Steffanie Garrett, W&M Law Class of 1991
Stephanie Garrett arrived at William & Mary Law School in 1988, after graduating from Smith College with a Bachelor of Arts in French and Government. During her time at the College, Garrett participated in student government and served as the Editor-in-Chief of the law school’s newspaper, “The Advocate.”
After graduating in 1991 from William & Mary Law School, Garrett served as an Assistant State’s Attorney in Chicago and later joined a private law firm as a litigator. Garrett then travelled to Cambodia to research the Khmer Rouge Tribunal with the United Nations. She currently works with the City of Chicago’s Law Department in public interest law.
In her interview, Garrett recalls that William & Mary’s rich history and beauty drew her to apply. She emphasizes that the law school’s social scene and extracurricular opportunities created a strong sense of community. While she remembers her fellow law students as ambitious and “vicious,” there was no feeling of competition between peers. Writing for “the Advocate” gave Garrett the opportunity to speak out on issues relating to HIV/AIDs and campus sexual assault during her time at the College. After graduation, Garrett served as a litigator at a private law firm. There, she emphasizes that her work in management and on pro bono cases allowed her to make a true “difference” in people’s lives. Garrett describes her time with the United Nations as a legal officer at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, where she worked on investigating crimes against humanity and war crimes. There, the experience she received working with a team on original source documents proved invaluable and deeply enriched her career as a lawyer. She credits her overall love for the law to William & Mary’s emphasis on intellectual honesty and critical thinking.The College gave its students, especially women, the platform to voice their opinions and create change. This experience remains formative for Garrett and has deeply influenced her worldview.
William & Mary
Interviewee: Steffanie Garrett
Interviewer: Carmen Bolt
Interview Date: June 2, 2018
Carmen: My name is Carmen Bolt. I’m the oral historian at William and Mary. It’s currently around 1:00 p.m. on June 2, 2018. I’m sitting in the Kimpton Hotel Allegro in Chicago, Illinois with Steffanie, Steffanie Garrett, School of Law, Class of 1991.
So, can you at first start by telling me the date and place of your birth, and what years you attended William and Mary?
Steffanie: Sure, I was born in Dekalb, Illinois on August 27, 1966. And I attended William and Mary from 1988 to 1991.
Carmen: Wonderful. And can you tell me a little bit about where and how you were raised? Some about your family?
Steffanie: Sure, I was born in Dekalb, because at the time, my father was in graduate school and was teaching at Northern Illinois. Then we lived in North Shore Chicago until right after I started middle school in 6th grade. And then we moved just north of Milwaukee. And so, I was in Milwaukee for middle school and high school, and then went east for college, and then stayed east for law school.
Carmen: Okay, great. And did you have a large family, or were you an only child? What was that like?
Steffanie: I have two younger sisters.
Steffanie: So, I’m the oldest of three girls.
Carmen: Okay, great. And so, when did you first thinking about college?
Steffanie: I just – in my family it was always sort of an assumption that you were going to at least college, if not graduate school.
Carmen: And did you know what you wanted to study before you went into college?
Steffanie: So, I knew I wanted to be a lawyer in 6th grade. I woke up one day and decided that that’s how I was going to save the world. I was going to public interest trial work. And that’s what I wanted to do. So, in college, I ended up majoring in French and Government, just because I liked it, and I knew I was going to law school. So, it was always sort of a given thing that that was going to be the next step.
Carmen: And how did William and Mary become that law school. So, how did it get on our radar?
Steffanie: So, I had gone east for college. Wanted to stay east. Did not want a big city, but I wanted a college town and a college community, and I loved the history of William and Mary. Loved that it was a small school. I loved the history, kind of a citizen lawyer concept with getting back to society, so it just really felt like a good fit.
Carmen: Yeah, sure.
0:01:59.3 And had you gone to Williamsburg before that point, before you attended graduate school?
Steffanie: I had never been to Williamsburg. So, if you grow up, I think, outside of the east coast, you never do that Williamsburg trip.
Steffanie: My kids have, obviously, because they’ve come back with me, for reunions. But, no, I’d never been, until law school.
Carmen: So, you knew you wanted to stay east, and you started looking at law schools. And how did William and Mary, in particular kind of rise up as the place to go?
Steffanie: So, I narrowed it down by just kind of demographics. So, east coast, not too far south, not big city, smaller class size. That was one of the schools that sort of popped up. And then, as I just started looking more, it just felt like a better fit, just because, I think the feel, and the size of the school and location and history.
Carmen: Yeah. Okay. And can you tell me what your memories are of that first moment, kind of stepping into Williamsburg for the very first time? What it looked like, smelled like, felt like?
Steffanie: Yeah, so it would have been – so, I did not visit before I started, just because I didn’t have time. I was still in college and finishing up, and didn’t have the chance to go down there.
0:03:00.9 So, would have been there either end of August, beginning of September whenever, right before classes started. No, actually, that’s not true. I went – I spent the summer there. So, after I graduated, I went down on my own before summer started, to get an apartment, and because I was going to spend the summer there and was going to work. So, it would have been right after graduation, so my parents and sisters came out for graduation--I was at Massachusetts--and they must have flown back with a bunch of my stuff, or we shipped my stuff back, and I went – took the train down. They flew and took a train down in the summer. So, June, May, June? Got an apartment when I got there; got a job that I got for the summer. I was just going to wait tables, and then went home and then came back.
0:04:00.0 So, it’s beautiful – well, it’s beautiful year-round, but it was beautiful, kind of early summer. Everything was blooming. It wasn’t in the midst of the kind of crazy humid heat, which I remember from the rest of that summer there.
Steffanie: Stepping outside and just being drenched in sweat, it was so hot. Yes, so I remember it being beautiful. I remember it being – I mean the campus is just sort of serenely gorgeous. So, my college campus is officially an arboretum, so Olmsted actually designed my college campus, and the very New England, very beautiful, very sort of diverse, but in a very planned way. And William and Mary to me felt very beautiful, but in a very different way. It’s much more sort of uniformly just green. The buildings are all much more uniform.
0:04:59.7 Obviously, it’s all that colonial brick, where it’s a little more eclectic where I’d been. Had kind of a mix of the sort of eras. Some very traditional late 1800s, Victorian, and then some sort of modern. Much more unified proportioned campus, I think. So, that’s what sort of struck me. It’s really kind of calming and serene and lovely.
Carmen: And, so you knew – you were there for law school; you knew you wanted to study law. Were you on a certain path, like a certain track in law school? Did you know what you wanted to do with the law at that point?
Steffanie: So, I went in thinking I wanted to be a public interest trial lawyer. That to me is how you made a difference in the world. The family that I grew up in was very focused on public service, and giving back to the community, my parents had both worked in areas that were really involved in community service, and trying to make a difference.
0:05:59.8 And then, even when their paid jobs no longer were that, they still did a lot of volunteer work. So, my sisters and I grew up with that. So, I knew I wanted to do public interest trial work, which in a way maybe made it easier, because I just did what I was interested in, figuring I already had an angle, instead of trying to figure it out along the way.
Carmen: Yeah. I can see that. So, as a student of the law school, how much was your experience integrated with undergraduate experience? Was there a lot of interaction between the undergraduate population and the graduate population?
Steffanie: Not much for me. I think maybe for students that had gone there undergrad that still had friends on campus, and had been there for four years. For us, the law school is physically enough apart. I mean, it’s still close, and we were – we’d go downtown to Dog Street all the time, but I maybe was in Swem once, for something with computers, I think. I needed some access to something that we couldn’t get elsewhere.
Steffanie: I mean, I walked around, I remember wandering around campus with friends. We would go to football games, partly because the weather was nice for most of the year, and it was an excuse to do something fun on a weekend. Sort of be outside. I don’t know how much we paid attention to the games, actually.
So, I was not a lot. My first year, I had roommates who had just finished undergrad there, and were doing other graduate programs. And so, they still had a lot of friends that were around. Through them I got to meet some people, but otherwise, it was really, mainly just kind of law school.
Carmen: Okay. So, who were some notable professors or mentors that you had during law school that were particularly impactful?
Steffanie: I don’t know if there’s any professor in particular. For me, it was more of the community and the friends, I think. Sort of the peer group and the support and the base, that way.
0:07:59.2 And the professors were all fantastic. I loved my classes, for the most part. Some more than others, but, I think for me, it really was more the community than it was any particular professor. There’s some I stayed in touch with post, so, Jane Berner, who actually spent a lot of time in Chicago, before she ended up in law school. I’d gotten to know her there, and we still kept in touch. And there’s a group in Chicago that she’s still in pretty close contact with. It’s probably not the greatest answer for that.
Carmen: No –
Steffanie: For me it was really more the, kind of the other students and friend base. You know, I remember the professors there being really engaged and excited about what they were teaching, making it interesting, but my memories are more of classes that I found pretty interesting.
Carmen: That makes sense. So, Paul Verkuil was president during your time as a student, and I like to ask this of all William and Mary alum, even undergraduate or graduate.
0:09:02.2 Do you have any memories of his presidency, just given the small size of the school and the proximity of administrative individuals?
Steffanie: No. Much more the Dean of the Law School; it was Tim Sullivan.
Steffanie: Who was also my contracts professor, so –
Carmen: Sure –
Steffanie: But no. I don’t even know if I ever - must have seen him at some point, I can’t – I don’t think I ever met him, and I don’t think I ever had any interaction with him.
Carmen: Okay. So, what about Tim Sullivan, who you did have close proximity with him. Any memories of him?
Steffanie: So, it’s funny, because I actually just ended up in a completely different context, seeing him just this last, past winter, which it was sort of fun to catch up. So, yeah, so he was my contracts professor. He was very accessible, although I do remember – so I’d gone to a pretty small college that was very open about being able to talk to the president and sort of upper administration. I remember wanting to talk to him – I don’t remember what the issue was, but it might have been – I worked for the school paper. And I ended up being the editor.
