June 18, 2009

Practical Activism

Service learning at Lafayette and job at private equity fund lead to law school and improving opportunities for women — by Rachel Gallagher ’07

Rachel Gallagher ’07 graduated with honors with a self-designed major in equality and justice. A member of the Phi Beta Kappa academic honor society, she later presented her honors research on the link between maternal health and a mother’s ability to pursue higher education at the Association for Research on Mothering Conference in October in Toronto. Previously, she presented a workshop at the National Women’s Studies Association Conference in Oakland, Calif. As president of the Women’s Law Caucus at Rutgers University School of Law-Camden, I work with other executive board members to improve opportunities for women at our school and in our community. The Women’s Law Caucus has given me a forum to continue growing as an activist, a journey I began at Lafayette.

Going to school in a place like Camden, N.J., is rich with opportunities to serve. Working with this organization has been my outlet to give back to the people who live here. We are working on an initiative to encourage networking through community service events, inviting alumni to join us on a variety of projects, and building students’ communities and professional relationships side by side.

In my time at Lafayette, I was deeply committed to service learning in women’s studies. Working with Professor [Debbie] Byrd, I participated in research opportunities, conference presentations, and grassroots activism. Without those experiences I wouldn’t be who I am today — confident in my principles and confident in the court room. Lafayette provided opportunities and an advantage as a small, liberal arts school. The Office of Career Services was especially helpful during my law school application process.

Context was the first private equity fund of its kind. Litigation funding is common in the personal injury sector, but not in the corporate context; we were one of only two commercial litigation funding options in the entire U.S. at the time. This created exciting challenges. Because it was a start-up company, I was encouraged to take on as much responsibility as I could handle. In typical administrative positions, you don’t get to see much of the action, but at Context I was a member of a small team working for the same goal. I often sat in on strategic planning sessions and worked closely with clients and investors. Thankfully, my education at Lafayette trained me to persist when searching for solutions, which made me an asset to the company. In addition, by working alongside professors, administrators, and the Easton community, I was prepared to be both an effective communicator and a confident researcher, critical skills I use every day.

Although Context Balance no longer exists, due in large part to the economy, it was a great stepping stone. When I first took the job, I had no idea that one of my supervisors was the dean of admissions at Rutgers University School of Law-Camden. Only a few months after I began working with her, she took me aside and asked if I was interested in law school. I explained that I had applied the year before but did not receive acceptances from the schools I was really interested in attending, including Rutgers. She encouraged me to reapply, and at the office holiday party a few months later she informed me that I had been accepted.

Opportunities come in all sorts of packaging and you just have to be patient sometimes. Spending a year getting professional experience made all the difference in my legal education, and yet taking that year off from school was a decision I struggled with after graduation from Lafayette.

Lafayette exposed me to a wide variety of internship opportunities. Though I participated mostly in those within the legal and political realms, I am proof that with decent grades and a degree from Lafayette, you can pursue any career.

I found my job through a legal recruiter, but an ’06 alum suggested I apply for the position. Having someone in the Lafayette network who had just experienced the job-search process provided direction on knowing what job databases to use, helpful suggestions on my resume, and dependable emotional support. I definitely felt that Lafayette supported me while I planned for that scary thought called “after graduation.”

Lafayette was an integral partner in helping me develop both professionally and personally. I miss it dearly. Fortunately, the best thing about Lafayette is that your connections stay strong after graduation; I am still as connected to the community as an alumna as I was as a student.

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