Graduate School

Donahue’s Advice regarding Law School

Every so often, One Thing after Another runs into Joe Donahue ’13—whether it be at Market Basket in Bedford, Alumni Weekend, or some other venue. Joe is in the middle of law school right now, and this blog thought it might be useful if he shared some well-considered advice that he extracted from his experiences.

Q: What is your current job (title and duties), and what led to your working there?

A: I have been working as a Legal Executive Assistant at Ropes & Gray LLP for the past year and a half. Before that, I worked at Boston College in an administrative role.

Q: Did you pursue a law job straight out of school, or did you think doing something else for a bit was a good idea? How did that work out?

A: After graduating from Saint A’s, I had two careers that I considered pursuing: one in higher education, the other in law. To help me decide which career I was best suited for, I applied to jobs in both of these fields. I worked in higher education for my first few years after graduation but eventually decided that my interests lay elsewhere, so I applied to the Suffolk University Law School’s Evening Program and was accepted. During my first semester at Suffolk, I was hired by Ropes & Gray where I have been able to get first-hand experience in corporate legal practice.

Q: How did the history department, history study, or specific SAC experiences prepare you for life after college? 

Written and oral communication skills, as well critical thinking and the ability to analyze, are essential tools used every day by law students. Some students develop these skills before law school while others develop them in their first year. Luckily, I was able to acquire all of these skills during my time at Saint A’s. My course of study as a history major required extensive critical thinking and analysis which I employ when I approach cases and hypotheticals in the classroom; I will continue to use them in my career as a lawyer.

Q: What are the two things students thinking about law school should know?

A: First, it’s not as scary as it sounds. One thing that I constantly heard while I was going through the application process was how difficult law school can be. The coursework is challenging, and mastering it imposes demands on your time and energy. However, like any course of study, it is manageable. Just as you found your routine in college, you will find it in law school. You learn how to approach exams and form study groups where, in my experience, you learn as much as you do in class.

Second, you don’t have to know exactly what you want to do with your law degree before you go to school. You will be exposed to many different areas of law while in law school, and your interests will likely evolve as you progress. Keep an open mind and be willing to explore areas that you hadn’t previously considered. If you think you want to be a lawyer, but aren’t sure, take a couple of years off from school to work. Many law students spend a few years in the workforce prior to applying to law school. Don’t think you have to apply right away.

Q: What are two things students thinking about law school should do to prepare themselves?

A: Work at a firm or in-house legal counsel’s office. Making a decision to go to law school is a serious financial commitment, so you ought to make sure that you want to be a lawyer before you go to school. Internships are a great way to experience legal work while you are at Saint A’s, and they can help shape your course of study. If you don’t think that you are ready to apply right out of school, taking a few years to work at a law firm or an in-house counsel’s office is a great way to help you decide if this is the career path for you. This time can also serve as a great way to get a better idea of the type of law that you will one day want to practice.

Also, study/take a LSAT prep course. The LSAT is as important a measuring stick, if not more, for law school admissions as your undergraduate grades. It is a challenging exam that shouldn’t be taken lightly, even by those who consider themselves to be good test-takers. Buy a practice book and take a prep course. They can be a bit pricey but both are worth the investment. Your performance on your LSAT impacts your acceptances and even potential scholarship offers, so it is worth your while to take test prep seriously.

Q: Do you still think about history (books, professors, lectures, experiences)?  Do you keep up with history in any way?

A: I stay current in the field of history by following the History Department’s blog and by reading biographies during school breaks. I recently completed William Manchester’s three-volume biography of Winston Churchill (The Last Lion) and have begun Robert Caro’s The Years of Lyndon Johnson. I enjoy finding time to indulge myself in the areas of history that I do not apply regularly in my coursework and career.

Michael McCue on Town Administration, Master’s Degrees, and Gingko Biloba Saplings

Michael McCue
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Avid Portraits readers may have noticed an entry in the Alumni News section about former history major Michael McCue ‘89.  The story piqued our interest, so One Thing After Another contacted Michael to learn more.

Q:  You are currently the Town Administrator in Rochester, Massachusetts. What does a Town Administrator do?

A: As the former Town Administrator in Avon and the current Town Administrator in Rochester, I supervise all aspects of the daily functioning of the community. This includes overseeing weekly expenditures and payroll, handling citizens’ concerns, and interacting with department heads as well as local, state and federal officials. No day is the same.

Q:  Recently, you arranged to have gingko biloba saplings planted in Avon through a United Nations Program.  The saplings were cuttings from a tree that survived the bombing of Hiroshima, Japan in 1945.  What made you want to bring those saplings to Avon?  What do they mean to you or the town?

