The Life and Career change of Derede McAlpin and The Five W's of Law

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"I sat in on every trial and hearing, and I'd be able to pick out the sound bites that reporters would use," she recalled. "I would be able to anticipate what would be in the paper the next day or what would be on TV that evening."

Today, she is an account manager at Levick Strategic Communications, which handles public relations, marketing, and crisis management for law firms around the world. Her job includes finding media opportunities for clients, scheduling interviews, and conducting media training sessions. Ms. McAlpin, who has a Bachelor's degree in Communications, has also handled media relations for Howard University and served as Director of Public Information for the Investment Company Institute.

Q: What attracted you to law school after working in journalism and communications?

I always had an interest in it when I was in undergrad at Howard University, but ended up getting a great job right after school. So I just went right into the television profession and sort of put those plans on hold. What inspired me to finally make a move after six years to decide to go to law school—my mom had been talking about going to law school at the age of 67, and then she went and did it. I figured I just can't put it off anymore; I should just go for it. I applied to Temple University's law school and went there.

Q: Did your mom graduate from law school?

Her mom got sick, and she discontinued; she stopped to take care of her mother.

Q: How does your work now allow you to combine your journalism, PR ,and law backgrounds?

It's actually a perfect union. Law school gives you great communication skills, or fine-tunes your communication skills, both oral and written. It gives you great analytical skills, strategic skills, and research skills. All of those fall into play in public relations, crisis communications, and media training, which is what Levick Strategic Communications specializes in. I would call it a dream job for me.

Q: What did you originally envision doing with your J.D.?

In the beginning, I did anticipate that I would practice law. After doing my clerkship and working on high-profile cases, where I was the liaison between the media and the judge, I immediately wanted to go back into communications and use both my communications background and my legal background.

Working as a law clerk is one of the best legal jobs you can have. It gives you an opportunity to fine-tune your skills. Doing a clerkship is like doing a residency when you're a doctor.

Q: How challenging is it to find jobs where one can combine different backgrounds?

I wouldn't say it was that challenging. Basically, I looked for opportunities where my skill set would match up, and I would outline it in interviews. I've never really had a problem selling my skill set to employers. They usually see it as an asset.

I actually went from the clerkship into TV on the business side. While I was doing that, someone told me they had a policy-oriented position in the financial arena. I ended up taking that position and using my legal background for policy-oriented work.

Q: What's your advice for students and grads who want to do something different with their J.D. or change careers?

A law degree is very valuable. It makes you stand out above other candidates. It's highly valued. I find there's really no limit to what you can do with a law degree. Sometimes you will have to outline the matching of your skill set to an employer for a particular position. But I haven't found that to be a challenge at all.

Q: What specific things did you do when job hunting after the clerkship?

First, I was looking at some temporary positions. I was looking for a way to get my foot in the door. I knew I wanted to go back into TV since I worked in that field for several years. I looked for entry-level positions on the sales side. Sometimes you may have to start in a position where it's not your end point, but you know you can get your foot in the door; and if your skill set matches up, you sell to an employer how you can be an asset.

Q: Did you experience any post-graduation stumbling blocks?

I haven't experienced any pitfalls or stumbling blocks. I think my experience may be a little different from a student that went straight from undergrad to law school. I knew what I liked and what I didn't like. I knew that I didn't want to practice immediately. I knew a law firm environment probably wasn't the best for me. I wanted something where I could be creative also—use legal and analytical skills. I looked for positions that would meet those needs and qualifications.

I started out in law school at night, working during the day; and then I switched over so I wouldn't have to spend four years in law school. Going to school at night is totally different than the daytime. I've had classes at both times. The students are completely different. You really know who you are by that time. You have a better idea about what would be a better career opportunity and what your strengths and weaknesses are.

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