Career Services Public Sector Employment Panel

by Jenn Watson, Class of 2016

On January 13th, the Office of Career Services had a panel discussion on Government and Public Sector Lawyering. It was a great opportunity to get an idea of the broad range of public sector jobs available, and the panel talked frankly about everything from grades and resumes to their personal experiences with the government shutdown.

Sharon E. Pandak BA '75, JD '78

Sharon E. Pandak, BA ’75, JD ’78

The panel moderator was Sharon Pandak, a W&M Law alumna who has served as a county attorney and is currently with Greehan, Taves, Pandak & Stoner, PLLC in Woodbridge, VA. On the panel were Robin Edwards, another W&M Law alumna who works as a patent attorney for NASA, Gilbert Earle Teal, a W&M Law alumnus who works for the Defense Contract Management Agency, Major Nora Rule and Captain Alan Serrano, U.S. Air Force Judge Advocates, and Lesa Yeatts, the Senior Deputy City Attorney of Hampton, Virginia.

All of the panel members were enthusiastic about public sector work, and spoke in particular about the wide range of opportunities available even within their individual fields. Robin Edwards noted that although her particular position required a technical background, and that she had been an engineering major as an undergrad, NASA has a variety of lawyers on staff who have different qualifications and work in various fields. Alan Serrano spoke about his experiences as a JAG on an air force base, and how he has been exposed to many different areas of law as they come up for the airmen serving on the base where he works. Nora Rule agreed, and even added that she had done research for cases in areas such as Environmental Law, which might seem unexpected. Lesa Yeatts added that her experiences as a city attorney were similar, and that municipal jobs generally involve a broad range of law. One of the positives she cited was the ability to actually affect law on the municipal level by drafting and proposing statutes and regulations.

The panel was also asked about the benefits and downsides to working for the government, particularly as regarded the recent government shutdown. The majority of the panel were federal employees, and hence had been directly affected. All of them had been without pay at the time, although they had subsequently received back pay. Robin Edwards added that she had also been affected by the shutdowns in 1995-1996. In general though, the panel was positive about their experiences working for the government and noted advantages like salary predictability, benefits, and job security as being compelling reasons to consider a career in the public sector.

As might be expected, the panel received many questions asking them what they consider from the perspective of recruiters and hirers for their respective industries. Although some of them mentioned basics, like well-formatted and carefully proofread resumes, others spoke about specific experiences with candidates and what made them stand out. Sharon Pandak told an anecdote about a time when her county wasn’t hiring, but a recent law school graduate was so enthusiastic about working there she volunteered her time, and when a position came up months later, she was hired because they knew that her work was outstanding and they were already comfortable working with her.

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