A: I started an Arbor Day observation in the Town of Avon about four years ago to help the Town achieve designation as an Arbor Day Foundation “Tree City USA.” This included a partnership with National Grid to donate and plant trees in public spaces each spring. I was looking for 2014’s trees when I came across the ginkgo and learned of its hardiness for street-scapes. It was then I learned that there were 170 trees that had survived the Hiroshima bombing (which killed over 100,000 people) and that a UN-supported foundation existed that spreads the gingko saplings worldwide.  I reached out to them, struck up a friendship, and received 12 saplings this spring.  They come from a 250-year-old tree that was 1500 yards from the blast.

Those interested in reading more about Green Legacy and “A-bombed” trees can check out

Q:  Clearly trees matter to you!

A: I am an avid gardener and tree advocate (but not a “tree-hugger”). I ensured in a recent demolition of a building in Avon that a 40+ year-old apple tree on the grounds was spared.

Q:  What would you say to history majors thinking about careers–do you recommend your path of an MA in Public Administration?

A: I would strongly recommend seeking a graduate degree in Public Administration (or any advanced degree) as soon as one decides on that course. I went back to school almost ten years after graduating from St. A’s and feel that had I done so sooner, I would have been much better off. But then again, maybe I wasn’t ready to return to school. If one were to undertake the commitment to a graduate degree one must be ready to put in the effort (such courses are much more expensive) and perhaps I wasn’t at the right point for that.  I would stress that in choosing a program a student find one that focuses on practical applications of what is learned and features instructors who have worked in the field.

Q:  What do you like to do when you aren’t working?  Is a Town Administrator ever able to just watch his kid play baseball or enjoy a local restaurant,or do you always have to be ready to answer work related questions when you are in town?

A: Actually, I was writing freelance history articles for American and Canadian history magazines like Military History and American History, as well as several newspapers in both countries. I also took several years, prior to the online sites, to research my family tree back to the Mayflower and beyond. However, the role of Town Administrator is quite demanding, requiring a few night meetings each week.   That said, I always found the time to attend my son’s baseball games and cub scout meetings (he doesn’t do either any more) and currently my daughter’s soccer games.

I do not live in the town in which I work. It is not a requirement, though there are a few towns that do (including Mansfield, the town in which I currently live). I am not a big fan of residency requirements, for the reasons to which you allude above.

Ewald Gathers Intelligence on the London School of Economics

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A History major from Smithtown, NY, Jessica Ewald ’12 played varsity soccer for Saint Anselm College and apparently caught the intelligence analysis bug while she was here (or is that a secret?). Jessica just completed an MA in International History at the London School of Economics. The History Department has stayed in touch with Jessica, and not long ago, One Thing after Another asked her about her experiences.

Q: You’re from NY. What was it like to come to college in New England? What brought you to St. A’s?

A: When I was applying to colleges, I knew that I wanted a small, liberal arts school in New England with high academic standards, so Saint A’s suited me perfectly.  I’ve always liked the region – the scenery, the history, and the people. Saint A’s couldn’t have been a better fit for me.

Q: Tell me something memorable about one of your classes at St. A’s (doesn’t have to be history!).

A: The most memorable history class that I took was Professor Pajakowski’s reading seminar on Nazi Germany.  World War II is my favorite time period, and being able to study this particular aspect of the period was incredibly fascinating.  I’ve been able to apply much of what I learned in this class to my studies during my semester abroad, as well as during my time here at the London School of Economics.

Q: You played soccer, right? How did you balance athletics and academics? What advice would you give to other student athletes?

A: I found it quite easy to balance my time between soccer and schoolwork because it was something that I had been doing for as long as I can remember.  I was particularly close with a well-known soccer trainer on Long Island who constantly reminded his players that, in playing soccer in college, we would be “student-athletes,” not “athletic students.”  School always came first, and while I have always placed a premium on academics, those exact words were never far from my mind.  I think that playing varsity soccer actually made me a better student in that I had to make sure to meet deadlines with time to spare as we did travel a fair amount, sometimes even taking weekend trips.  Likewise, knowing that I was caught up on assignments made it easier to give my undivided attention to soccer when I was out on the field, so it was a win-win.

Also, I was invited to join the Honors Program but was unsure if I could handle both the soccer schedule and the demands of the Honors work.  I spoke with Dean Cronin during the summer advising session, and he encouraged me to play soccer and be part of the Honors program because college was about my entire experience, in and out of the classroom.  He was right–I graduated Magna Cum Laude.

The best advice I have to offer other student athletes is to keep the  foregoing thought in mind: you are “student-athletes.”  School must always come first.  In doing so, you’ll find that you will become a better student and a better athlete.

