Five of Mitchell Hamline’s top leaders are alumnae, drawing on their experiences and sense of connection to guide their work with students
By Allison Burke
As the alumni relations officer, I often have occasion to feel proud of the work our graduates are doing, as we have alumni excelling across practice areas and industries. We also have a good number of alumni on the faculty and staff at Mitchell Hamline. Five of our school’s key leaders are women who attended one of our legacy schools.
At a time when many institutions are foundering in the face of all the challenges COVID-19 presents, Mitchell Hamline is strong this fall—and in no small part due to the contributions of these five women and their teams. This fall, thanks to our admissions office, our entering class of 406 is the largest in our school’s history. Our bar passage rate for the July 2020 administration of the exam was 87.21%, up from 78.4% in 2019, demonstrating the enormous value our academic excellence team brings to our students. Our career and professional development office’s latest employment report showed nearly 95% of 2019 graduates were engaged in meaningful work or full-time advanced degree studies, the highest rate in Mitchell Hamline’s five years. Our student services office and library have been leading our community through this strange time, going above and beyond to provide students the support they need. The library has reopened with an eye to safety and the access to quiet study space that is so critical to students. Student services has worked tirelessly to provide our students connection, support, and recognition with creativity and commitment through this challenging time.
Beyond these impressive achievements, the law school benefits from the dedication that comes from these women having a personal tie to Mitchell Hamline. In talking with each of them, I learned something new about what the law school means to them. Many of them had non-traditional paths to law school, as so many of our students do, and all of them have a perspective that guides them in working with our students with empathy and pride.
Over the past nine months, I’ve served the development and alumni relations department as the interim representative on the administrative team, and one of the great gifts of that experience is seeing the care and intention that all of our leaders bring to their work. It is especially meaningful to me to know that so many of the people at that table were once students of ours and are now talented professionals devoting their careers to leading the school.
How does your perspective as a graduate of Mitchell Hamline affect the way you recruit students and evaluate their applications?
Annie: In recruiting new students, you do your best job when you’re being empathetic—remembering what it felt like. That is easy for me. That process was impactful for me, maybe even more than the undergraduate experience. I was a non-traditional law student. Going to law school was much more intentional than the undergraduate experience.
We wrote letters to all the deposited students when we sent them their welcome gift. So often I’d write something like, “This is such an exciting time—and I hope in the midst of the uncertainty of this moment, you’re holding on to the excitement of starting law school.” I meant it with all of my heart. I remember both how scary and exciting it was.
What makes you proud of our students?
Annie: What makes me most proud of our students is their resilience. Right now, resilience of course—in all the ways that people need it in order to survive in this world it seems. But there is always a need for our students, often non-traditional students, to have stamina and resilience.
Lynn: They are incredibly resilient. The highlight of my professional life is sitting with someone in struggle and seeing them come through the other side. I have the privilege of reading names at commencement, and when they come across the stage, there is often a private moment between us. It can happen almost imperceptibly—in a wink, in a nod, to say “I know your story, and I know how hard you worked to get here.”
Dena: Our students lead very full lives between work, family, service—and they still are also able to dedicate the time to earning a J.D. They are eager and hungry to learn, and they are hard-working.
Lisa: That’s an easy one. It is so cool to me to see how dedicated people are. They’ve got a goal in mind, and they do whatever they need to do to get there.
Leanne: I’m proud of their energy, thoughtfulness, and drive to make the profession better. When I went through law school, I didn’t have in mind that whatever I was going to do as one individual person would influence the profession as a whole. I see in our students a want to make this a better place—for clients, for attorneys. They think differently and critically about the role that lawyers can play in society. That is extraordinary.
How does your perspective as an alum shape the way you see our students as they go through their experience at the law school?
Lynn: My experience as an alum helps me to empathize with the student experience in that we all face challenges, and we all face decisions that we have to make. As a student, I was allowed to make the decisions that made the most sense for me personally—I wasn’t forced to fit any sort of mold. I was free to follow my own path, so everything I try to offer our students is reflective of that lived experience. I try to stay humble enough to recognize that I don’t know what everyone’s path is—but I encourage them to explore it. It helps to know there is a system in place to support that kind of curiosity.
Dena: I’ve had some of their professors, which helps me help them. I feel a kinship with them—I’ve been in their shoes. They’re my people.
What is the most gratifying to you about getting to work with our alumni in your capacity at Mitchell Hamline?
Lisa: A lot of alumni call the library. We always try to figure out the best resource for them. If we don’t have what they need, we’ll help them find it. My favorite thing is when I’ve helped someone with research, and they call back to let me know how things turned out. Yesterday I had a call back from an alum who I’d talked to a couple of weeks ago. She told me she’d argued her case, and the judge had asked her to write a brief. We discussed her next steps and the resources that might help. It was gratifying to hear how things had gone.
Leanne: I love watching and supporting our alumni as they write the stories of their professional lives. It is an amazing privilege to help them get started, and I am awestruck in the moments when they return to the law school not just for continued support in their own professional development but also to provide support to the next generation of lawyers.
Allison Burke ’09 (WMCL) is alumni and donor relations officer at Mitchell Hamline. This article appeared in Mitchell Hamline’s Winter 2020 Magazine.