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Alyssa Alcorn jumped into political work before deciding on law school

Alyssa Alcorn didn't go straight to law school after graduating from Ohio University in 2016. Instead, she jumped into helping with a state political campaign and then went to work for a law firm in Columbus.

"When I was going back and forth over whether I wanted to apply to law school straight away, Dr. Jennifer Fredette gave me the invaluable advice that I should wait to pursue a law degree unless it became clear that I needed one to do what I wanted to do," Alcorn said. "After working for years after school around lawyers and the law, and applying for a multitude of positions which were 'bachelor’s required, J.D. preferred,' I started to apply to schools."

Now Alcorn is finishing up her law degree from Michigan State University, and she's getting some great mentoring from OHIO alumnus Judge Sean Gallagher. Alcorn is doing an externship in Gallagher's 8th District Court of Appeals in Cleveland. Gallagher earned his bachelor's degree from University College in 1978.

"So far my time as an extern has been really enjoyable. Judge Sean Gallagher and his staff have all encouraged me to seek out whatever assignments and cases interest me most. It’s been interesting to see the vast expanse of legal topics that pass through the 8th District Court of Appeals on any given day," said Alcorn, who earned a B.S. in Communication Studies with a self-directed focus on Public Advocacy coursework from the Scripps College of Communication and a Minor in Political Science from the College of Arts and Sciences.

"One thing that took me a little by surprise when I was first seeking out externship work with Judge Gallagher’s office was how interested he was in my experience with the First Amendment Clinic at Michigan State University this past fall semester, where I taught student speech, libel, privacy and copyright law at a high school in the Detroit area. Judge Gallagher wants me to give my presentation on copyright law for his staff at the courthouse – so always be looking for not only what you can learn and take from somewhere, but what you can give and what you can teach," she said.

Alcorn's mantra and advice for fellow OHIO students: "If I’ve learned anything from my time after OHIO, it’s that life is constantly about rolling with the punches."

Q&A with Alyssa Alcorn

Q: What path did you follow after graduating from OHIO?

A: Immediately after graduation from OU in 2016 I was hired by my hometown State Representative and fellow Young Democrat Dan Ramos as Campaign Manager. Dan’s passing earlier this year was a complete shock and a devastating loss. He was a brilliant legislator who left an indelible mark on public policy in Ohio, with accomplishments ranging from pension reform, fighting against so-called Right to Work legislation, and increasing the allowable ABV (alcohol by volume) limit for beer in Ohio.

Especially lately I’ve been feeling grateful that I chose not to go straight in to law school and was able to have that experience and mentorship from Dan. After the campaign ended, I worked several jobs while studying for the LSAT. I was a barista, a bartender for a local VFW hall, as well as a Site Supervisor for the United Way’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, and briefly a Village Councilmember for my hometown of South Amherst.

I moved to Columbus in March of 2018 to work for McTigue & Colombo, a campaign finance and election law firm, as a compliance and account manager. I prepared and filed finance reports for more than 20 campaign and PAC (political action committee) accounts on the local, state and federal level. In August of 2019 I left the firm to start at Michigan State University College of Law.

Q: What path did you follow to get where you are today?

A: I have always been passionate about politics, law, and public policy, so that interest has been the touchstone for everything I’ve set out to do professionally.

Q: What was your major/degree, and any minors or certificates?

A: My major was Communication Studies, with a self-directed focus on Public Advocacy coursework. I also had a minor in Political Science.

Q: Who were your favorite professors and how did they make an impact on your life?

A: Many of my favorite professors are no longer at Ohio University. I took as many classes as I could with Dr. Jennifer Fredette; I particularly loved her Civil Liberties course studying Supreme Court case law, which is when I first started to seriously consider a career in the law. The faculty I met at Ohio University is what made my experience at the school so special, it’s clear that the professors go out of their way to connect with their students on a personal level. I could go on and on about so many professors I had that gave me knowledge, advice and encouragement.

Q: Do you still keep in touch with any of your faculty?

A: Larry Hayman, who I got to know well when I joined the inaugural OHIO Mock Trial team my senior year, has continued to be a fountain of wisdom as I’ve tried to navigate life and the law; Larry is the person who let me know about the job opening with McTigue & Colombo and encouraged me to apply. I would urge anyone at OHIO who is interested in law, policy and social justice to get to know Larry.

Q: What was your ah-ha moment at OHIO—that point where you said to yourself, “I’ve got this!”?

A: I constantly feel like I am waiting on an ah-ha moment! The time I can remember being the most confident about my professional career was spring semester of my senior year, when I was applying to be a Legislative Fellow at the Ohio Statehouse. I was so sure that I had succeeded in the interviews, and I had a professor who reached out to me to write one of my recommendations. At that point I had been interested in the fellowship for over a year and felt like it was all going my way, and then I was waitlisted for the program. I feel like it’s important to realize that sometimes you can feel completely sure about something that doesn’t work out, and other times things work out that you never would have planned on, like a position in campaign finance compliance. If I’ve learned anything from my time after OHIO, it’s that life is constantly about rolling with the punches.

Q: What was the hardest hill you had to climb (not counting Jeff Hill) at OHIO? And how did you overcome challenges or obstacles in your path?

A: I did not start my time at Ohio University as a particularly successful student. My grades in high school and for some of my foundational coursework at OHIO were not reflective of my abilities, so learning organization skills and time management on top of my actual coursework was probably the biggest challenge I had to face. A dedicated workspace away from home, a quiet atmosphere, and a study buddy all became essential for me to be able to focus on assignments and reading materials. All of this became the biggest challenge I faced again at law school; I only had one semester pre-COVID before lockdown procedures took away everything I relied on to succeed in an academic setting, and I still feel like I am trying to re-program my brain after those setbacks.

Q: What are your favorite OHIO memories?

A: When I look back at my time at OHIO, the Mock Trial season my senior year really stands out to me. I feel sorry now that the organization didn’t begin until the end of my time at school, but I’m really grateful that I was there to experience it. There is a lot of substantive legal experience that comes out of preparing a mock trial case, but the best part about it for me was the imaginative work that goes into worldbuilding and creating the witness characters. I was so proud of Hannah Caldwell, my co-captain who I directed as a witness for the prosecution, for her flawless score at competition. I was also heavily involved with the College Democrats at OHIO, which provided me with countless friendships and professional networking opportunities. (See how Hannah Caldwell started her journey after OHIO.)

Q: What’s the one thing you would tell a new OHIO student not to miss?

A: It’s so important to join student organizations that align with what you’re passionate about. There are a seemingly unlimited number of organizations available at OHIO to join, and making those friendships and connections really brings your time at school to life.

Q: How have your OHIO alumni connections benefited you?

A: Bobcats are everywhere! From having people I met at school let me know about job openings to being able to bond with someone I just met about living in Athens, OHIO alumni are always eager to get to know each other and lend a helping hand.

April 5, 2023
Staff reports