Q: What drew you to history? Did you start out as a history major? If not, when did you declare and why? Tell me something memorable that you read in a history class.

A: I loved math in high school.  In fact, I remember going back to visit my former Calculus teacher who I studied with for three years, and he was shocked that I didn’t choose to major in the subject!  The history department at my high school presented the material in an intellectually stimulating fashion which sparked my interest.

There was never a doubt in my mind that I would stay with history as my specialty.  It is a huge field and offers more opportunities than most other areas of study.  I have found that, as a history student, I have developed skills that I may not have acquired in pursuing another subject.  Critical thinking, as well as analytical and research skills, allow history students to explore a great variety of topics, allowing them to pursue endless opportunities and intellectual endeavors.

For me, the most memorable book I read was assigned here at the LSE, Tapping Hitler’s Generals: Transcripts of Secret Conversations, 1942-45, written by Sönke Neitzel.  I read this work for my Secret Intelligence class, taught by Professor Neitzel himself.  As I’ve mentioned, World War II is my favorite time period to study, and having taken Professor Pajakowski’s seminar and studying Nazi Germany more closely, Professor Neitzel’s book was of particular interest.  It discusses the British monitoring of conversations among German prisoners of war at Trent Park, and just how much knowledge about the Holocaust British intelligence was able to acquire.  It was interesting to learn what MI6 was able to learn, and then to discuss in class whether or not they should have acted on this knowledge.

Q: Briefly tell me something about your semester abroad.

A: I studied in Salzburg, Austria in the spring of 2011.  I wanted to study in Central Europe because of my deep interest in modern European history, particularly the World War II and Cold War periods.

My time in Salzburg changed my life.  I was able to travel to nine different countries and see things that I had only previously read about in textbooks.  What struck me most during my four-month stay was the overall value placed on history in Europe.  History was ever-present in every city I went to, in one way or another.  Cities like Rome and Athens preserve the ancient ruins, while cities such as Paris and Barcelona revere the arts and architecture of some of the greatest creative minds.  War memorials are widespread in London, Vienna, Prague, and southern Germany.  Concentration camps are frequented by thousands each and every day.  Granted, the United States is young compared to these European countries, but the way in which Europe keeps history alive is truly astounding.  Had I not studied abroad as a junior, I’m not sure that I would have found myself at the LSE.

Q: Tell me about the program at LSE. What are you learning? Can you briefly tell me about your classes at St. A’s prepared you for graduate school? How is grad school different? Any ideas about what you’ll do when you are done?

A: I am currently completing my Masters in International History at the London School of Economics.  I am taking courses in Crisis Decision-Making in War and Peace (1914-2003), Secret Intelligence in the Twentieth Century, and Presidents, Public Opinion, and Foreign Policy from Roosevelt to Reagan (1933-1989).  The international history department here is geared heavily towards the Cold War period – some of the professors at the LSE are the most renowned historians in the field.  It is a great privilege to be able to study with these individuals and read their publications.

Saint A’s prepared me well for graduate school.  As the years went by, I fine-tuned my research and writing skills, as well as my critical and analytical thinking.  I also developed more confidence in my thoughts and seminar contributions, which has been tremendously beneficial in my classes at the LSE.

Yet, on the other hand, graduate school is quite different from undergrad–especially in the United Kingdom.  Essentially, it is an independent study system.  The syllabus for each class lists a number of books, and we are expected to come to class prepared for discussion.  When I am not in the classroom, I am in the library.  It is also different in that each term we are assigned a non-assessed essay in each class, and only have one exam per class, which takes place in the summer term.  100% of my grade will come from that exam.  I also have to write a dissertation, which is comparable in length to an undergraduate senior thesis.

Q: How do you like living in London? What do you like most?

A: I love living abroad, and can’t think of a better city to study in than London.  I find that it is very similar to New York City in a number of ways–busy streets, crowded sidewalks, and the “on-the-go” lifestyle.

What I do find to be unique about this city is the respect for and awareness of history and culture.  Many of the museums here are free, and those that are not offer student discounts – a feature not commonly found in the States.  I also love that war memorials can be found throughout the city, and there is a small church not far from the LSE that was bombed during the Second World War and still has the markings.  “Remembrance Sunday” is a huge deal here, and some people wear poppies year-round to honor those who served Great Britain in the First and Second World Wars.  Perhaps people are more aware of history since Britain was directly impacted; I admire their respect and reverence.

I also love the international feel of Central London.  I don’t hear as much English during the day as most people think I do – there are over 140 different countries represented at the LSE.  Even when I am not on campus, I hear so many different languages on my fifteen-minute walk to school every day and that always amazes me!