Julie Getzels: On the Art of Working as a General Counsel

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Ms. Getzels is general counsel for the Art Institute of Chicago. As such, she handles all of the legal work for the institute's museum and school, including art acquisitions, copyright questions, employee issues, nonprofit tax matters and the legalities of the museum's new building project. A 1985 graduate of Harvard Law School, her official title is Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary. One of the perks of her job is being surrounded by great works of art.

Q: What attracted you to this kind of work?

Two things: the variety of the practice and working for a not-for-profit.

Q: What was your background before the Art Institute?

After I graduated from law school, I clerked for a federal judge and then worked for a small firm that did plaintiffs' employment discrimination work. After that, I was at the U.S. Attorney's Office as a criminal prosecutor for seven years. After I left the U.S. Attorney's office, I worked in various capacities in the City of Chicago's legal department, and then went from there to a not-for-profit hospital in the University of Chicago hospital system as the general counsel. I've done a lot of different things. This is the first one that involves art or education.

Q: Combining law and art sounds neat. What's it like to combine those two different fields?

It's very interesting in that when you're doing legal work, you're also learning about a field that's so different. For example, if I'm working on an acquisition of an art object, I may have to learn things about the artist or the time period in which it was made or other historical issues—for example, the possibility that the object was looted during the Holocaust. Also, my office is attached to the museum, so going back and forth to meetings, you go through these galleries of wonderful art and that's very nice.

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