0:10:02.3 And once it had something to do with some article for the paper, and I went in to talk to him, and I remember whoever was sort of his administrative assistant, or chief of staff, wanting to know why I wanted to talk to him. And at the time, it sort of threw me, because we never had to do that. It’s like, just say I needed to go and talk to the president and just set up a time to go and talk to the president. So, it struck me as odd that I actually had to explain why I needed to go and talk to the Dean. But no, other than that, he was very accessible. He was around all the time, obviously, because it’s a small school, just geographically, never mind the size of the student body, and he’s my contracts professor, so I saw him all the time.
Steffanie: And I think he was – I think he really enjoyed being a professor, being Dean, and I think he really liked the interaction with the student.
Carmen: So, what are some favorite memories you have of your time at law school. What did you enjoy doing? What was sort of your social environment there?
Steffanie: More socially than academically?
Carmen: Oh, I would say both. Either/or.
Steffanie: So, start with academically. So, I loved – and I knew this going in. I loved the constitutional law classes. We all had to take Com Law the first year, and then I know I took a couple classes after, on the 1st Amendment. We had one third-year – we broke up into groups, and got to write as if we were Supreme Court Justices, and were writing decisions on – really, really intellectual exercises, but also really fun. It gave you the opportunity to not only think things through, methodically, which is obviously what we were doing in law school, anyway, but with more of a context of kind of the context that cases have, that I don’t know that you necessarily get when you’re in regular law classes, just sort of learning whatever the curriculum is. So, that was probably my favorite part.
0:11:59.8 In second and third year, we were able to take a lot more seminar programs, and more sort of essay writing than just whatever the text book was. Exams at the end, and that, for me has always been a much more interesting way to study.
Steffanie: I’ve always enjoyed it like at college. It’s just much more interesting in law school to do that. I did a lot with the law school, in terms of extra-curricular. So, a lot of my memories are probably tied up in that. A lot of friends through that. It’s a small enough place that if you were social, you certainly knew everybody, anyway. It’d be kind of one party, and everybody would go. Which was a really nice way to do it, and I really – to me that was really part of what I think made it so special, was that students were really close. They obviously were vicious and focused on you know, doing well, and having legal careers, for the most part.
0:13:02.0 But people were really open. There wasn’t a competitiveness in the sense that you need to borrow notes from somebody, you wanted to kind of debrief after class. Everybody was really open and happy to do that. So, that’s really interwoven into my memories of all of it. And just a lot of the activities and the events. There was just such an overlap, I think, between what was social and what were extra-curricular activities in a way, because there wasn’t a lot else going on in Williamsburg. So, that just because the focus of everybody’s social life, which for me, I loved, because it was part of why I picked William and Mary in particular, is that I wanted, I wanted to be in a place that had kind of a campus life that we really felt like it was integrated with the students and the campus and the faculty. And so, to me, that was sort of all of it, together.
Steffanie: It’s hard to parse out the memories.
Steffanie: I loved all the activities I did. I wrote for the paper when I was the editor my third year.
Carmen: That was “The Advocate?”
Steffanie: That was “The Advocate” then. Yeah, and so a lot of my good friends, I was really close friends with the woman who had been the editor in chief immediately before me. Just sort of how I ended up being the editor in chief. And I love the tangible nature of – because then, we physically put the paper together.
Steffanie: It wasn’t done on a computer. We had the beginning of some of the software programs that, where we could start moving things around, but they were not so sophisticated. They really went back to a lot of actually cutting and pasting, and putting things together physically on the paper we typeset. Then I would drive it to the local newspaper that printed it out, and pick it up whenever it was, early the next morning, and bring it back to the law school, and distribute it. I loved the sort of contrast between being in school, not necessarily getting feedback on what you understood or didn’t understand.
0:15:05.0 Or how you were performing until maybe the end of the semester, but typically the end of the semester for an exam. And putting the paper together, and physically seeing it and having it in your hands, immediately, within 24 hours, I loved.
Steffanie: There were a lot of kind of crazy late nights, which I think there always are, anyway, putting papers together, but I love that. There was a really, for me, nice way to have something that was much more immediate.
Carmen: Yeah. The fruits of your labor, right there.
Steffanie: Yeah, right there. Just really tangible, sort of in front of you. So, I loved that. It was really fun. I was involved in student government, so I liked being part of the programming, and figuring what was going on with the student body, and what people wanted. What was working; what didn’t work, and working with the administration on issue, so that, to me was sort a nice way to feel like you were doing something, and making a difference.
Steffanie: Did a lot with public service fund, which does great work, still does great work. So, we’d have really fun fundraisers that we did for that. And it was also another, felt like there was a product that came out of it. It really helped and made a difference. And it was everything from funding student summer internships, which we did for students that were having jobs in the public service which weren’t going to pay at all. We’d give them a stipend. But we did things like, I remember I organized a – oh my God – clothing and sort of toiletry kind of drive for the women’s shelter in town. I remember we did something for the animal shelter in town. We had a food drive, collecting food. So, I loved it – stuff like that. It was kind of fun to put together and organize. And I did in court, but that was sort of more academic.
Steffanie: But yeah, for me, a lot of my memories are tied up with all those, all those activities.
Carmen: Sure. And for student government in particular, maybe even “The Advocate,” do you ever remember any specific event or causes you were trying to kind of make known, or push forward in student government and what the administrative response to that was?
Steffanie: So, the administrative response was always positive. Anything we did. I don’t ever remember there being anything negative. When I was editor of “The Advocate,” I had about – it came out, whatever every – every other month? I know it wasn’t weekly. And so, I had an editor’s column. And I sort of alternated between what, to me, was an important substantive issue and something that was just sort of light-hearted fun. Kind of, enjoy yourself while you can.
0:17:53.2 And so, I remember writing editorials: one on domestic violence; I did one – we had – a friend of mine – I think he was a class behind me, I don’t think he was two classes behind me – he was gay and was out. And it was not super-typical at the time. He’d actually gone there undergrad, and had been pretty open and pretty involved in activities on campus, undergrad, and not long into the schoolyear, somebody had written some really nasty graffiti in the men’s bathroom in the law school. And I remember writing an editorial about it, and he actually had asked me if he could submit a letter to the editor, which of course, I asked him - I agreed to have him do. And I remember my parents, because I would send the newspaper column--they were really proud of me, and I remember my father saying to me, “I can’t believe this happened now, and this happened in a law school.” It so threw him.
\ But I remember the administration really – nothing but supportive about any of that stuff. I remember that issue.
0:19:01.6 People were just starting to talk about AIDS. And I had actually spent, in college, I had spent my junior year in Geneva, Switzerland, and Europe had been much more at the forefront of sort of addressing it, and talking about it. And so, it had been much more sort of publicly discussed when I was in college, because being in Europe first, and coming back. People here were finally starting to talk about it, and it was just kind of being discussed in sort of the Southeast. So, I remember, and I don’t know if I did it through a public service fund, or I did through “The Advocate,” or I did it through student government, but I organized – there was an activist who was trying to raise awareness for HIV and AIDS in Norfolk or Newport News. Somewhere in the area. I remember I coordinated him coming in, and talking to people. And at the time, it was actually a much bigger deal than I thought it would be.
0:19:59.7 And I did it because I thought it was important, and I knew people were just starting to really discuss it, in a way. But had a much bigger impact on campus, and not in a bad way, but, people really hadn’t been thinking about it the way at the level I sort of thought people would be. Which I think is good, and it probably confirmed why it was important to have that happen.
And then, I remember writing, and this hit the news again sometime last year, which is why I thought about it again. During my second year in law school, there was an undergraduate woman who had gone public, because she’d been raped by somebody she knew. I don’t if they’d been dating. It might have been after one date. And the local paper had picked it up, and the then-editor of “The Advocate” who I was good friends with had seen the article, and we talked about it, thought this was something really important, that we should cover.
0:20:57.9 So, I, along with one of our reporters talked to her. We actually interviewed her, so I’m – Dog Street, it’s gone now, but there used to be like a Walgreens or a Woolworths, and it’s still kind of a store where you can just buy stuff, mugs and sweatshirts and thing. But at the time, it was like sort of a little lunch counter in back. And I remember we sat down there, and that’s where we interviewed her, and we wrote what I thought was a really strong article. And several months later, “Time” actually picked it up. It might have been on the cover of “Time,” because it was the first wave of people really talking about that issue on campuses, and how important it was. And I was really proud of the fact that we sort of realized that it was important enough. We weren’t the first, obviously. The local paper had actually covered it, but in a really much smaller and more narrow way. And then, to have it hit the cover of “Time” was sort of –
Steffanie: Yeah. It was – I felt really proud of the fact that we kind of recognized it, and handled it in a way that I thought was really important.
0:22:02.8 To give voice to something that was really, unfortunately at the time, still sort of a new issue, but it’s clearly – things like that had been going on forever. But I was really proud of us for kind of recognizing it, and having a forum to be able to do something, and I think it really meant a lot to the student that we had talked to that we thought it was important. Taking it seriously and wanted to give her a voice to be able to talk about it. And I remember that feeling at the time. Feeling like we were actually doing something, having an impact in an important and good way.
Carmen: Sure. Do you remember the campus to that event occurring, toward her, or just toward – articles being written about it?
Steffanie: Yeah, I don’t remember. So, I suppose the good thing is, there certainly wasn’t any negative pushback that I remember getting, or if I did, it didn’t faze me. I don’t remember what the campus did. I’m sure at the time I would have been aware of it, because we were obviously paying attention to it.
