June 22, 2020

Michelle LeaseCan you tell us a little bit about your background?
I grew up in Leesburg, VA and attended George Mason University for undergrad. At GMU, I tried my hand at local government by working for the Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. That public policy work is what made me interested in Catholic Law and the Law and Public Policy Program (LPP).

Why did you decide to attend Catholic Law?
The initial decision to attend was easy because I received a scholarship. Within three days of starting classes, I knew I would be at Catholic Law for the long haul. My classmates, professors, and the staff were so friendly and welcoming. The community and practical experience I received is what sold me.

Can you discuss your early career development?
I was young when I started school and didn't really know what I wanted to do. This made my internship experiences critical to figuring out my path. I met Anne McKenna, a fellow Catholic Law alumna, my 1L year while she was speaking on a panel about government surveillance and privacy. Professors Leary and Fishman connected us soon after and she offered me an internship at her law firm in Baltimore. It was a great mix of experiential and practical learning. I helped support her work with revenge porn victims and helped draft a journal article urging passage of a federal privacy law—long before it was popular. Working with Anne got me into the world of privacy law and policy. From there, I interned, and eventually was hired full-time, at a trade association supporting app developers and startups. Before my current job at Intuit, I worked at Ernst & Young in their privacy practice advising clients on compliance with the GDPR and other global privacy laws, regulations, and best practices.

Are you where you expected to be at this stage of your career?
I never made a five or 10-year plan, and I fought the premise of the question anytime someone asked me. I just knew I wanted to be happy, challenged, and working with other smart and motivated people. In that sense, I'm exactly where I want to be.

What were/are the most rewarding parts of your job? What were the biggest challenges?
I work at Intuit handling our technology policy issues, including privacy, data, artificial intelligence, intellectual property, and high-skilled immigration. The data privacy and AI issues are particularly rewarding because we're dealing with a new frontier for law and policy. That being said, that's probably also the greatest challenge. Many of these tech issues are complicated, and educating policymakers and the public is key.

What advice would you give to young lawyers or law students who have similar legal aspirations?
Network. All but one of my internships or jobs I've had during and after law school have come through a Catholic Law connection. Networking can be an intimidating idea, but if you think of it as meeting people, taking an interest in who they are personally and professionally, you're setting yourself up to meet someone who down the line can be a friend, mentor, or eventual employer. Once you have your foot in the door, work hard and value your contributions to the job. Early on in my career, I often sold myself short and didn't appreciate the value of my work. While someone will see the value, the best thing you can do is be an advocate for yourself.

Do you have a favorite memory from Catholic Law?
There's too many to count, but when I think of law school, I think of the red chairs. My friends and I would legitimately study and "study" in the red chairs at the entrance to the library almost every day. I won't share a particular memory, but we shared lots of laughs, deep conversations, and debates. The debates could get intense, but always ended with laughs. Part of what makes Catholic Law so special is the community and the people it represents.

Is there any relationship from your time here (a professor, lecturer, staff member) that was particularly impactful to you?
Professors Duggin, Graw Leary, Perez, and La Belle stand out to me. I'm still friendly with many of them and they all taught me something different and valuable that I use to this day. I also always started my day in the cafe and chatting with the staff ensured a great start to my day.

Who have you kept in touch with from school?
I feel fortunate to stay in touch with a lot of friends from school. Meaghan Pedati, Caitlyn McCarthy, and I spent every day together and I'm so happy we're all still close friends. There's many more, including all the friends I love seeing at Catholic Law events around the city and Virginia.