We recently sat down with Katie John, JD ’12, to hear her reflections on her time at GW Law and at McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP, where she is now an associate. Here’s what we heard:
Looking back at your time as a student at GW Law, what is your fondest memory?
This is a hard question, because I have a lot of fond memories, both personally and professionally. Watching the sun rise on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial after the end of my 1L year was pretty cool, as was getting to poll the "jury" after both my Trial Advocacy final and the final round of the Cohen & Cohen mock trial competition. As Senior Articles Editor for the Public Contract Law Journal, I got to call our new members and let them know they’d been selected for the journal. That, for me, was one of the most exciting things I did during law school. Finally, at graduation, Dean Schenck was on-stage to shake everyone’s hand. I got to work with her closely because she was the faculty advisor in an external moot court competition that I did. Instead of receiving the standard handshake, Dean Schenck not only gave me a hug, but she picked me up. What a great way to end law school!
What did you get at GW Law that has helped you the most, in terms of actually practicing law?
Learning to think about how the law should work. In a lot of my government contracts courses, we not only covered what the law is, but how the doctrines developed and what behavior various FAR provisions are trying to incentivize. Most of the time, clients aren’t calling to ask us about an area of the law that is black-and-white—they are calling about areas of ambiguity, and with questions that they couldn’t answer in-house. In those situations, my classwork at GW prepared me to look at the applicable regulations or decisions and delineate, what’s clear, what’s gray, and then suggest what the “right” answer should be.
Was there one additional procurement law course that you wish you had taken at GW?
Government Contracts Advocacy. I took the various foundation courses, such as Formation and Performance, as well as Cost & Pricing and Comparative Public Procurement. But in my other law school studies, I enjoyed—and got a lot of out of—the writing and trial advocacy courses. Looking back, I wish I’d been able to fit the Government Contracts Advocacy course into my schedule.
What is the toughest part of the transition from being a law student to practicing law?
The stakes are a lot higher. In law school, when you are participating in a moot court or mock trial, there are no practical consequence to your success or failure. They were good learning experiences and I took them very seriously, but now when I’m working on a protest, writing a motion, or doing research, the stakes are a lot different. A client is relying on our work and the outcome of the matter could make a real difference for the company.
People often say that they fell into government procurement law by accident. What about you—how did you come to practice in this area? And what is your view of government procurement law at this point, about a year after you started practicing?
Like many, I fell into government contracts by accident. A fellow GW grad, convinced me that I should compete for a spot on the Public Contract Law Journal in my 1L year. It wasn’t until after I got on the journal that I really understood what government contracts was, and it wasn’t until I was serving as the Senior Articles Editor for the journal that I really fell in love with government contracts. Now I couldn’t imagine specializing in anything else! From a practical standpoint, it’s a great area of law to practice in because it is relatively stable. The government is always going to need to buy things, and need lawyers to help them through the process. Clients are always going to need guidance as they work to sell goods and services to the government. I also find the type of work I do interesting, but more than that, I really like how friendly and tight-knit the government contracts bar is.
If you could give one piece of advice to 2Ls and 3Ls, what would it be?
Use the alumni network! I’ve received a good handful of emails from GW students this year asking for informational interviews or advice on law school or the job search process. I’m always happy to help, as long as my schedule permits it, and I think most of the alumni I know would say the same. I’m lucky that I found my job through the regular interview process, but I don’t think I appreciated during law school how helpful it could be to talk to alumni when deciding on a career path or researching job opportunities.
Katie, thanks for sharing your insights with us!