Lawyers from diverse fields reflect on experiences, careers

<p>Akil Loper, vice president and assistant general counsel of Legal Services in New Jersey, speaks about his field of prison recovery and record expungement.</p>

Akil Loper, vice president and assistant general counsel of Legal Services in New Jersey, speaks about his field of prison recovery and record expungement.


Paul Talbert, a family law partner at Donohoe Talbert LLP, said client relations was both the best and worst part of his job.

In his experiences, Talbert has had a client get caught cheating when talking to his mistress, via electronic form, about their sexual relations.

Talbert, a Rutgers alumnus, was also interviewed on “Entertainment Tonight” about the Kardashian marriage case.

The Eagleton Institute of Politics hosted workers from five different fields of law at their 26th “Careers in Law Panel” yesterday at their building on Douglass campus.

Talbert, a Rutgers alumnus, elaborated on his background for the audience and advised them to consider many career options.

“When I was sitting in your position, I thought there was only one way to get to the straight path,” he said.

After he caught mononucleosis his senior year, he graduated a semester late and took a year off before heading to law school.

Law school is a lot of work, so getting a breath before heading in was something he recommended.

The people who always volunteer to speak in class are not the smartest, he said. He advised to listen to what students and professors had to say.

He followed school with a large law firm in New York City.

“Going to these firms really teaches you how to be a lawyer in the sense of how diligent you need to be … and you learn what’s acceptable and not acceptable,” he said.

He spent far too much time going over legal documents and checking details, but said it became important to make him seem professional.

In the back of his head, he always wanted to be a family lawyer so he could work more closely with clients and have more of an impact on a day-to-day basis.

His firm works with clients on writing pre-nuptial agreements, divorces, custody disputes, same-sex marriages and maternity cases.

He advised students to write well and clearly, as it would lead to success in law school and in the courtroom, and told them not to worry about finding a job as long as they work hard.

Viola Lordi, chair of the Education Law department for Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer P.A., was a public school teacher in Newark, N.J., and a dean at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

Only 12 years into her career did she go to get her law degree and began working in education law.

Lordi, a Rutgers Law School alumna, said perseverance is a theme common among all areas of law.

“The key is never to give up and attempting to move forward,” she said. “That’s one thing I see in my own life.”

She graduated from Douglass Residential College with a degree in history with a concentration in education.

She began teaching in Newark in a class of 48 students — a very different environment than she had hoped. But she managed to get a few students into college.

As a teenager, she wanted to go to law school but had no idea what it meant.

“Going back to law school was a challenge … to develop not the discipline … but being told how to think like a lawyer,” she said.

Thinking like a lawyer meant analyzing facts and looking critically, a skill she found very helpful both on the job and in the real world. She also learned to listen to professors and associates younger than her who knew more than she did about the area of law.

Lordi said she tried to be guided by the right thing to do, which she considers an integral part of being a lawyer.

After law school, she was offered a job at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newark out of many candidates. The job gave her valuable experience from observing lawyers, she said,

She started out in bankruptcy law and moved to commercial litigation, but always knew she wanted to work in education law.

Working with prekindergarten and kindergarten law really inspired her. She spent a lot of time representing school boards on special education.

“Not every school lawyer is the same, not every business lawyer is the same. … We all have the intentions to do good,” she said.

Akil Roper, vice president and assistant general counsel at Legal Services of New Jersey, said his specialty was prisoner recovery and record expungement.

He worked with one client who had a difficult record trying to get expungement.

As he worked through the record, the man listened to all the things he could not remove.

“He said, ‘Well, can I get a divorce?’” Roper said.

At Cornell University, he began as a journalism major covering the community for the school paper. After several years as a journalist, he said he went into law to have more flexibility in his career.

Eventually, he got an internship that taught him the importance of perfection when handing something over to a judge.

He said the prison system is broken. Returning convicts face difficulties in housing, jobs, family support and other factors.

Students should observe court procedures, because wide ranges of legal issues come to the courthouse, he said.

James Condren, senior vice president and associate general counsel at JPMorgan Chase, said the event showed the range of opportunities for lawyers.

The legal profession needs people to strive for better and compensate for setbacks, he said.

He worked for many years in other fields, going to graduate school and working as a tutor and a warehouse worker.

But law school was the best decision of his career, he said.

“It’s full of people who love to argue and … look at an issue from a variety of perspectives, and that was very appealing to me,” he said.

Milton Heumann, Rutgers pre-law advisor, began the event by introducing students who had recently been admitted to prestigious law schools.

He invites different people each year to show students the many options open to law school graduates.

“They can see how people shape their careers,” he said. “One person went into law school after teaching for years.”

He wished he could bring back all the former students who had gone on to successful schools.

Rutgers offers one of the best pre-law programs of any University, with excellent programs and campus organizations, he said.

“We see more students getting into better schools than in the past and getting more money, which we love to see,” he said.

Even if one-third of people do not get jobs, that means two-thirds do, he said.

Students can see the different variables to decide when considering the many fields of law, he said.

Heumann acknowledged that many reports say finding a career in law is tough and expensive.

“One thing is common among all these people. They had to work hard no matter what their area is,” he said.


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