The Atlanta Lawyer March 2015 - Page 6

Feature Article A Labor of Love Following My Passion for Public Service By Rita A. Sheffey Assistant Dean for Public Service, Emory University School of Law, Atlanta Bar President 2011-2012 rita.sheffey@emory.edu D o you wake up every day (or most days), without the alarm, and feel energized and excited about the day ahead, even on a weekday? Have you found your calling in life? Throughout my life, from time to time I would hear a colleague, friend or family member remark that he/she truly loved work and had found his/her calling. I have enjoyed my work, but I am not sure I considered it my calling. To find one’s calling seemed to require something both intensely personal and powerful. On January 20 of this year, I joined the Emory University School of Law as the first Assistant Dean for Public Service and knew I had found my calling. In this role, I work every day to connect with law students and colleagues to nurture the desire to help people. I hope to show our students the many different ways a lawyer can do that, regardless of practice and at different times in one’s career. The opportunities are limitless as we create a Center for Public Service encompassing all aspects of service. know what I already know, namely that Emory Law, Dean Robert Schapiro and our colleagues have an extraordinary commitment to serving our global community and to ensuring that all Emory students and alumni are professionals who exemplify the highest values of our profession. Prior to joining Emory, I had spent my entire legal career to date -- 27 years -- with one law firm, Hunton & Williams. Although I had been increasingly immersed in pro bono, public interest, and bar leadership throughout that time, and my Emory role is focused exclusively on service, the transition from “Big Law” to academia has been transformational. As a child, like many people, including many lawyers, I wanted to be a doctor and “help people.” When I did not realize that dream, I pursued other career opportunities, first obtaining a Ph.D. in Chemistry and heading toward a “The more I learned about Emory’s commitment to service, the more I wanted to be part of the future and to focus on planting and nurturing seeds of service in the next generation of lawyers.” Working collaboratively, I will help create and disseminate a strong and consistent message about Emory’s commitment to service. Among my many specific tasks are advising student groups focused on public interest and service, and supporting and expanding opportunities for students to volunteer for public interest organizations and government agencies. I also am working to increase opportunities for students to obtain coveted judicial clerkships, as well as counseling students who want to dedicate themselves to careers serving others while ensuring they have access to all available options to do that without undue financial burden. Further on the horizon will be opportunities to collaborate with other Emory schools, as well as other law schools and community and government organizations. And there are even loftier opportunities beyond. I want others to 6 THE ATLANTA LAWYER March 2015 career in college teaching and research. I soon realized that such a career just didn’t speak to my heart at that time. Following an interest in the law, I changed course and went to law school. Focusing on combining my advanced degrees and pursuing what at that time was a popular focus on environmental issues, I joined Hunton & Williams in my home state of Virginia to do environmental litigation. For the next 27 years, I had some incredible opportunities to work with talented colleagues and wonderful clients, trying cases The Official News Publication of the Atlanta Bar Association