Shared mission leads Cristal Brisco, ’06 J.D., to Saint Mary’s College

Author: Kevin Allen

Cristal Brisco Cristal Brisco, ‘06 J.D., will join Saint Mary’s College as college counsel on Sept. 1. // Photo provided by Saint Mary’s College.

Ever since she was in grade school, Cristal Brisco knew she wanted to be a lawyer.

She grew up in Gary, Ind., and recalls one of the nuns at her Catholic school saying, “Cristal talks a lot, and she always debates. She should be a lawyer.”

As a grade-schooler, Brisco didn’t know what that meant, so her father introduced her to a local attorney. “He described his work as helping people,” said Brisco, ’06 J.D.

That mission – using the law in service to the community – struck a chord with Brisco as a young girl, and it has continued to be a source of inspiration throughout her legal career.

After earning a bachelor’s degree at Valparaiso University, she was drawn to Notre Dame by the Law School’s emphasis on service and educating “a different kind of lawyer.” She currently serves as a Notre Dame Law Association board member.

Professor Thomas L. Shaffer, now retired, influenced Brisco when she was a law student. Shaffer was the supervising attorney at the Notre Dame Clinical Law Center, where Brisco and many other students over the years have provided free legal services to small businesses, nonprofit organizations, and low-income residents in the South Bend area.

After graduating from the Law School, Brisco worked for seven years at Barnes & Thornburg in the law firm’s Indianapolis and South Bend offices. “Tom Shaffer started his career at Barnes & Thornburg, too,” she said. “The rigor and training you receive at a large law firm can open a lot of doors for you.”

One door that opened in 2013 was at the city of South Bend, where Brisco joined Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s administration as corporation counsel. Her clients at Barnes & Thornburg included municipalities, which exposed her to the ways that city attorneys can affect residents’ lives in positive ways. She saw an opportunity to have a positive impact on South Bend at a time when the city was revitalizing, and attracting new development and businesses to the urban core. She also saw an opportunity to train and mentor young lawyers.

Starting Sept. 1, she will walk through another door when she becomes college counsel at Saint Mary’s College. She sees in Saint Mary’s – as she did at Notre Dame Law School and the South Bend mayor’s office – an organization that shares her values and has a mission she supports.

These types of career shifts – transitioning from a big law firm to city government to higher education – would scare some people. When Brisco looks at the challenge, she says her confidence, in part, comes from her experience at Notre Dame Law School.

“I received an excellent education at the Law School,” she said. “That’s something I can always rely on – Notre Dame Law School prepared me.”