0:23:01.3 But I remember – I don’t remember if I had covered it, or what was going on, on campus, because it had been – she had gone through whatever the internal system had been at the time, then it obviously had not been handled in a way that she and others thought was appropriate, and that’s why she had decided to go public with it, and then, interestingly enough, the local community paper actually picked it up and that’s how we ended up finding out about it. So, the process would have been done internally. It was kind on the back end of it. But I don’t remember.
Carmen: Great. Well, it’s interesting that so many – well, not interesting. I mean I guess it says something about the paper, “The Advocate,” that it was picking up on just kind of some of these major topics that were just coming to the surface throughout our society at the time. And what’s covering them, because the AIDS epidemic is one of the ones I wanted to ask about, because I’d like to know how socio-political events going on in the broader United State and world, -
Steffanie: Yes –
Carmen: play out on a college campus.
0:24:06.6 It’s really interesting.
Carmen: Were there any other events or any other reactions to things – like the end of the Cold War, and you mentioned AIDS, the coming economic slump that was coming in 1992. Anything like that. Was there awareness on campus that you recall?
Steffanie: I don’t remember.
Carmen: That’s okay.
Steffanie: Whatever was going on at the time, at least on the law school campus, people were pretty aware. It’s a really diverse group. I think much more so than what had always struck me at the time about the undergraduate campus. And again, that’s with the caveat that I did not spend much time on campus at all. Didn’t have a huge connection with it.
0:25:00.0 So, it was mostly just that I was . . . though would read the “Flat Hat” just because I was interested in it, because of the newspaper piece. But the law school was much more of a mix, I think, across the board of where people had grown up and what they had been doing before. At the time – it’s different now – probably the majority of my law school classes had taken a year off between college and law school. A lot of them worked on the Hill, and then ended up – which is probably one of the reasons they ended up at a place like William and Mary. Sort of geographically close, and – they might have been living in Northern Virginia, and then they came down. But it was a nice mix, which I think made a difference in terms of how we were aware of and addressed a lot of those issues. You know, there’s always going to be pockets. People who are more interested, less interested – people that have different takes on those things.
Steffanie: But I don’t remember any negative pushback. I mean, I certainly knew there were people who felt like the issues I was talking about, at least in the paper, and through some of the volunteer work. More important, there were other people that I know did not. So, you know, interesting to find out what other people’s perceptions were at the time, because you know, everybody’s in their own bubble. All I remember is what I was living and what my perceptions were.
Carmen: Sure, absolutely. So, what difficult experiences did you have during your time at William and Mary, or challenging experiences did you have, and how did this affect you?
Steffanie: So, academically, I remember first semester when grades came back hit me a little bit. I’d always been a really strong student. I sort of thought of myself as a strong student, and it’s just a different approach.
0:27:01.3 It’s - law school exams are just different from really any other exams, at least that I’d done in high school and in college. I figured it out pretty quickly, plus my second and third year, most of my classes were seminars anyways, so it was closer to, probably what I had been used to, and what my comfort level was. But that threw me a little bit, when some of the grades came out, they were kind of a mixed bag. And I certainly had classes that I liked better than others. And classes that I felt that I had more of a grasp on than others, and did better. But I remember being struck the first year at how rigid the program was, and some of that was just how law school programs work. First year is pretty set for the classes that everybody’s going to take. And then it starts to change a little bit by second year. By third year, typically, kind of taking classes that are interesting to you. And it’s much more a different format.
0:28:00.5 But, that threw me a little bit. Having to adjust to that. And I did, but I remember it at the time, really being thrown, because I was really sort of used to figuring things out pretty quickly and able to adapt pretty quickly and academically. So that threw me a little bit. It all worked out. But that’s probably one piece of it.
And then, I suppose it was difficult. It was frustrating. My third year, for some unknown reason, to me, there were a few people, a really small group of people who decided they wanted to take over the school paper. And they’d not been involved in it at all. So, they hadn’t been reporters, hadn’t been on the staff at all. Not sure what prompted it, other than maybe they thought it would give them a forum to do whatever they wanted to do.
0:29:00.7 And so they turned what normally was just a really easy transition process – specifically somebody internally, who was already part of the succession plan, so it was a really smooth way to go into it. Everybody already knew, and you kind of developed your own staff. Ended up much more of a production.
In fact, I remember, happened to be on main campus, probably because it was a student run organization, having to go through the formal process. So, it was me, because I was the editor in chief, and there must have been somebody else who was on, kind of the masthead with me, but the rest of the group would have been on the college side. Probably on the student organization side, and we had to go through formal interviews for people that were interested. And ultimately it was somebody internal who ended up being the editor in chief, but it was a really odd process.
0:30:02.4 Odd in the sense that we were in a fairly big conference room, around a huge table, and the group that was interested in sort of taking of the whole paper was being questioned--it’s been a while since I thought about this--and their – there were a couple of issues. One of them was that they had tried to start sorting alternate paper, and one of the articles that they printed, they had gotten information, literally, like, out of somebody’s garbage can. They had pulled something, a memo or something from one of the professors? That they had thrown out, and used it as a base of an article, which violated, probably, every ethics rule you could ever think of. You know, it’s not like we were a professional paper, but that concept just in general, never mind that these were law students.
0:31:01.1 And I remember that really taking the college-side student organization, group of people that were their back. That really threw them. And then – I remember asking them questions that were really, sort of basic about, you know, do you even understand how the paper works? Do you understand what our publishing schedule is, and what we do on the mechanics of it, because they’d never been involved. It was really odd. So, it all worked out in the end. That was kind of a - and because the law school was such a small group, and everybody knew everybody, and everybody knew what everybody was doing, it, it probably had an outsized effect on the law school and the law students that would have, had it been maybe even on main campus. Probably not for the paper, because I always had the impression that the “Flat Hat” was a really established integral part of the undergrad.
0:32:03.4 But maybe a small organization, it might not have had as much of an impact as something like that happening at the law school.
Steffanie: Sort of threw people a little bit. So, I remember that. Those were really the two.
Carmen: Very long-term implications of just that uncomfortable situation. Just – it just seems it was very odd and unexpected.
Steffanie: It was, right. And because it was odd and unexpected, I think that’s why it really threw people. You know, it was my third year. So, by that point it was probably, I don’t even know if it was first semester, but there’s so much going on, especially law school, and especially third year, because everybody’s figured out jobs, and what are you going to do afterwards, and figuring out bar exams, and so – the good new is, all that quickly subsumed by daily life and everything we were dealing with.
0:33:01.2 And I remember – this is what I remember: One of the editorials that I then wrote sometime during that. And I don’t remember where it was in the course of it, I literally just drew a smiley face, and that was my – and I signed my name at the bottom of the editorial. But usually they were, you know, an actual type-written text, and that to me was just the best way to address it.
Steffanie: And I – we all got through it. It all worked out.
Carmen: And you said someone internal ended up being –
Steffanie: Yup –
Carmen: the ship righted it. So –
Steffanie: Right, right. You know, processes work. Big believer in process, and it worked.
Carmen: Good. So, what piece of your identity as a person, as a student, did you feel were supported during your time at the graduate school, or at the law school? Or not supported during your time.
Steffanie: I mean, the intellectual curiosity piece, for sure. That’s an easy one. That’s what the law school is there for. That’s what they do an amazing job at, between the professors and the students and administration – all that, and the goal, I think, is to make thoughtful, critical thinkers, whether you end up being a lawyer, or not. So, that was really supported. That’s easy.
I think things that I was interested in in terms of public service, and trying to make a difference, and all the activities that I did were all existing activities at the time. I didn’t have create anything new. I think people that did have different interests – and then there were some journals that were created when I was there, so there must have been support for them to do that. The support part would have been, not only whatever the existing activity was, but I think to do with it what we wanted.
0:35:01.9 I never had an issue with anybody coming to me saying that something wasn’t approved or wasn’t appropriate. And I think the, probably the independence that that allowed me, and others, was really important. So, I think they did a great job of doing that. I think – you know, it’s an interesting time in people’s lives at that age, in terms of, you know, most people, like I said, took a year off between. I’d gone straight through. So, there were a few people who had had another career, had gotten another graduate degree and then had come back, but for the most part, we were fairly young, meaning 22 – 23. You know, you’re on your own in college to some degree.--I suppose it depends on where you went to college. When you’re in graduate school, it’s much more so, you’re much more independent.
0:36:00.6 You know, and I’d gone, and the college that I’d gone to at the time, sort of handled everything on the housing/food end. And so, most of our dining was in our houses. You wandered downstairs, you know, in pajamas for Sunday brunch. And you knew everybody on the dining staff, because that’s who’s there for you. And you know, I took – when I took my October break, one of the dining staff in the house got up early and got me breakfast, because she knew that I was going to have this full day. Serious exam – most of the house was already gone, because break had started. So, that piece of my life, our lives was really easy at the time. And you know, all of a sudden, you’re in law school, and you actually have to cook for yourself in the kitchen. Figure out how to feed yourself. And there was – when I was there, there was one graduate student housing that was closer to main campus that barely anybody lived in.
0:36:59.1 So, we were all in apartments or houses that we rented, so that piece of it, doing a lease and figuring out where to live, and actually going grocery shopping on my own. That piece of it, I think is, is a really important part of development for students, and so I think being in a place like William and Mary, which is one of the things that’s appealing to me was that, to me it was a lot easier to make that transition in a much smaller environment. So, it was still a campus, still felt like a campus. Even if you were walking around downtown, or going grocery shopping, the odds there were going to be other students or professors around.
I waited tables before my first year, that summer, and actually during my first tenure in law school, you know, everybody else who was waiting tables at the restaurant that I was at was either from the college or one of the grad schools.
0:38:02.3 So, it was still very much a community, even if it wasn’t the sort of people that I would take class with, and to that – that’s just part of, I think, probably the bigger ethos of the school. I don’t know if that’s necessarily anything the administration or the professors did. It was more just what William and Mary was like. So, to me that was a really supportive, helpful way to make that transition to more of an adult type of life, I suppose.
