Getting to know the CDO: An Interview with Patti McLaughlin, NDLS 1990

By now, hopefully you have had the chance to read at least one of my lawyer stories series of blog posts where I interview Notre Dame lawyers and ask them questions about their career path, what their day to day life is like, and advice they have for law students. This blog post is another iteration of my lawyer stories series and the second in my series of interviews with your very own Notre Dame Law School Career Development Office staff.

Each counselor in the CDO has a different background, career path, life experience, and of course, personality. NDLS students are always welcome to meet with any counselor you wish and so I thought it would be helpful to give you some deeper personal insight into each of the counselors in our office. Additionally, because all of us counselors in the CDO are lawyers, these blog posts will be useful in the same way other lawyer stories blog posts are helpful; by providing insight into a specific career path within the law and showing you how a particular lawyer’s career path has progressed.

With no further ado, here is my interview with NDLS’s very own Assistant Director of Career Development, Patti McLaughlin:

KMB: Tell me about law school. Why did you want to pursue a career as a lawyer?

PM: When I was five, I said I wanted to be a police officer like my dad, but my dad told me that girls could not be police officers (which was not true) so I decided to become a lawyer. At 12, I decided I would be a corporate lawyer because I thought it sounded cool.  My sister actually did become a police officer, so my father may have won a battle with me but he definitely did not win the war.

KMB: You’re the only counselor in our office who attended Notre Dame for law school. How did you like your experience at Notre Dame Law School?

PM: I loved it. We won a national championship while I was a law student and they never lost a home game while I was a student. I went to the National Championship game in Phoenix with friends, and it was the best time ever. My husband always questions that and suggests that perhaps our wedding or the birth of our children might have been better… I let him know emphatically that they were not! I was in the very first official Father Mike Show in the spring that followed Fr. Mike’s passing and performed in the show all three years I was in law school here.

That particular experience culminated my 3L year when Patty O’Hara accepted the invitation to come on stage and dance while our band performed.  I think it was “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” by Pat Benetar. That is just one of the many examples of professors being really invested in us personally.  They really took the time to get to know us and it made my law school experience great.  I think the students today are recipients of that same caring, and it is a real asset to your education as a lawyer and a human being.

NDLS was and still is a great place to go to law school. I am still friends with a lot of my law school classmates, and I see them when they get back to campus. I will let you know that I don’t remember my law school grades at all so current students can take note that in a few years, your grades really won’t matter. Note: Patti has a picture of her law school class hanging in her office. 

KMB: Let’s rewind a little. Can you tell me about your time in college?

PM: I went to Wellesley. I wanted to go to Notre Dame but my dad said it was too far.  I lived on the east end of Long Island.  So I decided I would go to West Point but to graduate, you had to be able to shoot a basket from your knees.  I just could not develop enough upper body strength and I didn’t think I would be able to do that. So then I decided I would go to the Coast Guard Academy but after an eye exam at the Academy, they sent a note to have the test done by my own eye doctor because there must have been a mistake. There was no mistake. I simply have NO depth perception.  So my eye doctor lied on the test and taught me how to cheat on depth perception tests.  He did tell me that there were tests I could not cheat on, and, more importantly, if I tried to dock a ship, I would take out half a city.  So I switched my application to early decision at Wellesley and the rest is history.

KMB: What was Wellesley like?

PM: Wellesey was great.  The school is incredibly beautiful and the education is unbelievable. We also had afternoon tea, and life is just better with afternoon tea. I was able to take advantage of amazing opportunities and I made wonderful friends.  Wellesley definitely produces well educated, strong women. I am so grateful for the education I received there.  If I had a complaint, it would be the number of people who were very serious all of the time. Most students were very committed to social justice issues and there were protests occurring all the time. At that time, you were not allowed to serve in the military if you were gay and the College was invested in South Africa which was still under apartheid.  Protesting ROTC and calling for divestiture from South Africa were very big issues at that time at Wellesley and other institutions around the country.  One time the trustees were on campus and many of my friends blocked the only two exits to keep them there. I didn’t protest because my family just would have totally lost it if I had gotten arrested but I did bake cookies for the protesters who had been detained.

KMB: What made you decide to attend Notre Dame for law school?

PM: I always wanted to go to Notre Dame. I grew up watching Notre Dame football and basketball.  It was the holy land for New York Irish Catholics. Also, in college I was one of a small number of people who openly practiced Catholicism, and there were people who had big issues with the Church. For some reason, they would find us to make their objections known. I am a very live and let live person, so I found that difficult. I was looking for a different kind of experience. During undergraduate, while we were protesting such serious issues at Wellesley, I remember hearing that Notre Dame students had a sit-in protest because ND was threatening to take Captain Crunch out of the dining hall. In the midst of all the seriousness, I thought that was really funny and the kind of atmosphere I craved.

KMB: What did you do your 1L summer?

PM: I worked for the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. It was a great experience. I spent a lot of time with the prosecutors and was able to help prepare witnesses. It was really interesting work but I did not have the heart to do that work. I was pretty shocked at what people did to each other, especially children. I knew that I was not going to make that career choice.

KMB: And how about your 2L summer?

PM: I worked for Carter Ledyard & Milburn in New York as a summer associate.

KMB: Is that where you started your legal career as an entry-level attorney?

PM: It is. I was a corporate lawyer there for three years.

KMB: What did you do after your three years at the firm?

