We asked Kathleen M. Mullin, a highly qualified legal expert with the United States Navy Defense Counsel Assistant Program and Navy JAG Corp., what has inspired and motivated her throughout her career. This author spotlight gives a glimpse into her passion for law and what brought her to where she is today.
What or who motivated you to study law?
[KMM] My path to studying law is was somewhat unique in that I knew I wanted to be a lawyer from when I was very young. I didn’t know a single lawyer, but, from an early age, I had a deep sense of equity. I knew that I wanted to learn how to make the world more equitable and fair, particularly for those with fewer opportunities. I was one of those kids, and I saw the law as a way to stand shoulder to shoulder with folks whose lives were far more luxurious than mine.
Did you have a favorite professor in law school? If so, who was the person and what made them stand out?
[KMM] One of the great strokes of fortune in my life was being accepted to Boston University School of Law. As an undergrad at BU, I walked by the Law Tower many times, and when my acceptance letter came, I was over the moon. My BU Law degree has opened many doors for me. In my studies, I had the privilege to be in class with renowned legal scholar and lawyer Archibald Cox. By then, Professor Cox was well into retirement, and taught with great enthusiasm. I struggled to write multiple drafts of what turned out to be a 90-page paper on Privacy and First Amendment, and with each draft, I learned so much from Professor Cox. My critical thinking skills were sharpened, and my writing became crisp. He was patient and kind, and to this day, I have hanging on my office wall the letter he sent upon receiving and grading the completed draft of my tome. It begins “I read your paper on Individual Privacy and the First Amendment with interest and pleasure…”I will forever think of him with great fondness.
What law school course did you enjoy the most?
[KMM] To be honest, I wasn’t sure I enjoyed many of them at all! Not knowing any lawyers, I didn’t really know what I was getting into. Then, as I began my third and final year, possessed of the fear that I had made a terrible mistake, I enrolled in the criminal clinic at BU. In this class, not only did I study criminal law and procedure, but I was assigned to represent actual clients in Boston city court! It was the pivotal moment in my law school career–as soon I as went to court the first time, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my law degree.
What are your primary areas of writing and teaching? What fascinates you about these areas of law?
[KMM] Both my 30 years of practice, and 13 years of teaching have been focused on criminal defense. In recent years, my research interests have turned to issues of mass incarceration and restorative justice. Our current system of retributive justice (where we lock people up for as long as we possibly can) is out of sync with the rest of the civilized world, deeply flawed, and unsustainable. I am committed to preserving individual rights in the criminal justice system, and to advancing more restorative practices for those who violate the law.
Do (or did) you have a mentor, or someone that has inspired or encouraged you in your writing or teaching?
[KMM] Making the jump from practice to teaching has been challenging and inspiring. When I was the head of the Criminal Justice Program at the University of St. Joseph in West Hartford, CT, I had the chance to work with, learn from, and observe many fine, career scholars. It was there I met the most persuasive professor have ever worked with, Tracey-Anne Robinson. Professor Robinson’s class were a powerful mix of experiential and lecture format, with deep engagement by her students. It is something I strive to emulate in my own classes. Teaching in the military presents particular challenges, but there are many opportunities for a civilian attorney to deliver training which excites and motivates, and that is what I work for every day.
What motivated you to write a textbook?
[KMM] I was approached by a business partner to collaborate on the book. It was an enormous project, but a labor of love. Being able to compile my 30 years of bare knuckled, hard knocks trial tips, and insider tricks into a textbook to help law students and lawyers become more confident in a courtroom is dream come true. I truly hope the book encourages more lawyers to take their cases to the jury.
What has been the most influential or pivotal moment in your career?
[KMM] My career has been nothing short of amazing. It has been filled with twists and turns, success and some failure. I have been a public defender, television talking head, private hired gun personal injury lawyer, matrimonial attorney, CEO of two legal service non-profit organizations, full time professor, and now expert trial consultant for the US Navy. It has all been more than I could ever have dreamed for myself!
What changes in legal education excite you?
[KMM] The change in legal education toward experiential learning is very exciting. Lots of long-in-the-tooth lawyers joke that law school doesn’t teach you anything about practicing law, and they used to be right. The shift toward mandatory experiential learning, and mandatory public service hours for lawyers, means graduates will be better prepared to practice law when they graduate and can begin to add value and change lives on day one.
What advice do you have for today’s law students?
[KMM] The opportunity to attend law school is rare, and life changing. Learning to “think like a lawyer" positions you to change lives, for the better. In every community in this country, there is someone others refer to as “Counselor." Don’t take that lightly. It is the job of every lawyer to occupy a place of trust in their community, and to use the skills taught in law school to guide, counsel, and when necessary, fight for others. We are guardians of individual liberties, and enforcers of protocol, rules, and laws for those who would otherwise be trodden over. Learn your craft well, study hard, and when you go out in to the world, work long hours to do good. Leave the place better than you found it.
How do you hope to be remembered by your students or law school?
[KMM] As someone who cared about the law, about the lawyers, and about the clients. I am passionate about what I do, but I try not to take myself too seriously. I am just a kid who came from little and has made a good life using my law degree. I sometimes still feel like “if they find out who I really am….they are gonna kick me outta this club! “I hope I am remembered as smart, kind, good natured, and generous with my knowledge and time.
What are your interests outside of law?
[KMM] I love to cook, and I am always trying out new recipes. I also spend a lot of time with my dog and traveling.
Kathleen M. Mullin is the author of the new Wolters Kluwer coursebook, Advocacy Excellence: The Jury Trial.