Carmen: Sure, and were there any things that, on the alternative, you felt were not supported or any things that you were interested in that you felt like weren’t supported?
Steffanie: There might have been things I was interested that I wanted to do and didn’t, but it wouldn’t have been important enough that I would have felt that they were missing.
0:39:00.1 I had a pretty busy schedule, and I liked it, but I don’t know that I had enough time to – you know – there might have been something that existed I might have been interested in, but even if there was something that, given the time I would have wanted to have done, at least it wasn’t enough of a priority that it struck me as anything.
Carmen: You didn’t feel that absence.
Steffanie: No. No.
Carmen: Okay. So, let’s transition then, to your time post-William and Mary. So, walk me through, kind of your trajectory, leaving. Leaving law school, and where you’re at.
Steffanie: So, my second semester, third year, I ended up with a job that I had when I was leaving, which was great, because at least I knew what I was doing. So, I came back to Chicago, because I knew I was going to be a prosecutor here. Assistant State’s Attorney, which somewhere during law school, that had gelled, but that that, to me was the way to do public interest trial work.
0:40:03.8 So, I wanted to do work with domestic violence victims; I wanted to work on sex assault cases. I had been able to get some experience in that in law school, which was great. Some with some of the student activities that I was involved in. Some of the work that I’d done during the summers, between law school. So, I had interviewed that fall at home. Had a meeting with the State’s Attorney’s office in Chicago, so I knew when I was leaving, that’s where I was going. So, that’s why I took the Illinois Bar.
So, I came, I graduated, came home to study for the Bar, and then started end of August, beginning of September at the State’s Attorney’s Office in Chicago. So, they have a sort of set path, when you start.
0:40:59.7 So, at the time we started with a group of 30-ish attorneys. So, we started in appeals, then they put you in a courtroom, then I kind of worked my way through to felonies. So, that’s what I started out as.
Carmen: Okay, and then from there you went to a couple different firms, yes? And worked as an attorney?
Steffanie: Yeah, so got – at some point got burnt out, and needed a change, and spent about a year, when I was still in the State’s Attorney’s Office, figuring out what I wanted to do. Did I still want to be a prosecutor? Did I want to do it in a different office, or at different levels? Did I want to do something that was completely public interest and not practicing law anymore? Did I still want to be a lawyer, and so I talked to all sorts of what they now call informational networking, or networking interviewing, which didn’t exist as a concept back then, but that’s what I did. I talked to people that I knew, and friends of friends, and people that I knew were in areas that I thought would be a good fit for me, that I might be interested in.
0:42:01.2 And ultimately decided I wanted to see if I still wanted to be a lawyer, and so that’s how I ended up at a firm. So, I was asked – I went into what, at the time was a mid-sized corporate--but I was on the litigation side--Chicago law firm, and then we ended up merging right before I made partner we were in talks to merge with what is now a very large international law firm. And so, I came into that law firm as a partner, and then was there for a very long time, knowing that I’d go back to public interest work at some point, but it was great work. It was interesting. I really enjoyed the people I was working with. I loved what they were doing, which is a great way to practice law.
0:42:55.4 People were really engaged and happy to talk about things, and interested in figuring out, kind of, the best approach, the best way to put something together. And as a litigator, what I do is just litigate all sorts of different areas. So, if to me, the best way to do it, and the most fun way to do it is to have a team where you have subject matter experts on whatever the actual topic is. So, if it’s a trade secret issue or a contract issue or a real estate issue, somebody who knows that, because they do the transactional end of that, better than the trial attorney’s going to know. But I know the questions to ask, so I can sit down and figure out, alright, what do we need to be looking at? Who do we need to be talking to? What are the witnesses? What are the other actual evidentiary evidence we need in putting that all together. And sort of the big advantage of having a big firm, you have resources like that, which to me is a great way to practice law. So, I did that for a while. Ended up in management – deputy practice group leader for my group, which I really loved doing, because it allowed me to do a lot of the programs that are important to me.
0:44:03.4 So, I – before that I had run all sorts of things. I chaired the diversity committee, and ran the mentor program and the summer associate program. Things I can’t remember. And, but actually being on the management side of it let me do the pieces of those items that were important to me in a way that actually made a difference. So, I can do associate evaluations in a way that I felt really made a difference. I was the one that people would come to if somebody needed to take parental leave, because they were – their spouse was having a baby, and I knew that I could handle it in a way that I thought it should be handled. And people knew that I thought it was important and I would take it seriously.
So, it allowed me to make a difference in that way, and in an environment that - really the way to make a difference is to have people in management being able to – having the ability to make those decisions. So, to me that was really important.
0:45:03.0 I also did some really great pro bono work. Created some pro bono projects that were really important to me, which is also the advantage, one of the advantages of being at a big firm; you have resources to do your work like that.
Steffanie: And I had the support to do that. And then, when I was ready to go back to public service, I started talking to people again, which was great, and ended up working for the United Nations for a little bit, and then now, I work for the City, in the Law Department.
Carmen: Great. And could we unpack a little bit of what you did for the UN? And then we will do the same with what you do now. So, for the UN, you were part of the Office of Co-investigating Judges?
Steffanie: So, I worked for the UN as a legal officer, and I was at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, which in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. So, the tribunal there is a really unique set up. So, it’s called a hybrid court, and – it’s a national Cambodian court, but it’s run with UN assistance.
0:46:03.5 So, unlike the courts in the Hague that are strictly UN run, this one is a combination. So, every office and court and all the judges are a combination of domestic Cambodian and international, which is the UN side of it. So, the system there – it’s a unique system, because Cambodia was French Colonial for a while, as was part of the rest of that region. They were the old, sort of Indo China – French Indo China, and so the court system is mainly influenced by the French system, and that’s what was in existence before the Khmer Rouge came into power. One of the things the regime did was destroy the legal system. So, there was not legal system for the time that they were running the country.
0:46:53.2 And so, when the country stabilized to some degree, and actually had a government back in place, and then the tribunal got up and running, the system that they had had went back to the French system. So, the French system is much more of what we – it’s a civil system, as opposed to a common law. It’s – our system is adversarial. So, you have parties represented by attorneys, who each represent their client’s interest. Although, if you’re a prosecutor, you’re representing sort of the peoples’ interest and the state’s interest.
Under a civil system, it’s more of an interrogation system, so it’s really run by the judges, which is a different approach to doing it. And they’re supposed to do sort of the bulk of the questioning, as opposed to the attorneys doing it, the way they do under our system. And so, because that’s the system, there is a prosecutor’s office, there are defense teams, once people are charged.
0:47:54.3 But then there’s an office of the co-investigating judges, because the prosecutors do the initial identification of suspects that they want to be charged, crimes that they think they should be charged with at the very preliminary level. They then bring that information to the investigating judges office, that actually does the thorough investigation. So, that’s more akin to the way we would do that under the U.S. system, that a state or a federal prosecutor, in conjunction with like the police or with federal agencies would actually do that investigation. So, tracking down witnesses, interviewing witnesses, taking witness statements, figuring out what documentary evidence was out there, assessing what the elements of – are of a crime, and applying the facts that you’ve determined and what you might need to determine, where there are holes, to make an assessment of, is there enough to charge, and if so, what do we charge? That’s all done in the investigating judge’s office.
So, it’s much more similar to what I did as a prosecutor.
Carmen: Mm-hmm –
Steffanie: But it’s a neutral, objective office. I mean sometimes decisions are made to charge; sometimes they’re made not to charge.
0:48:58.1 But there’s a judge that runs that office, because requests from the prosecutor’s team, and then once a suspect is actually charged, they get appointed a defense team, which is a combination of national and international attorneys. They, then are able to make requests for their investigation.
Steffanie: To the investigating judge’s office, and so the judge there ultimately rules on those requests. Yes, no, I’ll do this, but not that. Issues orders and then we are part of all that assessment. And so, the assessment about ultimately whether to charge somebody initially--it’s a two-step process because of the way the system works--so, the prosecutors do the initial request. An investigation’s done. There might be some back and forth if some questions arise about kind of scope and maybe potential suspects. Ultimately, the investigating judge’s office makes a decision about whether to initially charge somebody.
0:49:59.4 The closest in our system that it would be, would be to sort of needing an arrest, and initial arrest, and then once somebody’s charged, they get a defense team appointed. Now the defense team has access to the records, so they can then look at what only the prosecutors and the investigative judges have been able to see, in terms of documentary evidence, witness evidence, all that. So, then both prosecutor and defense can review what the record is to-date. They can then make requests for further investigation. The investigation then continues based on those requests, and then ultimately, the investigation’s closed, and a decision is made about whether to really sort of indict somebody; it’s called a closing lawyer, which would be closest to our kind of indictment, and plenary hearing.
Carmen: Mm-hmm –
Steffanie: But, it’s broken up because the suspect doesn’t have access to anything until they’re actually charged or not. So, that’s why they do sort of the two-step. So, I was in that office.
Steffanie: And it was investigating crimes against humanity and war crimes.
0:51:00.9 It was what the sort of highest level of the Khmer Rouge regime was alleged to have done. And so, the jurisdiction for the court is very limited. It starts in 1975, when the regime came into power. It ends in 1979 when the Vietnamese came in and the regime fled. And that’s it. So, nothing, even though obviously there are thing that would have happened before and after, it’s a very limited time frame, and it’s limited to senior leaders and those most responsible – because the –
Carmen: Okay –
Steffanie: idea going into it was, since the tribunal wasn’t in existence until the early 2000s, and you know, at that point, you’re almost 40 years after the regime that, because of the timing, because of what the Cambodian government would agree to, and what they were able to reach an agreement with the UN, is that it was only those most senior and most responsible, as opposed to what had happened under like Nuremburg tribunals.
