Lawyer-alum profile: Noelle Barrist Stern (‘97, Northeastern Law ‘00)

Noelle Barrist Stern
(Legal Studies and Natural Resource Studies ‘97, Northeastern Law ‘00)
Judicial Case Manager
Berkshire County (MA) Probate & Family Court

What’s your current position and primary practice field(s)?
I am the Judicial Case Manager at the Berkshire Probate and Family Court.  My primary practice areas are probate and family law.

How did you get here – what led you to this field and practice setting?
I have only recently started this position.  I spent eleven of my thirteen years in practice at the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York, originally as a Staff Attorney and for the most of the time as a Supervisory Staff Attorney. 

After moving to this area from New York and telecommuting, I wanted to work locally and be part of the legal community here.  After working for so many years at the appellate level, I also wanted to be involved earlier on in the legal process.

Describe a typical day/week – what are the kinds of tasks you engage in on a regular basis?
The job duties in my new position are very varied and I am still learning what a typical day or week might be like.  I interact with the Judges on the Court, the Court staff, lawyers, and members of the public.

At the Second Circuit, I recruited staff attorneys for two-year terms, trained them, and supervised all of their legal work.  I also worked on various special projects for the court.  I focused on federal and appellate procedure and jurisdiction and criminal law and prisoners’ and civil rights.

How many hours/week do you work? How’s that work/life balance thing working out for you?
I work reasonable hours, but working full-time and having two little kids is exhausting.

After I had my daughter, I read in a parenting book that there is no such thing as a work/life balance and if you ever have a day or a moment where feel like you have one, enjoy it, because it will likely pass.  It made me laugh, but I’ve found it to be accurate.

I’m very grateful though to have a wonderful career and a wonderful family.  It is a very full, enjoyable, and rewarding life.

What do you like most about what you do? 
I have found public service to be incredibly satisfying.  There is a sense of purpose that is part of everything I do.  The issues are interesting and something new is always coming up.  I look forward to going to work everyday.

I was in private practice for a couple of years.  It was a very good experience, but I feel the most suited to the role of a neutral and have not missed being an advocate or actually appearing in court myself.

What do you wish you could change?

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Right where I am.  Someday when my kids are grown, I would like to work for some of the US AID-sponsored programs consulting with other countries that are making changes to their court systems.

Where did you go to law school? What’s your favorite memory from law school?
Northeastern.  My best memories are from constitutional law and federal courts.

What did you major in at UMass? 
I majored in Legal Studies and Natural Resource Studies

What’s your favorite UMass memory?
Meeting my now husband my freshman year in college (it will be twenty years this spring!). 

Did you take time before, during or after college?  If so, what did you do?
I went straight through. 

What non-law experiences have ended up being surprisingly useful to you in your legal career?
For most of my career, I supervised other attorneys.  Learning management skills was very helpful.

Any choices along your career path that you particularly regret or are especially grateful for? 
I have always worked for wonderful people who have seen the best in me and supported me.  I am the most grateful for this. 

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?)
I would be a high-school history teacher.

How do you respond when someone asks your advice about whether to go to law school?
Because of the current job market and economy, I don’t think that people have the luxury that I did to go to law school and figure out along the way what they want to do.  Law school is so expensive that I really recommend that people have a strong sense of the type of law they ultimately want to practice.  This will help determine what law school is the best fit and how much debt they can afford.

If you could have dinner with any lawyer, real or fictional, living or dead, who would it be and why?
Robert Kennedy.  I have always found him to be a fascinating figure, particularly the changes in his political positions after JFK’s death.