Senior Vice President and Chief Legal Officer, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals


 

While I was at YLS, I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do “when I grew up” but I did know two things: a) I was committed to working in the nonprofit sector and b) I was not cut out to be a litigator. After second year, I spent time working as a summer associate in the Tax Exempt Organizations practice group of a major law firm in Seattle, and really enjoyed the issues that were involved and the clients that I got to work with there. In between graduation and returning to Seattle, I clerked for the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New Jersey (which was an incredible experience!) and then took a year to “sow

 my wild oats” with a fellowship in New York City. The fellowship, through the National Center on Philanthropy and the Law, placed new law school graduates for one year in-house in the counsel’s office of the Vera Institute of Justice, an organization that works with government to develop innovative solutions to problems in the administration of criminal and juvenile justice.

The thought had been that working in-house at Vera would give me a better perspective on the issues that were truly important to the clients I’d eventually be working with at the firm. Little did I know that I would find my calling. Through my work at Vera, I learned that I really enjoyed in-house counsel work! There is something unique and special (and challenging!) about having that day-to-day familiarity with your one client; you’re uniquely positioned to provide legal advice in a nuanced and holistic way. While I went back to the firm after my fellowship year, I really struggled with the difficulties in trying to fully represent the interests of my nonprofit clients, many of whom didn’t have access to other legal counsel. After all, they were paying me (or my firm was deploying me as a pro bono resource) to look only at the narrow legal issues in front of me, which was much different from being fully enmeshed in the range of interconnected issues that I had been dealing with during my fellowship. As it turns out, when my one year commitment to the firm was over, Vera was looking for a new Assistant General Counsel, so I moved back across the country to begin the work that would become my vocation.

I spent a total of about five years at Vera when I decided that I wanted to move to an organization whose mission was closer to my heart and where I felt like I could make more of a difference. I found the perfect fit at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), where I have been for the past five years. I was initially hired as the Vice President and Corporate Counsel, and now hold the position of Senior Vice President and Chief Legal Officer. In the course of my everyday work I deal with a wide range of issues that run the gamut from direct animal care and sheltering issues, to those directly implicated by our tax exempt status (like lobbying and other nonprofit tax restrictions), to the everyday issues that every business of our size faces (picture lots of employment law and lots of contracts!). I have been granted the exceptional opportunity here to build my own legal department, so I now have a staff of six attorneys, and of course the ability to wander down to a colleague’s office to snuggle with an “office foster” cat or to give belly rubs to a visiting dog when things get stressful is always a nice collateral benefit.

I couldn’t imagine a better fit for me. The work I do every day really makes a difference in the lives of animals, and I enjoy the pace and the variety, as well as the challenges, involved in managing an in-house law department. Not every nonprofit organization has the resources to be able to hire in-house counsel, but it is such an incredible privilege to be in a place that’s intellectually engaging as well as personally fulfilling.