0:52:04.9 Where it was everybody down to soldiers and guards.
Steffanie: This was not that broad. And some of that is a practical piece because of the time element, because it was so centered only in Cambodia in much smaller population, even though it affected the whole country, but from a number standpoint, it’s much smaller than the scope of what had happened under Nazi Germany, and you know, people were co-opted into being soldiers whether they would have done it voluntarily or not. And so, to start having to make decisions about how do you deal with that, when you have somebody who was 12 and was co-opted into the army, just from a practical standpoint, and a resources standpoint I think. And you know, probably a lot of other background information that I’m not privy to in terms of what the government would actually agree to.
Carmen: Mm-hmm –
Steffanie: It was a much narrower scope.
0:53:00.1 And the idea would be, you’d have maybe 10 to 12 people, ultimately, kind of charged and tried, which is about how it’s shaken out.
Steffanie: So, that’s the work that I did when I was there.
Carmen: Yeah, what was your perception of all that. The crimes you’re dealing with there are extremely, extremely serious, in a place that is not your native country. Working with a – in a similar job, but in a system that is entirely different, so –
Carmen: When you reflect back on that experience, what are your thoughts about that?
Steffanie: So, I – a major part of the reason I did it was, I needed a reset, just professionally, in terms of the work that I was doing. And I needed to figure out what I was actually interested in, and what was a good fit for me, and what could I use, the experience that I’d had, and the skillset that I’d developed in a way that wasn’t just rote anymore, and so, it had just come up as this random opportunity, when I was talking to people about getting back into public service.
0:54:02.8 And what might be something I should be thinking about doing, and I kept – I was still talking to other people, and there were other opportunities that started to arise, and I kept coming back to it, to the point that I thought that if I don’t do it, I know I’ll always regret it. And that’s why I ultimately made the decision.
And there are all sorts of pieces to it. So, I had majored in French and Government in college, and spent my junior year in Geneva, I had studied international human rights law.
Carmen: Sure –
Steffanie: If you had asked me when I was 20 what I thought I would be doing, this is what I would have told you.
Steffanie: Or something similar. Working for the UN, working for an NGO that did work with women and children. Something along those lines. Ultimately, when I was in law school, I decided I wanted to be a prosecutor, because to me, that was the best way to get into a courtroom. I wanted to be trying cases. Doing international work back then was much less accessible than it is now, in terms of figuring out what might be out there.
0:55:02.9 What might I be interested in, and I really did just want to be in a courtroom, trying cases. So, it was absolutely the right decision that I made to have done what I did, straight out of law school. And I’m glad I did it. But, I’d always wanted to do that kind of work. I’ve always been interested in that kind of work. It was, to me, a great way to sort of push myself out of my comfort zone, and things that I knew I could do, and knew I was good at, and knew I had a good base for, but, you know, in a context where I had a pretty good sense of the work, ironically because the tribunal didn’t happen until almost 40 years after the regime happened, the law that we were looking at was actually the law that I had studied when I was in college, because you have to look at the law that was in effect at the time.
Steffanie: So, it’s the law that would have been in effect in the 70s, which for at least the international law, would have been Nuremburg.
0:56:01.1 That’s it. That’s what would have come out. All of the other tribunals got started in the 90s. So, the ICTY, which is the tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, for what had happened in Bosnia, for Rwanda, for the international criminal courts. All of those didn’t come into being until the 90s. So, that law isn’t applicable –
Carmen: Right –
Steffanie: to what we were looking at for the tribunal for the Khmer Rouge. So, the irony of all that is, it had actually been a while since I’d studied it, but it was what I had studied back in the 80s. And then we were also looking at what was Cambodian national criminal law, also.
Carmen: Mm-hmm –
Steffanie: But between doing sort of domestic criminal law, between having had at least some background in international rights work, doing domestic and international civil law, when I was at a firm, at some point, you have all the pieces. So, even if you call the concept something different, the issues are generally the same issues.
0:57:00.4 The elements are pretty close to being the same elements, and I’d had enough of those pieces that it was one – gave me somewhat of a comfort level in that I’d been practicing long enough. I can figure it out.
Steffanie: There are only so many things you can do with civil and criminal law that are going to be new and unique, and so, I had a pretty good base for that. And it kept it really interesting, because I was always pulling from something, and even if I would read something and know that there was something there, at least I could know who to go to, to ask, even if I didn’t have the actual substantive background on it. And I was also kind of used to running projects, which is what I ended up doing over there, which was great. They brought me in to really do kind of higher-level strategy. So, our office was divided into groups based on the cases we were doing. So, those cases, some of them were focused on one particular suspect, if they were broad enough.
0:58:02.5 Some would be focused on particular acts that had happened in a certain time frame. So, there might be multiple suspect and defendants in that, but they were limited either geographically, or kind of by categories, in terms of things that had been happening. But my role was to look across all those cases and figure out, are there themes that cut across all of them. There are particular crimes that we would be looking at that you might not be able to charge one particular suspect with, because there might not have been enough for that particular suspect, but it was clearly going on across the regime and country-wide, and so, at some point to be able to stand back and look at patterns, helped in terms of you might have a crime where, if all you were doing was focused on that particular suspect and what that suspect knew or didn’t know what was doing or wasn’t doing, you might not think you had enough to do it. But if you were looking at the pattern of what was going on across the country, there was no way that those things would have been happening in that particular area at that time, if there wasn’t a broader pattern.
Steffanie: Because people just wouldn’t have been doing it. The odds that on their own they would have come up with something that was very specific, and very kind of focused in a way that would not have made sense to have been happening, if there wasn’t kind of a higher-level plan for that kind of work. And so that was a piece of what I did. Looking at some of these broader concepts to be able to look at patterns, and see where there are things there.
I ended up running two really big projects. So, one was what I would call a large document review project. So, it was original source documents that were, what had been at the time, kind of the most infamous sort of torture center that the regime had run.
1:00:00.2 And because violators of human rights often like to document what they do, there was a lot of documentation of forced confessions that people had been tortured into making, and lists of people who had been sort of brought in, and all the information that they had about kind of their background. And so, we were going through a lot of that original source work, and figuring it out. And so, I ended up – it was a project that the office had wanted to do for a while, and then really didn’t get up and running until I was there, and it made sense for me to just kind of organize it and run it, so it was great. I got to work with pretty much everybody in the office at the time. So, we were a mix of legal officers, of investigators, who were typically police officers from their home countries, analysts who were local Cambodians who were just experts on the regime and often their families had lived through it, because pretty much everybody that is Cambodian was affected in some way.
Steffanie: It effected the whole country. So, it was a great – it was an amazing experience, because I worked with people I would not have worked with otherwise. The individual case teams had all those pieces to it, but they were only working within their team, and I was working kind of across all of it. And so, I kind of figured out what we needed to do for the project, and sort of came up with a plan for who was going to be doing what, and it was several weeks, overall. We had, you know, kind of a couple weeks and then we’d break. Then we’d come back and do another few weeks, and – over the course of the summer months. And for me, we were working with original source documents, at the site that they had been created. It was just a tremendous experience. But it was also a really – for me, exciting legal thing to do.
1:02:02.1 Because I was able to put together in a project, in a way that was something that I sort of took for granted, given the work that I’d been doing for a long time at that point, without realizing that other people didn’t necessarily have that background, so – the people that I was working with, if you’ve come from a different legal system or have gone up through the UN as kind of the bulk of your career, you’ve never run a broad-based document review project in the way that in the States, because of our discovery setup, we do all the time, especially if you’re in a big firm. Nobody else there had done anything like that, and figured out, how do we put an actual team together? How do we put a system together that makes sense to systematically review things and track what we’re reviewing, and figure out what it is that we need to do?
1:02:57.5 And so it was a really fulfilling project for me to be able to kind of assess, jump in, take over, figure out how to reorganize it and run, that really helped me to understand, okay, here’s the stuff that I can do, and the stuff that I like doing, and the stuff that I’m actually good at. So, that was one really big project.
Carmen: Mm-hmm –
Steffanie: And then, the other big project that I worked on was focused on gender-based crimes. And so, one of the areas of this, again unfortunately, cuts across every kind of humanitarian crisis, is women and children, often end up bearing the brunt of what’s happening. They usually have less political power to be able to prevent or then deal with it. They’ve lost the support network that’s going to base – back them on things. You have the physical strength issue, which often comes into play, certainly with children, and often with a lot of women. And so, one of the projects that they also had been talking about, but hadn’t really gotten up and running, was to focus on some of the gender-based crimes.
1:04:02.8 And so, forced marriage was a piece of what the regime did. They wanted to replace what had been a very close family-based culture, historically in Cambodia. It’s very tied into the family, and marriages are agreed to through generations of families. It’s very much a very strong community family-based culture, and the regime wanted to replace that family-based culture with the regime.
Steffanie: So, they decimated all of that. And a piece of what they did was dictate who was going to be married to whom, and part of that was because they wanted to increase the population of the country, because they were concerned that Thailand and Viet Nam may end up taking advantage of what had been an ongoing sort of, unstable environment.
1:05:02.1 And they were losing population. And wanted to increase soldiers, and base in the country. The concept of a regime was that they were going to turn the country into an agrarian-based society. So, they needed people to do all the farming, and then they needed the soldiers. So, there was a forced-marriage piece, which of course then meant that you had rape, and then you had forced pregnancies.
Steffanie: Because on the focus points of that was just to have more babies being born, to increase the population size.
So, I put together a team and a project to kind of – because those topics cut across the whole country, as opposed to being particularly focused on one individual suspect or defendant, or even one particular geographic area, was a regime-wide program.
