Lawyer-alum profile: Edward Kammerer (English and Political Science ‘03, Suffolk Law ‘06)

Edward Kammerer
(English and Political Science ‘03, Suffolk Law ‘06, PhD, Law & Public Policy, Northeastern ‘13)
Pre-Law Advisor
University of Connecticut Storrs

What’s your current position and primary practice field(s)?
Currently I am the Pre-Law Advisor at the University of Connecticut. I work with students considering law school and advise them on applications, course selection, and most importantly, helping them decide if law school is the right tool for them. I also coach our mock trial and moot court teams.

I maintain a very small practice doing criminal defense, as well. That’s on hold right now as I adjust to my new role at UConn but I’m hoping to get back into practice soon, focusing on indigent defense at the appellate level.

How did you get here – what led you to this field and practice setting?
My path here is far from direct. I knew I wanted to do criminal law after law school. When I started, I thought I’d be a prosecutor but I quickly realized that was not me at all. Focusing on defense work instead, I took the necessary classes and did the Defenders Clinic at Suffolk. That got me my first job as trial attorney with the Committee for Public Counsel Services. I loved the work, but not the pay check. I knew PDs were underpaid, but it’s reprehensible how underpaid they are in Massachusetts. So I started looking for other work. I couldn’t find anything that would be both interesting and pay better, so I started looking at other options. That’s when I decided to get a Ph.D. in public policy. From there, I started teaching and I loved it. When my funding ran out, I started looking for a variety of jobs, both in academia and in practice. I was lucky enough to be hired as pre-law advisor at UConn this summer and I really love the job.

I want to keep active as an attorney, though, so hopefully I’ll be able to start taking appellate cases in the future.

Describe a typical day/week – what are the kinds of tasks you engage in on a regular basis?
Right now, most of my days are similar. I meet with students and alumni to advise them on law school, I work with our student groups to plan events, I coach the mock trial and moot court teams. I’m part of the Honors & Enrichment Programs at UConn, so I meet with other staff in those departments to work on the larger goals of the division. I’m also trying to expand the events the office does to make sure that students have the opportunity to learn as much about the legal world before they decide to go on to law school.

How many hours/week do you work? How’s that work/life balance thing working out for you?
Now, I work about 35-40 hours a week. I have a great work/life balance. When I was at the public defender’s office, it was closer to 40-45 hours a week, but again, with a great work life balance. CPCS was great about maintaining that since they knew they weren’t paying us the big bucks. That said, having ample free time but not being able to afford to do anything is still a problem. Just a different kind of problem.

What do you like most about what you do? 
I love working with students who are excited about exploring law school and the world of legal practice. The individual counseling sessions are really my favorite part of what I do.

What do you wish you could change?
I wish I had more time to do more event planning.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I can’t really plan that far into the future. My career path has been so convoluted that it’s hard to say. The one thing I know is that in 10 years I hope to be filing the paperwork necessary to get the balance of my student loans forgiven.

Where did you go to law school? What’s your favorite memory from law school?
I went to Suffolk University Law School. My favorite memory from law school is probably starting the Queer Law Alliance. When I got to Suffolk, they didn’t have a GLBT student organization. So another 1L and I got together to start it. It’s now become one of the most active student organizations at Suffolk and I’m always proud of the work that they do.

What did you major in at UMass?  How has it been helpful to you your law career?
At UMass, I was a double major in English and Political Science. Both have been helpful in my career. With both majors, I learned to read texts and analyze them. They also focused on writing and communication skills, which are essential for lawyers.

What’s your favorite UMass memory?
There are so many! I loved working as an RA and with Student Government, but I think many of my favorite memories are from working as a tour guide and as an orientation counselor. Being able to share my love of UMass with new students, and prospective new students, was amazing.

Did you take time before, during or after college?  If so, what did you do?
I took a year off after high school to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. It didn’t work. I started college at the University of Miami to study marine biology. That was not a good fit, so I took another semester off to focus on transfer applications. During both periods, I was working full time at Barnes & Noble.

Then I came to UMass and went straight through to law school at Suffolk. Then I practiced for a few years as a public defender before starting my Ph.D. at Northeastern.

What non-law experiences have ended up being surprisingly useful to you in your legal career?
Being a tour guide. Learning to address a group of strangers and talk with them about a variety of topics, and most importantly, being able to answer random questions on the spot, has been invaluable in my legal work.

Any choices along your career path that you particularly regret or are especially grateful for? 
I applied for a job with the public defender agency in Maryland. It was for a job as a “legislative lawyer”. Basically, I’d be lobbying on behalf of the public defender’s office. I didn’t get it. But applying, and making to the final round of consideration, really focused me on exploring public policy. That led to enrolling in the Ph.D. program at Northeastern and, eventually, falling in love with teaching and now student advising. If I hadn’t applied for that type of advocacy job I don’t know if I would have gone back to school. But I’m glad I did.

If you couldn’t be a lawyer any more, what would you do? (Or: what’s your second career going to be? Or maybe even, what was your first career?)
Since I’m not a lawyer full time anymore, I think I’m already onto my second career. I think faculty or advising students is a great alternative to legal practice.

If you feel comfortable sharing, tell us something about your finances: How much debt did you take on for law school? How much (rough estimates are fine) do your currently make? How long do you expect to be paying off your debt?  How has your debt impacted your career and life choices?
Debt is dreadful. I am actually maxed out for the lifetime cap of student loans. This is in part because of law school, but then also some student loans from UMass and from my Ph.D. I’m working for a non-profit, though, and expect to be able to take advantage of some loan forgiveness in about 10 years. The problem for me is that I went to law school before GradPLUS loans, so not all of my debt is forgivable. And that, really, has impacted some my life quite a lot. I can’t travel as much as I’d like. I have to live with roommates. I can’t buy a new car, or eat at the fancy new restaurants in town. But I manage.

How do you respond when someone asks your advice about whether to go to law school?
I get this question a lot since it’s my job. My first reaction is to ask why. I need to help students (and anyone who asks me) make sure they’re making this decision for the right reasons. With my students, I try to get them to think of law school as tool, not a goal. Law school can’t be goal. It has to be a tool to get to a goal. For many, it’s not the right tool or not the best tool. For others, it’s the only tool that will work. With those people, I make sure they go with full knowledge of the job market, the life of a lawyer, and the cost of legal education. Too many people rush into this decision. Slowing down, taking time, and thinking it through can only help.

If you could have dinner with any lawyer, real or fictional, living or dead, who would it be and why?
There are so many! Excluding Presidents and Supreme Court Justices, for living lawyers I’d probably have to pick Hillary Clinton so I could find out if she’s going to run or not.

From history, one of my top choices would be Arabella Mansfield, the first woman to be admitted as a lawyer in the United States. I can’t imagine how hard it was for her to practice in what is in many ways still, over a 100 years later, “an old boys’ club.”

From fiction, Atticus Finch is the obvious choice, but I’d be more inclined to meet with any of the lawyers from The West Wing, most likely Ainsley Hayes. She’s a smart Republican working in a very Democratic White House. She must have an interesting perspective on law and politics. I also just loved the show and love having a good ‘walk-and-talk’ when I can.