The Life and Career of William J. Pascrell: A career in public service, politics, and government

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Today, Mr. Pascrell serves as Passaic County (NJ) Counsel and is a partner at the Princeton Public Affairs Group. He has remained active in politics, assisting with Sen. John Kerry's run for president and former New Jersey Governor James Florio's campaigns.

Mr. Pascrell is a 1989 graduate of Seton Hall Law School.

Q: What did you envision doing with your degree in law school?

A: I had planned on going into public service with my law degree. I flirted with doing a stint in the prosecutor's office. I ended up being fortunate enough to be asked by Governor Florio to become one of his counsels when he became governor. I had just graduated law school. He had just won, and I worked on his transition team, and the rest is history.

Q: It sounds like you had settled on a career path early. For other law students, their original ambitions evolve or change drastically.

A: That's the beauty of a law degree. It allows you the versatility to move with the ebbs and flows of life.

Q: What's your advice for students who are trying to find their niche?

A: If everybody can be fortunate enough to have a mentor, I think that's very important. It's important to talk to a diversity of people, to have some goals in mind—a 5-year, 10-year, 20-year goal—and pursue them. Talk to people who are a little more senior, who have been through the fits and starts of a career and can give advice. If it's not a parent, maybe it's a law professor, a partner in a law firm, or a next-door neighbor.

Q: How does your law degree help you with campaigns, considering you were already so well versed in them?

A: The reason so many attorneys enter politics is that when you get grilled that first year and asked on the spot to get up and argue a particular principle or position, you become increasingly aware of the skills needed for advocacy. That's very helpful. In addition to that, the diversity you experience with a law degree—you're going through torts and property and contracts, but there's a multitude of other selected electives—helps round you out better and helps enable you to roll with the punches. That was one of the great assets that I was able to bring to a campaign.

Q: What's one thing law schools should do more of?

A: I think law schools need to encourage students more to get out and experience a diversity of positions. It's very important to see what's out there and what's available.

Q: You obviously have a strong passion for your work. But how can one cope with burnout or disillusionment?

A: I don't want to get too melodramatic, but I've been through many dark days. In 1993, Governor Florio was not reelected. I did not know what I was going to be doing. I spent two months soul-searching. Then I went to work for a congressman back home in my district, and he lost a year later. So back-to-back years I was looking for a job; and I had a wife, kids, a family, and a mortgage; and that's disconcerting. We tend to get so stressed out and perfectionist in our career track. Life isn't perfect. Thankfully, I had a good support group. I had a really strong set of family and friends who helped me keep my chin up through the tough times. I remember my second year of law school, coming home and feeling like I was going to pack it in. Thankfully, I didn't quit. You just have to keep plodding on.

Q: How do you do that?

A: Sometimes you just have to shut the door; and when you're done doing a little soul-searching, you've got to open the book up or pick up the phone and do whatever is the next step necessary.

When I first entered law school, I put an old black-and-white picture of my grandfather (in my room). He worked for Erie Lackawanna, sweeping out rail cars as a 16-year-old boy and worked his way up until he retired at 70 years old as vice president of traffic for the Northeast region. It was kind of like an inspiration. I put [the picture] above my head level, so I had to look up to see him. It's the little things. Finding an inspiration, either spiritually or emotionally, is critical. Nobody can do it alone.

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