1:05:59.2 So, I put together that project. The document project we actually finished when I was there. This one, I kind of got organized, up and running, and then I ended up handing it over to a group by the time I was leaving. But those were two of the main projects. And then the rest was just work that obviously was constantly going on, and needed to be done. So, you know, smaller research projects. Our group did the interview of the witnesses. So, I would prep and interview witnesses, and take statements. A lot of the legal analysis – I was there when we made the decisions about the – the first case, they had completely finished, including through appeals; the second case, they had broken into two. The first trial was finished was on appeal when I was there, and they were in the process of trying the second half of that. And then I was working on the third and the fourth cases, which will probably be the last cases that end up being investigated.
1:07:00.5 And so, we made the decisions about who was going to be charged in those third and fourth cases when I was there. So, there was a lot of work about putting those missions, those orders together, and then once that was done, it was the end of 2015, and then going into 2016, because now those suspects were charged. They then had defense teams. They were able to look at the record, and start making requests about investigations that they wanted to do. So, then we were up and running on that piece of it. So, that’s what we did.
Carmen: Yeah. I mean, that’s fascinating and major, and traumatic. Just all of it. And it – in terms of a reset, that seems like just a massive reset button, essentially.
So, coming out of that, then, how did that affect what you wanted to do next, or how you thought about what the next step in your career would look like?
Steffanie: So, I had already been talking to people, obviously, before I went over to Cambodia, because I knew I was coming back to Chicago. I live here. I have a husband and children that are here, so.
1:08:00.5 There was no question that, you know, that I was not going to be gone permanently. So, I started talking to people about possibilities and opportunities before I left. The great thing about working for the UN in Cambodia is that everybody wanted to hear about it when I came back.
Steffanie: So, I knew that it would be easy to start circling back with people.
Steffanie: And that’s how we had – I had left it with a lot of people. Because I continued to talk to people knowing that this was going to be a shorter-term stint. I completed six months. There was a possibility that it might extend into something longer, and we were open to that, would figure it out, but obviously at some point it was not going to be completely open ended. So, I continued to talk to people when I knew I was going over, but before I left.
And then once I knew for sure I was coming back to Chicago, just started reconnecting with people. So, started getting emails out. This is when I’m going to be back.
1:09:00.6 One of the people I had been talking to was the then-corporation counsel for the City of Chicago’s Law Department. And he and I had had some really great discussions about public interest work. He actually had been at a big firm his entire career, and then when Chicago’s current mayor had been elected as mayor, had asked him to come over to the public sector, to be the corporation counsel and run the Law Department. So, we had some really great discussions about what does it mean to be a public servant, and going back into public interest work. He’d only come from a large firm background and then had made the switch. I had started out doing public service work, gone to a to a big law firm, and then was ready to go back in. And so, the work that he was talking about and the work that had to be done was really appealing to me.
Steffanie: And the whole idea in me making this switch was to go back into the public sector. So, I knew that that was what I was going to do.
1:09:59.3 So, once I came back, he was one of the people I reconnected with. And we were talking about possibilities, and then ultimately what came out of it was the work that I’m doing now.
Carmen: Mm-hmm –
Steffanie: So, the City’s Law Department does all the legal work for the city. All the city agencies. It’s an enormous in-house law group, is basically what it is. And so, I run the federal civil right litigation group. So, we handle all the defense of the city and the police officers for the police misconduct lawsuits.
Chicago, right now, is one of the places where this is a critical issue. It’s something that the mayor’s office, that the police department and the law department are all focused on the policy piece of it, the reform piece of it, you know, the broader concept of what do we need to do be sure that things are on track and are working in a way that’s appropriate. That the public is protected, but that, obviously people’s rights are not violated when you have a police force that does what it needs to do, which is protect the community.
1:11:03.2 That’s why you have a police department. What do we need to do to make sure that that gets done in the right way, and appropriately, and thoughtfully? And so, to me, I would much rather be in the middle of that, and feeling like I’m having an impact in a positive way and making a difference than just reading about it in the paper and getting upset about it.
Steffanie: So, it was a really easy decision for me to make. You know, probably woven into all of that is, we do federal, constitutional civil rights work, which is – for a trial attorney who likes constitutional law, that’s the most interesting, exciting work that you can be doing.
Steffanie: So, the work itself is substantively interesting. Having been a prosecutor was a huge help, because I understand the criminal piece of what, sort of the context for all of our cases, because our cases, for the most part arise out of you know, either a criminal investigation, or somebody having been charged and either convicted or not convicted.
1:12:08.2 So, having done all that work on the front end, I understand how that process works. I understand how the – how criminal investigations work in Chicago, and how the police department handles that work. And then I’d had all of that work for a much longer time, doing civil litigation and civil trial work, and we’re in civil courts; we’re not in criminal courts, so I have that whole piece of it. So, it was a really interesting and creative, and almost perfect way to put all of those pieces together.
Steffanie: Which I had a little bit of when I was working for the UN, too. A little bit of that. Okay, all of these disparate pieces, you know, and sort of a liberal arts approach to things, right? What can I use from all these different backgrounds that give me, either substantive knowledge or just enough of a context that I know the right questions to ask, or I can understand how to approach it.
1:13:06.5 And then layered on top of it is this kind of management piece, which I also really enjoy. I really like doing the kind of higher-level policy, figuring out what’s the best way to run this division, and the cases that we’re handling, and what are the issues that are coming up that maybe need to be talked about or addressed from a long-term perspective. So, all of those various pieces keep it really interesting to me; make me think all the time, you know, and there’s always, every single day there’s always something new going on, so it’s – there’s never an opportunity to get bored or to feel like I’ve been doing this too long, and nothing’s challenging anymore, and nothing’s interesting.
Steffanie: And the – having that reset, for me, from doing the UN piece was a great way to then completely sort of readjust my mindset in terms of, alright, what do I think I can bring to something like this? How can I contribute? What can I do to really make a difference? And some of it is the actual hands on, alright, what are we actually doing in this particular case? And – what’s our strategy in this particular case that we need to be thinking about. But, as importantly are these broader, long-term for the cases in general, for the policy piece of it, for the reform piece of it, what do we need to be thinking about? What are the patterns that we’re seeing? What are the different approaches that we need to be taking for all of that? To me, I love, I mean, it makes me feel like I’m using my brain; I’m contributing in a way that’s making a difference. That I can do something that’s helpful.
Carmen: Mm-hmm – definitely. So, through all these kind of different spheres you’ve operated in, and then, you know, maybe this current job where all the pieces are kind of coming together, and all your various interest, how have you seen, if – or, in what ways have you seen, if any, your William and Mary education kind of prepare you for or shape all of that?
Steffanie: So, I think going back to the intellectual curiosity and support for all of that, and wanting to be thorough, and having been encouraged to actually think things through and be able to support what it is that you’re doing, and why are you doing it, and not necessarily knowing what the answer is that you’re getting to. Even if you have a sense of where you think it should come out, or where you might want it to come out, that you actually need to go through that process to – to really be in touch with and honest about it, as opposed to just jumping to a conclusion because that’s what you think is the right answer, and that’s how you want to do it.
1:16:00.2 And a lot of that is just part of being a lawyer, anyway, because at least if you’re a trial attorney, it’s an adversarial process by nature, so you have to defend whatever your position is, and there’s always going to be another side, if not more than one side to it. So, to be the best lawyer you can be, you have to think through: what are all the arguments, and what’s the response to this, and what are the questions that I would ask if I were on the other side, and what are the questions I need to be asking about the other side. And does that, then change how I’m looking at something, so – that entire process absolutely colors how I do things. I mean, a lot of it is, I chose to be a lawyer at such an early age, and I continue to love being a lawyer, and why William and Mary was such a great fit for me for law school, because it’s all of those pieces coming together, because you actually have to thing things through and question things, and be intellectually honest about what are you doing, and why are you doing it, regardless of what the outcome it, you need to be able to actually support it in a way that, that has some integrity to it.
1:17:06.9 Mm-hmm –
Steffanie: So, that somewhere down the line, if there’s a question about why did you do what you did, you’re able to answer yourself in a way that you feel comfortable with, which to me is absolutely critical in the way that I would approach something. And so, I think that that, that kind of rigorous academic piece absolutely makes a difference.
And then, I think the citizen lawyer ethos is a piece of what attracted me to William and Mary to begin with, and why it’s something that’s still – I think resonates with me, because it’s why I became a lawyer. Literally why I became a lawyer, was to try to make a difference, and it’s why William and Mary Law School was founded, was people who did that because they wanted to be part of, you know, the founding of this country, and having a rule of law in place that allows people to, you know, live lives in their ways.
1:18:10.3 But they’re not afraid that they can’t say something because somebody might not agree with it. And you have a government that is able to put you in jail because of it.
Steffanie: As opposed to the ability to be able to have a voice, and the concept of having a voice is to make this country a stronger country, and the government a better government. To make whatever organization you’re a part of a better organization. I mean, the freedom to be able to think things through and articulate what it is that’s important to you is, to me, what this country was founded on. And without getting overly sappy about it, really why I became a lawyer was, I saw it as a way of actually being able to make a difference.
1:19:01.0 That the laws that are created, the laws that are enforced, the way that they are enforced, to me, drives what a society looks like. And so, bringing it back to a place like William and Mary, where that’s why that law school was founded, and truly – I think it just seeps into everything that it does. And it’s probably a large part of why the student organizations that were in place--at least when I was there--existed, and why they were supported the way they were, because public service was so important. And being part of student government was important. And having a strong newspaper, and law journals and moot court and everything that is really there to give students a voice, and be able to focus on things that are interesting to you, but almost inevitable have sort of a community benefit, or a public service bent to them, I think, with as much or as little of that as you want to do, which for me was a lot.
