From “Briefing a Case?” To Successful Career

Author: Audra Passinault

Audra Passinault, ’15 J.D.

Beginning law school can be intimidating. I did not come to Notre Dame Law School from a family of lawyers or with any prior law-related work experience. My undergraduate degree was in gender studies and I had never seen a casebook. On the first day of class, I was sure I was in over my head as I sat listening to other students talk about briefing cases, working in law firms, and something called a Bluebook. I was petrified that I did not have the skills necessary to succeed.

But, as my three years passed, I realized that the concerns of my first day were unwarranted. I learned that my lack of formal legal experience did not make me ill-prepared to succeed, and in fact gave me a unique lens through which to view legal problems. What helped me succeed was my desire to learn, the ability to push myself academically, and a faculty that encouraged and supported me as I developed as a young lawyer.

I chose Notre Dame Law for its commitment to training a different kind of lawyer. Not only does NDLS offer excellent academics, and a strong alumni network, but also opportunities to gain experience outside the classroom that allowed me to build my resume and develop my legal skills. During my 2L year, I participated in Notre Dame’s Chicago externship program that allowed me to attend classes while also gaining court room experience as a clerk with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. As a 3L, I spent a week working in a legal clinic in Appalachia where I learned about environmental law and the impact of coal mining while providing pro-bono legal services to area residents. Through these experiences, I gained confidence in myself and saw first hand the positive impact an individual can make as an attorney.

Since graduating with the Class of 2015, Notre Dame continues to invest in my public interest career through their generous fellowship program and loan repayment assistance program. I am currently a Thomas L. Shaffer Fellow with the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago. I work on cases educating and representing human trafficking victims seeking immigration visas as well as helping with domestic violence issues and access to healthcare. Thanks to the education I received and confidence I developed at Notre Dame Law School, I am able to provide immigrant communities in Chicago with legal assistance that acknowledges the human dignity inherent in every individual. I have realized my goal of becoming a different kind of lawyer, and could not have succeeded without the support and guidance of Notre Dame Law School.

Originally from Michigan, Passinault earned a bachelors degree in international studies and women and gender studies from Loyola University of Chicago in 2009 and a J.D. from the University of Notre Dame in 2015. Before beginning law school, Passinault interned at Amnesty International and the Cook County Commission on Women’s Issues. She also worked as a safe exchange facilitator, a tax assessment case assistant, a court advocate and both a risk management analyst and client service specialist for Willis Towers Watson. During law school, Passinault served as a law clerk for the Cook County State’s Attorney and a summer associate at Varnum Attorneys at Law. She was member of the Journal of Law, Ethics, and Public Policy and Notre Dame Women in Law as well as a participant of the Galilee program. As the most recent recipient of the Shaffer Fellowship, she currently works for the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago within the immigrants and workers’ rights practice group.