PM: I was laid off from my firm because of the downturn in the economy. I got a raise the same day they told me that I had three more months there. When it came time to look for another job in the law, I just didn’t want to do it. My father was very sick at the time and we knew he did not have long to live. I had the opportunity to go home and help care for him until his death later that year. After my dad died, I went to get my master’s in education. I always said if I won the lottery, I would teach. Since I never actually bought lottery tickets, I decided I would just go back to school. I was going to be a social studies teacher but when I went to my first interview, they asked if I could teach Spanish. I said sure and I ended up ended up teaching Spanish for 8 years. Funny enough…I only had one interview in my entire teaching career.

KMB: How did you become fluent Spanish?

PM: I majored in Spanish in college and studied abroad in Cordoba, Spain.

KMB: How did your teaching career go? Did you like it?

PM: I did. I taught Spanish in New York for 4 years and then stayed home after I had my second child. I went back to teach part-time when my youngest child was in kindergarten and I taught in the elementary school my children attended 2 days a week.

KMB: What was the next step in your career?

PM: I moved to South Bend in 2009 when my husband decided to accept a job at Notre Dame. I never had any plans of coming back to South Bend. My whole life was in New York and New Jersey. In 2011, I started working for the annual fund at Notre Dame, mostly writing, proofreading, and editing. Then in 2013, I became the Associate Director in charge of the law school annual fund and the Order of St. Thomas More, the Law School giving society. In that position I continued writing, planned events, met donors, and collaborated with the Law Advancement team to plan some of the Dean’s travel schedule to maximize her interactions with benefactors of the Law School.

KMB: As a recently married person, I am curious about how you met your husband?

PM: I met him while practicing law in New York. He was in a band in New York with a friend of my cousins, Patti Ann and Colleen. Colleen was one of my roommates at Notre Dame and Patti Ann knew my husband from their days at Fordham University. I was introduced to him at one of his shows. We have been married for 23 years and we’re very happy. We have three children. Two of them are attending Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. Our youngest is a junior at St. Joseph High School.

KMB: Can you tell the story of how you ended up joining the CDO?

PM:  A position opened up in the CDO and someone recommended it to me. I didn’t think I would be a great fit because I thought I might be a little too aggressive for the job. That position was filled by Christine. One evening my husband met Vinny at a work event and my husband told me that I would be an idiot if I didn’t go to work for Vinny. I gave it serious thought for a long time and I ended up deciding that a job where I would get daily interaction with students was too good to pass up. Two and half years into this, I can tell you I was right!

KMB: How do you like counseling students? Are you happy in your role?

PM: I love it. I love talking to the students and hearing about their backgrounds and their aspirations. I get so much satisfaction watching students succeed. Most days, at least one of our students achieves something. There are also many days when students just need someone to listen. Law school is not easy and sometimes you just need someone who will give you candy and hear your story. It is very fulfilling and satisfying work.

KMB: Can you describe your approach to career counseling?

PM: I like to really listen and hear the student. It is very important to me that students know that I am here to help them reach their career goals; not impose my own idea of what they should do. I am forthright but I try really hard to listen for what someone needs. I am honest and I am not going to save feelings if it means the student will walk out of my office with the wrong impression. I would say that I am never mean but I am honest. My only goal is the student’s success. My Meyer’s Briggs personality type is ENTP. 

I am funny, I have a good sense of humor. I have a very thick skin and am very rarely offended or shocked. One of the many benefits to living half a century is that life has really taught me perspective. I have three children and years of experience working with students so it is highly unlikely someone will bring something to me that I haven’t seen.

KMB: If you were in law school now, what would you do differently?

PM: I would have actually talked to the career counselors in the law school’s career office. I should not have pursued money as my primary objective out of law school, but I didn’t know better. I really did not know how to look for a job. I interviewed with a few places that came to campus, got a few offers, and picked one. Like many of the students here now, I pretty much just got what I wanted. The idea of having to put work into looking for a job was foreign to me. I didn’t know how to network at all. I went straight through from undergraduate to law school. I think I would have benefitted from some work experience. I definitely lacked the maturity to make a thoughtful decision as to my career path. I could have used a break. By the time I got out, I was just exhausted.

I think it is generally a great idea to work before law school. During law school, a family friend who served on the Second Circuit asked me if I wanted to clerk on the Second Circuit, and I said no! I didn’t even consider it. I had no idea what a great opportunity it was or what it meant. I never talked to the career office while I was at Notre Dame and I really should have.

KMB: I like to ask questions that get at your lifestyle and the work/life balance of your job. When did you take your last vacation that was one week or longer?

PM: Christmas. I went to South Florida with my family and we were gone for almost two weeks. It was the longest time I have been away that I can remember. Also, I think work/life balance is a myth. We each find the balance that works for us. When we start a job, regardless of the job, there is usually not much balance because you are working to learn your job and impress your employer. The key is to make the most of your time at work, at school, and outside.

KMB: What is the best live show you have ever seen?

PM: Bruce Springsteen in the summer of 2009. He was late to the concert because of an accident on the highway and ended up playing for 3 1/2 hours to make up for it. He played Rosalita and Jersey Girl, which was sweet.

KMB: What advice do you have for law students?

PM: Always find the happy people. Don’t give anyone permission to take away your joy. The truth is, we allow people to steal our happiness and we don’t have to do that. You have a right and an obligation to safeguard your joy! You will be more successful in everything you do if you’re happy.

You are more than welcome to schedule an appointment with Patti to talk about anything under the sun but if you to want to learn more about corporate law careers, practicing at a law firm, practicing in New York, leaving the law and starting a second career, or Bruce Springsteen, Patti is an especially great resource available to you.

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