Chelsea Severson, Attorney
Education Update has launched a new section called Careers to provide insight and guidance to recent college graduates. Several graduates share their responses to the questions below.
1. Can you share both your professional and personal struggles and triumphs? What are you currently doing?
Right now I’m working as an attorney at a small firm that specializes in alcohol industry law and international trade. Immediately post-college I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I went to a small liberal arts school, which was great, but I also wasn’t exposed to a lot of career paths. The most difficult thing was finding my niche. Luckily law school turned into an extension of college where I was able to take another few years to pick my path in terms of an industry. By participating in a lot of extracurricular activities at law school, I found my niche in international trade law and that led me to the job I have today.
2. Which college did you attend, and what was your major?
Undergraduate studies at Holy Cross, where I majored in political science with a concentration in Russian and Eastern European studies. Law school at Catholic University.
3. What year did you graduate?
4. What do you think your career goals will be five years from now?
I want to be at a place in my career where people view me as an expert and I’d be the first person they’d turn to. I want to build my own client base and bring in business on my own. I want people to respect and trust my opinion. I’d like to be referred to by other people when colleagues need help. I want to be at a place where I can start to build my own contacts and business — not start my own firm — but I want a reputation for being a professional.
5. How did your major, if at all, determine the course of your current career?
I knew I wanted to go to law school when I entered college because I knew that I wanted to have a career that would allow me to use my writing skills and be analytical. I figured that if I wanted to go to law school, I should study political science. It developed my interest in international relations and U.S. foreign policy and that helped open my eyes to part of the law that I didn’t realize existed before I went to law school.
6. Was the career guidance office at your college helpful in your job search?
I think Catholic encouraged people to be creative in networking. Recent law graduates are having difficulty finding jobs. They gave us creative approaches to networking. What ultimately led me to this job helped me gain this job. They said going on informational interviews is important. For example I wanted to do international law but I wasn’t sure what speciality I wanted. My career office put me in touch with alumni in that field. Even though they weren’t hiring, I learned about that area of law through them. It helped me focus on what kind of career I was actually looking for, all the while helping me build connections.
7. Did you have internships, and were they helpful?
I worked for a law firm that does international property litigation and it was extremely helpful. It was a small firm in the D.C. area and they had a huge case going on over patent infringement. So I was hired in the beginning of the process when we were still going through the documentation. There were millions of pages to go through to find the material to build our case. I worked for them until it went to trial so I got to see every step of the litigation. I was able to go to court in Delaware to see how Federal court was conducted. It really helped me prepare for the reality of the legal process. As an intern you get exposed to the not-so-glamorous side and I think it’s important to understand the reality of law practice — it’s a lot of hard work.
8. Were there mentors who helped you achieve your goals?
I had a professor in law school named Antonio Perez who I worked closely with who also happened to be the coach of the competition team I was on. He was very hands-on. His philosophy was that we had to come to answers on our own — he wasn’t going to spoon feed us anything. We learned to think critically and anticipate counter arguments, be dynamic and be prepared. I appreciated that he prepared us so much.
As an undergrad, I had a TA named Daria Safronova who was the professor for our practical language learning sessions when I was learning Russian. She’s from St. Petersburg and she was so passionate about teaching us the language she loved and it turned into more than just a class. She would always be encouraging us to attend events near my college and she invited us over for meals and watch Russian movies and her passion really inspired our passion in the Russian language. She made us appreciate that you can’t just study it in a vacuum — it’s really part of a lifestyle. She inspired me to immerse myself in it and to go to Russia right after college. She taught me to learn by experience.
9. How did the economic situation in the country influence your career decisions?
I was really fortunate in my job search to be in the right place at the right time. I think a lot of people in Washington, when they’re graduating from law school, if they didn’t go into private practice, they’d work for the government. So many people are applying to those types of jobs since the market is bad and opportunities are limited. A career in a place like the state department would’ve been ideal for what I was interested in, but because it has become so competitive it’s much more difficult to get those types of jobs. I shifted my focus from the government but I learned the importance of networking and personal relationships.
10. What motivated you to pick your current career?
First, I was always interested in advocating whether it was with my friends. I’ve always had a streak in me that enjoyed debate. I wanted to go to law school because I thought it would be a good way to indulge that side of myself in a productive way. Law school seemed like a natural fit. Every industry needs a lawyer, so if you like science you could be a bio tech patent lawyer, if you like International Relations you could do international trade law, etc. A law degree could get me wherever I decided to go. And even if I didn’t want to be lawyer, in the end it’s a great background to have for any field. #