Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts on motherhood in the legal profession, in partnership with our friends at MothersEsquire. Welcome Heather DePremio to our pages.
All my life, I’ve wanted to be a lawyer. I used to watch Perry Mason movies whenever they came on (way before the time of TiVo, let alone Netflix and Hulu). I love the law. The intricacies, the politics, the arguments. I even have a caricature of me, age 12, being a lawyer. When I went to college, I studied philosophy and pre-law. I never had a doubt that I would be the next great thing.
But as life so often does, it threw me a curve ball. I joined the military in the middle of my sophomore year at school, learning the hard way that in order to pass class, you have to attend class. In the service, I met, and married, my husband, also a service member. Although his commitment time was longer than mine, I was still determined to reach my goal. I went to law school while he was still on active duty (and spent our first few years of marriage apart — like any good military spouse). It was tough, but I muddled through, firm in my resolve to be that lawyer. I wasn’t first in my class, but I did fairly well. Most who knew me figured I’d go on to practice, somewhere. I graduated, took the Ohio bar exam, and became a full-fledged lawyer in the fall of 2006. Then, we moved.
My husband got stationed in Virginia. Lovely place, but not where I was licensed. What’s a girl to do? Take the bar, again, of course. Oh, did I mention I was pregnant with our daughter? Yeah, fun times, y’all. Fun times. After being home with a child for a year, I decided it was high time to use those TWO law licenses, and I went out to find work. But I struggled. HARD. I was from out of state. I didn’t have the pedigree most big firms were looking for. I settled in, working pro bono for legal aid. It at least gave me experience. But my second child’s pregnancy took a toll, and I quit working. After he was born, I started working for a solo practitioner. That lasted for a while, but really wasn’t scratching the “law” itch I knew I wanted. And, of course, we had to move.
By this point, I had been six years out of law school, and in the third state. I was done. I didn’t want to take another bar. I didn’t want to deal with interviewers asking “where’s that school again” and comments like “well, we’ve never hired someone outside of a first-tiered school before” (yes, I really got told that). I had two small children that had a father that was gone often, and they needed a parent home. So I became a stay-at-home mom. Let me say, all of you that stay home with kids, you have my undying loyalty. You are the bomb-diggity. And you deserve a vat of wine. No, a whole vineyard. I love my kids, but staying at home was NOT my cup of tea. Besides, we had to move!
We moved to outside of New Orleans in the summer of 2015. It was HOT. Bugs were everywhere, and I was MISERABLE. My kids were in school full time. I didn’t know anyone. My brain was mush. I needed something to DO. I started looking for work. Any work, but legal work would be preferable. I found an opening at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for a legal assistant. I thought, “I can do this. I did this before law school.” Little did I know that the title does not always coincide with the work you actually do. In the three short years I was at the USAO, I was a legal assistant to five separate assistant United States attorneys, prepared and helped try almost a dozen federal criminal trials, and helped our office settle some of the biggest cases it had ever seen. And I fell in love with my job.
I did everything from copying papers, to processing records in computer databases, to drafting responses to motions, to legal research and writing, to presenting evidence in the courtroom for trial. I loved each and every moment of it. The courtroom is exhausting and exhilarating all at once. But there is SO much prep work involved beforehand. Much of that prep work is being done behind the scenes, much like a stage hand for an actor. I have never had much success on the stage, but oh, I love being behind it.
I’m now a paralegal specialist for the USAO in San Diego (yes, we moved, again). The first thing I tell any attorney I work with is this: “I’m here to make you look good in the courtroom, to make your job easier, and to take care of the things you do not need to.” I love what I do. I’m knee-deep in all my cases, processing records, helping present evidence to the court, reading through caselaw to assist with motions, etc. Because I have a law degree, I can understand the why behind needing certain things done a certain way. I can lend my legal knowledge to the AUSA in arguing a certain position. (I once convinced an attorney to bring up a lack of standing issue to the judge — who then promptly advised we brief on the issue. We won.) And because I am tech savvy, I can put evidence together to more clearly guide the trial team to what they need, when they need it.
The best part, though? When that next move comes (in four short months), I can take a look at all the amazing work I’ve done and skills I’ve learned, and say, “Bring on the next one, I’m ready.” No need to worry about a license. No need to worry about yet another bar exam. I stay in the law, doing what I love, with the ones I love right near me.
Being a military spouse is HARD. Moving is HARD. But being a part of the legal community? Not hard in the slightest.
Heather DePremio is a Paralegal Specialist with the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California. She received her undergraduate degree from National University in 2000, and her J.D. from Northern Kentucky University Chase College of Law in 2006. Heather has been with the federal government since 2015. She is a Navy veteran, a military spouse, and a mother of two. When she isn’t knee-deep in the law, Heather can be found running half marathons and having exciting family adventures on their many, many moves across country.