Alternative Careers Feature: Andrea Alcabes, Executive Director, JCC & Brandon Simmons, Attorney, Utah Crime Victims Legal Clinic


What is your job title, and how would you summarize what you do?

Executive Director. I serve as the Chief Executive Officer of the JCC and am responsible for the operation of the agency. My responsibilities are managerial and representational and they include operations, program planning, strategic planning, evaluation and reporting, financial planning and monitoring, organizational development and human resources, fundraising, membership relations and public relations.

How did you find this job?

I served on the board of directors of the JCC and after our Executive Director left, I offered to serve as the Interim Director. I discovered that I loved what I was doing and applied for the permanent position.

What do you love about what you do?

I love immersing in the work of an organization that I feel passionate about, performing a service that adds something positive to people’s lives. I love planning a program, an event, a change in building use, a new opportunity and seeing it come to fruition.

What did you do before law school?

I worked as a community health aide for the Utah State Department of Health

When you came to law school, what did you think you wanted to do?

The only thing I knew that lawyers did was litigation and I assumed I would do that, hopefully making the world a better place for the downtrodden.

Did you ever practice law on behalf of clients? If you did, do you use that experience in your current work/does it help you in any way?

I practiced law for about 20 years working for Utah Legal Services, in a small general practice law firm and doing insurance defense litigation. I rely on my prior experience all the time. Much of my time is spent analyzing problems much as I analyzed legal cases to determine how to proceed. I read contracts. I review statues and regulations to determine if my organization complies with requirements. I have participated in administrative hearings, submitting written statements of my organization’s position and arguing our position before administrators and administrative law judges. I counsel my staff how to respond to various situations which arise. I rely on my knowledge and understanding of contract law, torts, tax law, administrative law, estate and gift law, employment law, secured transactions, constitutional law, criminal law, civil procedure, immigration law, you name it. I have also hired lawyers to represent my organization and I rely on my ability to discern and articulate the issues for which I am seeking their assistance.

 

Do you ever wish you were practicing law? Why or why not.

I don’t. What I experienced as a litigation attorney was stressful boredom.

What advice do you have for law students (class selection, job searching, life) Don’t assume that you are stuck if you don’t like practicing law. Learn what you can, particularly how to analyze problems and keep your mind open to new opportunities. You will find your legal skills to be invaluable in so many situations.

Brandon Simmons, Attorney, Utah Crime Victims Legal Clinic

What is your job title, and how would you summarize what you do?

I’m at staff attorney at the Utah Crime Victims Legal Clinic.  I provide legal representation for crime victims in criminal cases.  Victims have rights in criminal cases, and I work with criminal justice professionals, argue in court, and file motions to enforce those rights.

How did you find this job?

Networking!  Late in my 3L year, a friend of mine attended a lunch forum where Heidi Nestel (the director of the Crime Victims Legal Clinic) was speaking about crime victims’ rights.  The friend came back from the forum, told me about the topic, and said that it sounded like a good fit for me.  I called Heidi to learn more, found out that she was hiring, and scheduled an interview.

What do you love about what you do?

I love being able to help people through some of the most difficult times in their lives.  Crime victims have to navigate a complex and sometimes frustrating system, at the same time they are recovering from the trauma of being victimized.  I love being able to be part of the team, to really listen to their needs and interests, and help them figure out ways to interact effectively with the criminal justice system.  I also love the variety.  We’re a statewide legal clinic, and we handle all sorts of crimes, so there’s never a dull moment and not a lot of repetition.

What did you do before law school?

I worked at an elementary school as a reading tutor, a child advocate, and with the after-school program.

When you came to law school, what did you think you wanted to do?

When I came to law school, my goal was to use the law as a tool to help people without a voice, to even the playing field.  As I went through law school, my plan was to work as a Guardian ad Litem, and I did several related externships.  I was preparing for that when I found out about, and started doing what I do now (which is in many ways very similar).

What is it like to have a job outside the legal mainstream?

It’s both very interesting, and rather challenging, to have a somewhat non-traditional job.  I work as an attorney for a non-profit practicing a new and developing, somewhat narrow, area of law.  Sometimes it’s difficult to explain (even to other attorneys in the criminal justice system) what my role is, what I do, and how my job relates to theirs.  It can also be frustrating to regularly argue novel arguments that are sometimes not taken seriously simply because they are novel, and to argue on a somewhat regular basis whether I have standing.  At the same time, it’s fascinating to explore new ways of accomplishing things, to challenge traditional methods when there may be a better way.  I also really enjoy collaborating with professionals in similar fields (victim advocates, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and others).

What advice do you have for law students (class selection, job searching, life)

Three suggestions:

(1) Be sure to seek balance between your professional life and your personal life.  You’ll last a lot longer, and you’ll enjoy both parts of your life a lot more.  Cultivate friendships with both attorneys and non-attorneys.

(2) As you’re looking for a job, make sure a lot of other people know what you want to do, what really interests you.  If you have specific interests, and you let people know about them, you’re more likely to find something that fits if others are aware of what you’re looking for.

(3) Find a legal job that interests you.  You’ll be much more productive if you can really get excited about what you’re doing.