations. Sabeen Masih, a 2013 Eagleton Fellow, is the director of public affairs at the Capital Impact Group LLC, a lobbying firm in Trenton, N.J. She represents clients such as the Organization of Nurse Leaders, NJ Girl Scouts Councils, Wine Institute and Tesla Motors. David Vitali, a 2013 Eagleton Fellow, is vice president at the government affairs firm Optimus Partners, LLC. Rachel Wolkowitz, a 2007 Undergraduate Associate, is an attorney at Wilkinson Barker Knauer, LLP in Washington, D.C. She works with technology and communications companies to assist in their understanding of compliance matters.
Lepore “flirted with the idea of academia” as an undergraduate, he said, but later realized that he wanted to do something more hands-on and “leave the ivory tower.” He applied and enrolled in Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy for graduate school, where he entered the Eagleton Fellowship Program.
Masih is originally from New York, but moved to Philadelphia, Pa. in order to get a "feel for other cities," she said. She later earned a master's degree in Public Policy from the Bloustein School, along with her fellowship at Eagleton.
Vitali went to Ramapo College of New Jersey, then took a few years off between undergraduate and graduate school and “worked, just worked all different kinds of jobs,” he said. He stumbled upon Eagleton Fellowship Program after going to Rutgers Law School and got into government through various political internships.
Wolkowitz also took a year off between her undergraduate and graduate studies after she had applied to law school. The principal advice she received at the time was "to attend the best law school you got into, indiscriminate of the price," she said. Wolkowitz enrolled in Columbia Law School, “and then the economy collapsed. The golden conveyer belt that I had been put on was broken," she said.
There was a common thread that ran throughout the panel discussion. Each panelist had cautious words to say about law school.
Lepore and Masih both warned against attending only because it was expected or respected. As undergraduates, they both had advisors sit them down and ask, “Do you ever want to practice law? Do you think you are going to get into the top of a top-tier law school that will guarantee you a lucrative career?” If the answer is no, then law school is not worth it, according to the advisors.
Vitali and Wolkowitz both have law degrees and they agreed that the main skill law school teaches is the ability to read and write remarkably well.
Wolkowitz also said law school was similar to “three years of hazing,” and warned students that if they could sleep at night without going to law school or planning to be a lawyer, then they should consider not going.
The panelists agreed that their main advice to students planning to go into the field of government, policy or politics would be to network. Relationships and connections are large parts of one's value to a company or legislator because it means they can get a meeting scheduled. The ability to make someone sit down, listen and carefully consider a proposal is incredibly important in this field. They told students to work for free in order to get as much experience as possible and work hard. They want students to make sure to paint themselves as responsible, respectful, honest and innovative people. They encourage students to introduce themselves to potential employers, ask for business cards, shake their hands and generally represent themselves professionally. In the panelists' line of work, everyone knows everyone else.