Environmental Control and Law: By Janet Mosseri, Director of Career Development, Shepard Broad Law Center

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"These were literally cases against people who were putting their garbage out at the wrong time of day — not bringing in their garbage cans when they're supposed to — putting out the wrong materials for recycling collection. Nobody even knew all the rules in the sanitation office. They were looking at a piece of plastic and didn't know if it was recyclable or not."

Naturally, garbage law isn't the only thing Mosseri dealt with professionally prior to becoming a career counselor. A graduate of Brooklyn Law School, Mosseri practiced civil litigation in New York for about 10 years in a few different small firms (including her own), arguing a variety of matters, including many real estate and landlord/tenant cases. "Mainly," she explains, "I just liked being in court."

From there, she moved into the judge's role for two NYC city judicial authorities. For the Transit Adjudication Bureau, Mosseri handled quasi-criminal violations in the transit system, such as fare evasion and people jumping over the turnstile. As she recollects, "There was never a dull moment, and I met some very interesting respondents." Through her work with the Environmental Control Board, Mosseri adjudicated violations for a number of city agencies, like the Building Department, the Fire Department, the Health Department and, of course, the Sanitation Department.

This broad exposure to NYC's governmental agencies encompassed, as Mosseri puts it, "some novel cases and issues, several of which required a little bit more interpretation of the law." In that capacity, Mosseri truly enjoyed being in the position of decision-maker. For instance, she adjudicated many asbestos-removal cases, governed by laws still in the process of being settled. "There were often questions of what constituted illegal asbestos removal, and those cases tended to be more complex and lasted longer."

Still, she faced a huge daily volume of cases and spent much of her time imposing fines on people, a situation that eventually made her unhappy. Mosseri recalls a particular example of that: "The Building Department prosecuted a lot of small homeowners for illegal basement and attic apartments. Many of the defendants were people who weren't native English-speakers, who had brought their families over to live in these houses. Then the Department tells them no one can live in these apartments and proceeds to fine them hundreds of dollars, and the people couldn't afford to pay the fines or renovate the houses. In many cases, they didn't even put the apartments there to begin with. After a while, that kind of gets to you."

After deciding to relocate to south Florida in 2000, Mosseri found a position in career development at Nova Southeastern and welcomed the transition to more positive work. "I knew I would enjoy this kind of position. The job description sounded as thought it would match my interests and talents, and I wanted something different." Upon joining the temporarily short staffed office, Mosseri jumped right into her new career and got up to speed with lots of on-the-job training. The skills she developed as an administrative judge also came in handy. "In my previous job, I had to listen a lot and listen very carefully, and I do that now. So often, students just need to say what they're thinking out loud to somebody. Maybe they can't decide between one thing and another, and I tell them what I'm hearing. 'It sounds like this is the way you're leaning.' And they usually respond, 'Well, yeah, I think I am.'"

When it comes to advice for job-seeking students, Mosseri stresses the fundamental importance of doing well academically and gaining as much legal experience as possible while still in school. "Experience is very important to a lot of employers, and the more experience you gain during law school, the easier it will be to get a job when you graduate." When students aren't sure exactly what they want to do careerwise, Mosseri encourages them to try different things. "If they work in some area of law during school, they can make certain it's right for them or eliminate it as a possible career course. A student can come back after the summer and say, 'This is not what I want at all,' and still have time to redirect their job search, take courses in a different area, and otherwise prepare for another path." An additional way to try things out, according to Mosseri, is to get involved in campus organizations linked to potential areas of interest, as well as co-curricular activities such as law journals or moot court. "Not only do these look good on resumes, but you get out into the legal community. The more people you meet, the more people you tell you're looking for a job, the easier time you're going to have."

In addition to counseling students, Mosseri also talks to a lot of alumni who are looking for advice on changing their careers midstream. "They'll call and say, 'I've been doing this for 5 or 10 years, and I don't think I want to do this anymore.' Some are burned out, and some just really aren't happy doing what they're doing." Mosseri finds that many dissatisfied alumni initially think they want to leave law altogether, only to discover it's just the specific area of law or a particular firm lifestyle they don't like. "Those in litigation often feel it's too confrontational or negative. The other lawyers have gotten harder to deal with, and there are such high demands on them, they feel they're not really helping anybody. They want to do something else that makes them feel they're contributing more."

Many times, Mosseri helps confused students and alumni focus their job searches by focusing on themselves. "Most people haven't done a lot of self-assessment before they get to me. I have them sit down and figure out not necessarily what the job is but what they enjoy, what their perfect day looks like. It helps people eliminate certain things right away." She recommends books on alternative careers for lawyers - such as What Can You Do With a Law Degree? by Deborah Arron - to help advisees explore the full range of options. "Sometimes they just need to find another career within the law that can make them truly happy, something with a different or less confrontational work environment."

Mosseri has done just that herself by settling into a life as a career counselor, far from her days of laying down fines on turnstile-jumpers and negligent property owners. "I don't miss the judge life at all," she confidently reports. "I was ready to leave." In her current job, Mosseri especially loves hearing from students after they graduate. "A lot of alumni come back to conduct the on-campus interviews, and it's great to see them happy and successful. It's rewarding and so much fun for me to see them when they come back." Probably a lot more fun, one would assume, than when repeat garbage offenders came back to see her.

Nova Southeastern University The Shepard Broad College of Law


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