1:20:01.5 I mean, most of what I was interested in did have that kind of community outreach piece, and an education piece, and issues that I felt were important, that I felt were important for people to learn about, and being able to have a forum to do that, I think was really important – probably in a way that I didn’t appreciate as much at the time, which actually, I think might be good. I think that if you have an educational institution that allows students to take for granted that their voices are important and that they’re supported, I think that’s actually the best way that they can present that, instead of people feeling like they should be grateful because maybe it will be taken away, or maybe it’s not something – it’s there for show, but it’s really – there’s no substance behind it, or if you’re not handling something in a way that the administration thinks is appropriate, that funding might cease, or the support might cease. I actually think that probably the best way to do it is to have it always there and always present in a way that students just expect it.
1:21:03.1 Because I think that on the next level, that is you then go out into the reset of the world, expecting.
Steffanie: And I think that’s how you make a difference, and how you hopefully change things for the better, because you have this expectation that your voice is important. Of course, it is, because people, when I was in college and law school thought I was, so why would it be any different now? That was a group of incredibly smart, ambitious, active people. So, if that group thought that it was important to be able to talk these kinds of things, then of course we should be able to talk about them, in a different environment.
Carmen: Absolutely. Thank you for that response. That was really inspiring, impactful. So, kind of along the lines of just your interests and passions, and what we’re celebrating this year at William and Mary, 100 years of co-education, I was hoping you could just reflect for a minute on just the value and contribution of women, and why that is so important to be celebrating this year.
Steffanie: So, so because sometimes this world is such a crazy small world, the first female president of the college is, of course has a Smith connection, which is where I went to undergrad. So, to me it could not be anymore perfect. And if we were going to lose her at Smith, where she was the provost, I told her that at least coming to my other alma mater means that, that’s a great path to follow, because I certainly did it several years ago. So, I’m personally beyond thrilled, because I have a personal connection and happen to have the luck to already know her, and she’s a tremendous person, and I think will be a wonderful asset to the college.
Carmen: Mm-hmm –
Steffanie: She has great energy; she’s really creative; she absolutely loves and encourages the whole concept of liberal arts education, and what that means, and critical thinking and intellectual curiosity, and all that.
1:23:02.0 So, I think it’s fantastic. And the fact that it’s coming on the 100th Anniversary, is really kismet, in a great way. So, it’s – what’s interesting to me, and we’ve been talking about it this weekend, just because of all the activities in Chicago, and the Dean of the Law School, who I’ve known since I was at the Law School, because he came in as a professor my third year, I think, and I were talking about this. That my law school class was the first class that was just over half women. And we were on the forefront of law school classes, nationwide, hitting kind of 50-50, and then some of them now being even more than 50% women, to male.
1:23:54.0 And so, it was – it’s interesting because – and I remember noticing this at the time, because I was pretty active in student activities, and most of my friends were, too, that the representation of women at the Law School, when I was there, roughly shook out to at least 50% in terms of leadership positions. So, the things that people typically look at, like law review and moot court, the – both the leadership and the leadership boards of those were roughly 50, if not more. All the – all of the student activities--other than student government, actually. I may have been the only woman on the board when I was in student government--but everything else that people traditionally thing of, and that really has impact with coming out of a law school, at least if you’re going into a firm or clerkship or something like that – it’s typically law review or law journal and moot court, and the representation that was there was, as I said, at least 50%, and just happened, I would think, by virtue of merit.
1:25:02.1 Because, you know, nobody was doing anything purposefully. That’s sort of how those competitions end up working. So, that was again, something that I think we just took for granted, without realizing that other law schools weren’t there. I mean, there might be other students who had been more purposeful about, alright, what are the demographics look like, and does that make a difference. I was more focused on the other pieces of the school that felt like a great fit for me, but that was probably a really important base to have had coming out of that, knowing – and especially because I’d come from and all-women’s college. So, my experience had been: every leadership position was female, and there was no question that gender wasn’t going to be an issue, because that was the point of why schools like Smith were founded was, we are here to support you.
1:26:04.9 And the expectation is that you will do your very best, and we expect that you can do your very best, and you don’t have any of that other noise that comes into play. There’s never an issue about who somebody thinks is more appropriate for a particular leadership position based on gender, or any other identifiers, or, you know, which sports team gets better hours for practice, before game time. It’s just – was never an issue. So, I came out of four years of expecting that, of course the institution is here for me, and for my peers, because that’s the point of it.
Carmen: Mm-hmm –
Steffanie: And so, to have been lucky, in a sense, to ended up in a place that really was on the front edge of a class being at least 50 – if not more so – female, and then the way that that translated into leadership positions and visibility and what people were interested in. How those conversations ended up being driven.
1:27:01.1 I mean, I’m sure it affected what conversations were like in the classrooms. It can’t not.
Carmen: Mm-hmm –
Steffanie: And the same with events that people were interested in on campus. It had to have. There are some, probably more anecdotal stories that I remember that were great. So, there were enough of us that had gone to Seven Sister – all women schools, that I remember some of the professors put together, once, twice a year, kind of a little sort of get together with Seven Sisters, and other women’s colleges, which was also really nice thing to do, but a great experience in terms of knowing that we already had this other bond, and then being at the law school together, and then having that cut across both professors and students, I actually think was a really nice touch.
Steffanie: That those professors had been thoughtful enough to do that. I don’t know that I would have, on my own, had thought about it. It was a really – I think speaks a lot to what that community was like.
1:28:01.5 But I also think speaks to how important it was to some of the female professors to do things like that.
Steffanie: And I remember having discussions which, at the time--and it’s probably the same now--some of it is age, and kind of experience and the way that you look at things. And I remember having discussions with the professors where they would talk about choosing your battles, especially for certain genders. Choose if there was something that really was cutting down a gender line, and making a conscious decision about what you thought was important enough, and why it was important enough to turn that into a fight, if it needed to be a fight, as opposed to just sort of what you let go. And I think, people certainly still have these discussions now, and I think it probably still cuts across the same, age/experience demographics where you have people who are younger thinking, I don’t understand why I have to choose my battles at all.
1:28:59.8 And because I remember those discussions and thinking, I don’t understand why you would have to choose.
Carmen: Mm-hmm –
Steffanie: Some of that’s because I probably didn’t have issues that were on the scale that happens as you get more senior and more issues come into play. There are other factors that come into play that you have to start thinking through, which now, as I made my way through my career, having a much better understanding of what that concept is, you know, as a 22, 23, 24-year-old would not have, really, on that level. But the fact that they took the time to talk that through with us was really – I mean, I still remember it, so obviously it had an impact, even if at the time my response was, I don’t really understand why –
Carmen: Mm-hmm –
Steffanie: you would have to make that decision. They obviously explained it in a way that I still remember thinking, okay, but there must be something more there. There must be other issues that do rise to a high enough level or have enough data points in them that you have to factor through to make a decision about, is that something that is really worth fighting, in this context, at this time.
1:30:04.9 Or, is it worth sort of doing something about? So, I give them a lot of credit, I think, the professors that did that. I think it was really important.
Steffanie: I’m trying to think who they were. Linda Malone might have been. Maybe Susan Grover, she might have been.
Carmen: You’re sharing with me some of just your experiences in graduate school at William and Mary and beyond in which you’ve just noted the contribution and the experience of women. And I would love to hear more about that.
Steffanie: Let’s see, what else? I don’t know if I have anything else, actually, on top of that.
Steffanie: I mean, if you have any particular questions, maybe that would prompt – no?
Carmen: Well, I mean, not specifically. Just, I mean, if there were individuals, which you’ve noted a couple who made a case for, or explained certain things in law school in a certain way that helped you kind of understand that perspective more.
1:31:00.0 But also, I mean, you work in what was, it sounds like kind of when you were going to law school, there started to be a turn in the field, but you worked in what was certainly a male dominated field. Your actual work dealt with women’s rights – human rights. Those type of diversity, sort of topics, and just you know, given that that is your background, and that is the field you work with, and just, just how you saw all that play out. And also, why it motivated you to get involved in those sort of things: women’s rights, human’s rights – human rights, diversity initiatives, those sort of things.
Carmen: Yeah. You mean, just in general? Or the law school experience in particular, for that?
Steffanie: I would say in general, but if the law school experience, you know, works into them some . . .
Carmen: Yeah, so I mean, I don’t know that I had thought about that piece of it in particular when I was applying to law school, which might have just been, you know, being oblivious at the time.
1:32:00.2 Maybe I should have thought more about it. But it all worked out. So, I suppose it’s not – it certainly wasn’t a problem. I mean, most of my career, certainly when I was in a law firm, there were times when I was the only woman in a room. Including when I was in management. And there were times when I was deputy head of my practice group, and I was the only female partner in the group, and it was not a small group. Now that I’m back in government, there are a lot more women.
Carmen: Hmm –
Steffanie: And I think historically, there have been at least, through the course of my career. Although I remember talking to – there’s actually another Smith alum who’d been in the State’s Attorney’s Office, when I was there, who was – she would have graduated college in the 50s, I think.
Carmen: Mm-hmm –
Steffanie: And was one of the first women at Harvard Law School. I think three women were in her class at Harvard Law School.
1:33:01.1 And it was an incredibly difficult time to have been doing that. I mean, they had professors who flat-out told them they shouldn’t be there. That they were taking the spot of a man. Why were they doing it.
Steffanie: And even when she had come into the State’s Attorney’s Office in Cooke County, there were very few women, because the idea was women weren’t trial attorneys, and couldn’t try cases. Even when I was in the State’s Attorney’s Office, my class was, easily half women, if not more, but in terms of management level, it was still very male skewed.
Carmen: Mm-hmm –
Steffanie: It’s gotten better, and some of that’s just because leadership has changed. So, the last, the current and the most recent State’s Attorneys are women.
Carmen: Mm-hmm –
Steffanie: But up until that point, it had been all men.
So, getting back into government’s interesting, because – at least in the city it is much, much more diverse, across the board.
