Lawyer-Alum profile: Ina Forman (Legal Studies ‘78, Western New England Law ‘84)

Ina Forman
Counsel
Connecticut Judicial Branch, Sentence Review Division

What’s your current position and primary practice field(s)?
I work for the Connecticut Judicial Branch and serve as Counsel to the Sentence Review Division which allows for a narrow appeal/review of certain criminal sentences that are over three years of incarceration.

How did you get here – what led you to this field and practice setting?
I love policy, which I should have known from enjoying those aspects in Legal Studies and law school classes. Nevertheless, I clerked for a federal judge after law school and then joined a law firm engaging primarily in commercial law. A few years later I saw an ad for a position at the State Legislature, and it was like a magnet pulling me.

I was fortunate to get a job as Counsel to the Speaker of the House in 1987 and worked there through 1993, for consecutive Speakers. Then in 1993 I was appointed as a Family Support Magistrate by the then Governor. I sat on the bench for three years, deciding and hearing issues of support and paternity until the next Governor replaced several us with political appointments, a first for Connecticut.

After that I did some lobbying for the Connecticut Bar Association, then returned to the Judicial Branch doing legal research, and then moved over to this position around 1998.

Describe a typical day/week – what are the kinds of tasks you engage in on a regular basis?
We hold hearings once a month and my duties are generally preparation for upcoming hearings. That includes preparing cases by summarizing files and looking at appeals; legal research; compiling dockets and working with the judges, attorneys, defendants, victims and family on any issues that arise.

How many hours/week do you work? How’s that work/life balance thing working out for you?
I work three days a week in this position which is permanent part time, meaning that I receive benefits yet work 21 hours a week. Those are great hours for balancing “the rest of my life”. When our daughter was growing up I was able to participate in her school activities and car pooling, etc. I have been able to start an art center and establish a dog park in my community with the available time, and it gives me time to get involved with fiber art. The down side, of course, is that there is less money, but generally much more of a happier me. I also have been involved in politics and hold office in my town.

What do you like most about what you do? 
I like being part of a small division in a large Branch of government. I can get involved in all aspects of our department from form design to policy issues. And I enjoy the contact with people who are engaged in law as well as those who need to be guided through the system.

What do you wish you could change?
The highest two points on the change list would be an increase in pay and a shorter commute.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Retired, and still active in art and community activities.

Where did you go to law school? What’s your favorite memory from law school?
I went to Western New England (now) University. I loved the academic aspect, learning about the forming of policy decisions ~ i..e the rules and precedents that people establish and the reasons for them.

What did you major in at UMass?  How has it been helpful to you your law career?
I majored in Legal Studies and I believe it helped me with critical thinking and (here we go again) how to look at policies and who makes them and how they affect society and individuals. It made me comfortable in the legislative and judicial arenas.

What’s your favorite UMass memory?
Time spent with my good friends and whose company I still enjoy

Did you take time before, during or after college?  If so, what did you do?
I took two years before I went to law school. Largely that was the time I needed to figure out exactly how I fit in with a legal career and get comfortable with the thought of law school. The professors in Legal Studies at the time actively discouraged law school. I worked as a paralegal for two years at a small/medium size firm and seeing myself in that professional setting as well as seeing how human the attorneys were, gave me the confidence of applying to law school.

What non-law experiences have ended up being surprisingly useful to you in your legal career?
Buying a home and going through the mortgage process gave me exposure to attorneys, legal papers and how to treat lay people. At UMass I was on a student discipline panel and that was also useful in knowing that I have an aptitude for being that style of decision maker.

Any choices along your career path that you particularly regret or are especially grateful for? 
I am so grateful for working at the Legislature, it was a once in a lifetime experience. I regret the instances when I did not have confidence in myself and may have missed out on further opportunities by not pursuing things I thought were unattainable.

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?)
There are so many aspects of a legal career, everything from private practice to government to business, so that is a broad area to veer off from. If I couldn’t be involved with law, maybe still government, although acting on a TV show would be fun and working at an animal refuge would be fulfilling.

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?
I was fortunate not to incur any debt for law school which allowed me to take positions that I enjoyed, and/or leave positions I did not enjoy and not feel burdened with repaying the debt.

How do you respond when someone asks your advice about whether to go to law school?
Going to law school is a personal and individual experience. I believe that a few years between undergraduate and law or grad school is a benefit, both to the person and the school because of the increase in maturity and exposure to life experiences. I found law school to be interesting, and of course a demanding amount of work and pressure, but each subject had personality. Of course, it is three years and not something anyone should enter lightly or walk away from easily.

If you could have dinner with any lawyer, real or fictional, living or dead, who would it be and why?
Probably President Obama or former President Clinton as they would be good conversationalists as well as people who think about the world design and are forward thinkers in trying to shape issues.