Career advice


Julie Abbate, a deputy chief at the Special Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice (DOJ), spoke with Michigan Law students recently.

Photo credit: Alex Lee


Deputy chief at DOJ speaks at MLaw

By Bibeane Metsch-Garcia
U-M Law

Julie Abbate worked with women prisoners when she was an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, then went to law school thinking she wanted to be a public defender. But her career path took a different turn, one that ultimately has given her an opportunity to focus on her areas of interest just as much as if she had been a public defender.

Abbate, a deputy chief at the Special Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice (DOJ), spoke with Michigan Law students recently. Her message: Be open to different kinds of jobs as a lawyer, and find ways to tailor the work to your interests.

Abbate had to do just that when she graduated from law school and did not receive any offers to be a public defender. Instead, she ended up working for four years at a large Washington, D.C.-based law firm, where she did pro bono work involving female prisoners.

She then spent two years at the Federal Trade Commission working on consumer fraud cases, taught Trial Advocacy and a Civil Litigation Clinic at the University of Baltimore School of Law, and worked at Neighborhood Legal Services. From there, she moved to the DOJ.

In response to questions about how to find employment at the DOJ, Abbate cautioned students that their plans may get derailed, as hers did. She emphasized that they likely will have many jobs over the course of their careers, and she urged students to "be curious and to learn different skills from people around you."

In her current job, Abbate focuses on enforcing several statutes, including the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act and the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA). She described her office's ability to take action if a state or local agency is found to have a pattern or practice of violating individuals' civil rights in an institutional setting, like jails, prisons, and juvenile facilities. She told students about an investigation her office did into a women's prison in which inmates had to barter sex for feminine hygiene products. This, and similar investigations, often lead to public reports informing the national community about civil rights violations, she said; the reports can motivate other jurisdictions to modify their practices.

Abbate recommended that students who find themselves wanting to pivot jobs to branch out in their communities and to join a local public interest voluntary bar association through which they can write letters and position papers. Abbate found a legal career that allows her to continue fighting for the causes that she started working on through various activist organizations in college.

She also suggested that students "keep your law school admissions essay in your drawer at work and read it every so often" so they can remind themselves of what drove them to attend law school in the first place, and to find a career that fulfills those initial goals.

Reprinted with permission of U-M Law School

Published: Mon, Apr 27, 2015