Steffanie: And some of that’s purposeful, because it’s important; well, at least in this city. It’s important to the mayor, it’s important to the person who is the corporation counsel, that the office be diverse across all sorts of factors. So, it’s something that we focus on and work on for recruiting. We work on for OEs for outside law firms, all that. So, that makes a huge difference. But there are still times where there’s no question that it comes up. I had a settlement conference last week, where there’s no question that the judge was very upset that I was actually vocal, because of who I am. No question. To the point that my entire team, who cuts across – I mean, they are from – they’re sort of in their 20s through their 40s and men and women and all sorts of other diversity pieces that go into that. Every single one of them, when we walked out of the room, commented on it. So, there’s no question that it still happens.
Carmen: Mm-hmm –
Steffanie: Which is why I think that it is really important that schools, especially, provide, I think, support and outlets, so that both men and women understand how important it is for different voices to be heard, whether that’s gender-based or whether it’s race-based, whether it’s sexual orientation, and anywhere, across any of those spectrums. And because you’re in an environment where you’re there to learn, I think that that’s probably one of the best opportunities for you to do that.
Steffanie: And on all sorts of levels. Everything from the materials that you actually study to who’s in a leadership position from the staff and management standpoint, to the student standpoint, to how issues are addressed when they do come up, because inevitably, they’ll come up, and you’re dealing with people, people have different opinions. There’s going to be an issue that somebody raises. But that, to me, is why it’s still important, because we clearly still have issues.
1:35:58.2 I mean, even as the demographics of this country are changing, which I actually think is probably what’s driving some of the issues. I think there are people who took for granted what their position would be, because of when they happened to have been born, and when they start seeing that the rest of the world looks very different from that, and it becomes very disconcerting to some people. So, sometimes the way to protect what you have is to lash out.
Carmen: Mm-hmm –
Steffanie: So, to me, that’s why focusing on being inclusive across the board, I mean, not only just gender, but as I said, whether it’s race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation – all of that, because if you have groups that have historically have been marginalized, and don’t have the ability to defend themselves, or to have an impact, you need somebody to do that. Otherwise, it won’t change. So, that, to me, is why those issues are still really important. And some of it is because I obviously have grown up female.
1:37:00.5 So, I know inherently what I’ve lived through, what my friends, what my sisters, what my mother have all lived through, so I probably have a much deeper understanding of issues that focus on women, especially, than I would have, other issues. And so, to me, it’s – that’s just why it’s so important to focus on it. And the, the extra energy that goes into people having to deal with all of that noise, not only does it impact those particular lives of those individuals, but the resources that we ended up losing out on as a country, because you have somebody who’s decided not to take a particular job, or not to go into a particular career, or not make a decision because of the response that they’ve either gotten, or they expect to get, and they decide it’s just not work putting all that time and energy into it.
1:38:03.1 And it’s their life; it’s their decision. Sometimes it just makes me really sad. Everything that we’ve been going through with sexual harassment and sexual assault, which has been going on forever, and the fact that it’s still surprising to people that it’s on the scale that it’s on, is surprising to me, because, I don’t know anybody that hasn’t experienced something along that continuum. Whether it’s somebody said something, or somebody physically did something to them . . . literally, every woman I know. And so why it’s still surprising to people – to people, to me is sometimes a little sad and depressing.
But the stories that are coming out of that, which are obviously, I think, very important to come out of, highlight what that impact is, not only on those individuals, but on us as a country, on those particular areas of industry.
1:39:05.8 I mean, think about all of that talent that we have lost, because women ended up making a decision, or it was forced on them to not pursue something. Not go into a line of work. To not take a particular job, because somebody else put them in that position, and made a decision for them, is really just unacceptable, I think.
And you know, we obviously have issues here. There are issues globally, depending on where you are, and what’s happening in that particular society. Some things are better, some things are worse. But, you know, I feel like to live in a world and know that there are issues that I can maybe highlight, make more visible, if I’m lucky, substantively change, is what we should be doing.
1:40:01.0 I mean, I don’t think it’s a choice to not do it, really? Because who’s going to do it. If I assume somebody else is going to do it, then I’m putting it off on somebody else. And that’s not fair. And it’s not fair to the people that are impacted by it. It’s not fair to the people that I on my own, have decided to take that extra burden on. It’s not for me to make that decision. So, If I have the ability to do something, I feel like I should do it.
And that’s – I mean, thankfully I grew up in a family that feels the same way. They’ve done the same things themselves. They’ve been amazingly supportive of all the work that I’ve done, and when I made the crazy decision to go to Cambodia for the UN, they were nothing but supportive of that, because to them, that’s what we do.
Carmen: Mm-hmm –
Steffanie: It was a little crazy, and they thought – my father said, “That is so not what I thought you were going to tell me that you were doing. That you’re going to be the director of some non-profit in Chicago, that would have been fantastic.
1:41:00.3 “I did not think you were going to go to Southeast Asia for six months.” But I grew up in a family that did. I’m trying to raise my kids in the same way. To understand that if you’re in a position to actually be able to make a difference, and you know, that’s everything from your day-to-day life to bigger policy pieces, depending on what you feel like you’re interested in, what you feel like you have to contribute, but you know, it cuts across all of that.
So, that’s why I think I focused on those particular issues, because, not that other issues aren’t important, but for me, I have a better understanding of them. I feel like I’m in a position to be able to talk about them and maybe impact things in a way for the good.
Carmen: Yeah. Absolutely. That was – again, inspiring. Just really well put. So, thank you for responding to that.
So, one kind of last question I have are – is: are you still involved with William and Mary in any way, and if so, in what ways?
1:42:03.9 So, mainly – well, a couple ways, I guess. So, certainly my group of friends. We have a really good group in Chicago, which is wonderful. We don’t have as much time to get together as we used to. We used to have more free time when we were first out of law school, but there’s a really nice kind of critical mass of us, and we still all get together, which I love. And you know, as lives are, hopefully getting a little more able to be schedule. Those with kids that are getting older, that are more independent, we’ve got more time to get back together. So, that has always been there. That’s a constant, throughout my entire life. I actually met my husband through a William and Mary friend, who was friends with a friend of his. So, yeah. From kind of the beginning of my life in Chicago, in a sense – William and Mary’s been imbedded in it. And then, I’ve gone back for reunions. Not all – but a decent amount.
1:42:59.5 I still do some with recruiting. So, I do a little bit of students that have been accepted, accepted to the law school, I’ll reach out and talk to them, if they’re interested in talking to an alum who’s in Chicago. When there are events in Chicago, I typically go. You know, they have the weekend going on now. So, I’ve done some of those events. When the Dean of the Law School comes out, usually I am able to take some time and talk to him. So, that’s really what my involvement’s been.
Carmen: Great. And so, you have answered all of my questions that I have for you, but I want to open it up for you now, at this point in the interview, to discuss anything else you would like to discuss, or would want on record. If there was a question that you thought I’d ask you, but I didn’t ask it, you can bring that up now, but.
Steffanie: Nothing I can think of.
Carmen: No? Okay. Well, I just really appreciate you participating in this. I think your story’s going to be really impactful, and it’s just going to a great contribution to the archive. So, thank you.
Steffanie: Thank you.
[End of recording]
©William & Mary Libraries. Acknowledgement of William & Mary Libraries, Special Collections Research Center as a source is required.
Non-Commercial Use/Fair Use
Special Collections Research Center at William & Mary Libraries welcomes non-commercial use and access that qualifies as fair use to all unrestricted interview materials in the collection. For more information about fair use, see William & Mary Libraries guidelines here.
The researcher must cite and give proper credit to Special Collections Research Center. The preferred citation is as follows:
[Interviewee name], interview with [Interviewer name]. [Interview date], [Name of Collection], Special Collections Research Center, William & Mary Libraries.
Example: Powell, Michael K., interview by Carmen Bolt. June 12, 2017, 50th Anniversary of African Americans in Residence Oral History Project, Special Collections Research Center, William & Mary Libraries.
For commercial use of any sort, including reproduction, distribution, derivative works, public performance, and public display that goes beyond fair use, the researcher must obtain written permission from SCRC by contacting SCRC by email here. Permission will comply with any agreements made with the interviewee, interviewer, or donor of materials. This permission is valid only insofar as Special Collections Research Center at William & Mary Libraries, as owner or custodian of the material, has any rights in the matter. This permission does not remove the responsibility of the author, editor, publisher, or broadcaster to guard against infringement of any rights, including copyright that may be held by others. The researcher must cite and give proper credit to SCRC. SCRC reserves the right to refuse the right for commercial use.
For most unrestricted interviews, copyright has been assigned to Special Collections Research Center at William & Mary Libraries. When the copyright has not been assigned to Special Collections Research Center at William & Mary Libraries, copyright is retained by the interviewers/interviewees, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.
SCRC works to uphold the obligations and legal commitments made to interviewees, interviewers, and donors of material. Some interviews have restrictions imposed by the interviewee, interviewer, or donor; restricted interviews are clearly marked. In such cases, it is the researcher’s responsibility to uphold the restriction appropriately and completely. Researchers may, for example, be required to obtain written permission from the interviewee or interviewer to quote from the interview. Contact SCRC with any questions about restrictions by email here.
Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications (e.g., a cause of action under common law for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual’s private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which Special Collections Research Center at William & Mary Libraries and William & Mary assume no responsibility.
If an interview has been transcribed, researchers should quote from the transcript. If no transcript is available, reference to material in the interview should be taken from the audio recording.
For preservation purposes, use of audiotapes or videotapes will require production of listening or viewing copies. If a researcher requires the creation of a listening or viewing copy, the researcher will be responsible for the cost. For more details about audio/visual reproduction policies at the SCRC at William & Mary Libraries, contact the SCRC by email here.
If you are in need of any accessibility accommodations that require the creation of a listening or viewing copy of material, please let us know prior to your visit. You can also find information on the library’s accessibility services here.