Sheri Curran always knew she wanted to be a lawyer, and her career trajectory, along with the speed with which she advanced in a male-dominated field, make this easy to believe. She has devoted her career to navigating the multifaceted intersection of law and business. Since graduating from Northern Law in 1997, she gained valuable experience in private practice, as in-house counsel handling employment issues, as corporate counsel and now as general counsel for Augustana College, where she earned her undergraduate degree in Political Science.
What have you been up to since your time here at Northern Law? I spent several years in private practice, then went in-house doing primarily employment work initially and then taking on more of a corporate counsel role. When an opportunity surfaced to return to my alma mater as general counsel, I decided to go for it. Seven years later, I continue to learn about the critical roles lawyers have in business, including the business of higher education.
Why did you become an attorney? I wanted to be a lawyer for as long as I can remember. I was drawn to many aspects of the profession, some of which have turned out to be true, and others that have not.
How did NIU Law prepare you for your work? It’s a cliché, but so true: NIU College of Law really did teach me how to “think like a lawyer.” As I work with other professionals, it becomes increasingly apparent that lawyers have a unique approach to our work. Our ability to strip emotion from the facts, and to critically analyze a situation sets lawyers apart from other executives, and gives us a valuable voice in decision making, whether as a private practitioner or as an in house lawyer.
What is your favorite memory of your time in law school? Although not a specific memory, my law school experience confirmed for me that I was where I was supposed to be: I enjoyed the work and my time at NIU (most of the time).
What is your advice to current law students? Be open to opportunities that exist outside your area of interest. Understand that your impact as a lawyer is not always immediate and strong; it takes patience and credibility to really change things.
What is your advice to individuals thinking about starting law school? Think specifically about what you want to do with your law degree. I fear that non-lawyers have ideas about the practice of law that are not realistic. So do a reality-check. Talk to lawyers and understand what they do. Private practice has its downsides that you should understand, as well as upsides. Don’t forget to think about the in-house practice of law. Look at job openings to get a better understanding of what employers of attorneys want. And if law school is the next step, immerse yourself fully in your education.
What has been the greatest challenge thus far in your career? A few things come to mind. First, I’ve always worked in a small/solo office, and that presents unique challenges. It requires a comfort with making a judgment based on your experience and skills and without research, and, at the same time, knowing which matters require more resources. Transitioning to a General Counsel required the development of skills that are not typically part of a private lawyer’s practice. And finally, getting that elusive work/life balance just right is a long term challenge.
What has been most rewarding about your career so far? It feels really good when your president and CEO turns to you for advice on a business matter that has nothing to do with interpreting the applicable law.
This interview was conducted in Fall 2016.
Class Year: 1997
Current title and position: General Counsel, Augustana College