Hannalore Burns Merritt
Class of 2009
Associate Attorney at Waller, Smith & Palmer, P.C. (New London, Connecticut)
What did you do before law school, and what led you to pursue a law degree?
During my second year at Penn State, I participated in my first student teaching experience as an education major. Through that process I met children who needed support beyond what they could get from their schools — they needed advocacy in the legal system because of their home and life situations. I resolved to learn more about the law and how to assist those who cannot help themselves.
Following my undergraduate degree, I had the opportunity to study law in Germany as a Fulbright Fellow. I shadowed an attorney and a District Court judge for a year, learning about representation, procedure, and ethics. The fellowship allowed me to see an entirely different legal system in action and to learn about various approaches to law and justice. Inspired by these experiences, I applied to Seattle University School of Law to continue my journey to become an advocate.
What law school experiences helped you in establishing your career?
As a Navy wife, I have always known that the possibility of multiple moves to different states would present me with a unique challenge in my career. The prospect of multiple bar exams and job searches every few years is a reality for military spouses, so I knew going into law school that I would have to make myself a competitive and desirable applicant, no matter where I was applying.
Seattle University School of Law touts the top legal writing program in the country, and I am living proof that the program is nationally recognized. My first job out of law school was a clerkship in the Connecticut judicial system, and when I went to interview for the position the director of the program had brochures about the legal writing program on her desk. The extensive legal writing and research classes offered have served me well through three years of clerkships and now as an associate at a law firm. The abilities to effectively research and write are skills that traverse jobs, jurisdictions, and even states.
The other experience that was formative to my career was involvement in organizations. The various clubs and activities at the law school taught me about networking and made me comfortable engaging with other attorneys and legal professionals. The opportunity to exercise these skills during law school was instrumental to being able to use them in my career.
What advice would you give to prospective or current students?
My best advice to prospective and current students is to take advantage of the resources at the school and the opportunity to engage with the faculty. Never again will you find the incredible amount of concentrated legal knowledge and advice that there is in Sullivan Hall — soak in as much as you can before you enter "the real world."