Rachel Pauley let me into her office in Little Warren on a Tuesday afternoon while she was still on the phone. She motioned apologetically and pointed to an empty seat, so I waited.
“I’ll tell you what. That sounds great. But can I get back to you? I am running a tad bit late for a meeting.”
“I’m so sorry. But that was a new employer who wanted to talk to me about getting Columbia externs and summer interns! So I obviously needed to hear about that opportunity.”
Rachel started with Columbia Law School’s Office of Social Justice Initiatives (SJI) on Labor Day of this year, but she told me she gets these calls a lot. After only eight weeks as the new Director of Government Programs, that can only be a good thing.
From Government to CLS: Bringing Fresh Perspectives To The Table
Rachel comes to CLS after fifteen years in New York State government. After earning a BA and MA in International Affairs from Barnard and SIPA, she attended Fordham Law School as a part of the Stein Scholars Program for Public Interest. Directly out of law school, Rachel served as an Assistant District Attorney at the Kings County District Attorney’s Office, where she worked primarily in the Domestic Violence Bureau. Rachel left the District Attorney’s office after five years to clerk for two New York Supreme Court judges. She then worked at the New York State Office of the Attorney General (NYSAG) and the New York State Office of the Inspector General (NYSIG), where, in addition to investigating public corruption charges as a lawyer, she spearheaded the two offices’ internship programs. The first internship program that Rachel established at NYSAG subsequently became a model for other New York State government offices. Rachel spent a total of eight years managing the two internship programs in NYSAG and NYSIG. She loved working with students, counseling them on career decisions and even providing feedback on their resumes and cover letters.
Her involvement with interns in state government, in fact, is what brought her to Columbia. Rachel reached out to SJI over the summer looking to get Columbia interns for the internship program at NYSIG. SJI told her that though they would ordinarily refer her to the Director of Government Programs, that position had recently been vacated by Matthew Gewolb. Later that evening, Rachel went online and filed an application to become the new director.
Rachel is confident that she will bring a fresh perspective to the table at SJI, since her current position is the “culmination” of all her professional experiences in government. “It wasn’t long ago that I was sitting on the other side of the table and reviewing students’ applications for government internship programs,” said Rachel. “I know what employers are looking for.”
Joint Efforts and Smooth Transitions
Matthew Gewolb, SJI’s former Government Programs Advisor, was an invaluable asset to SJI and was instrumental in strengthening the government program at CLS. But Rachel and Matthew, along with the rest of the SJI office, have been working together to ensure a smooth transition.
For example, although Matthew is now the counsel for the New York City Council, he has been communicating extensively with Rachel since she came to SJI, and is still acting as a consultant for the D.C. Externship Program. Both Matt and Rachel were in D.C. for the fall externs’ orientation, and Rachel has met all the students currently in the program. By the end of this semester, Rachel will have been to D.C. more than five times.
SJI Dean Ellen Chapnick is optimistic about the transition. “Matthew’s ability to connect quickly with different kinds of people in government and the Law School, combined with his intelligence, avid curiosity, and openness, were very valuable in building the government program,” Dean Chapnick said. “Rachel also brings a lot of those qualities to the program. Unlike Matt, she also has many years of experience in senior staff positions in several New York State government agencies, including teaching employees throughout the State and running a law student internship program. She also has a lot of affection for Columbia, where she earned her BA and Masters degrees. One of her references described her as the ‘consummate networker.’”
Rachel understands that students may have questions about continuity, but given that she has been in regular contact with Matthew, she believes the transition will continue to go smoothly. “[Matthew and I] speak at least once a week,” Rachel said. “And when he’s no longer operating as a consultant because I’m firmly set here, I anticipate we’ll still be great friends.”
Rachel’s presence has also been well received by the CLS community. “I have only heard good things about Rachel from students, faculty and other administrators,” Dean Chapnick said. “There almost always is a student in [Rachel’s] office at SJI and … the programs she has done for students have been very well attended. I am confident that Rachel will take [SJI’s] government program to a new level.
Students have also expressed their excitement towards Rachel’s arrival. “As someone who’s interested in going into the government during my career, I’m grateful that Columbia has a person in the [SJI] office devoted to helping students with government jobs,” said Rebecca Yergin, a 2L who worked with Matthew before her 1L summer internship in D.C. and is interested in pursuing a government job later on in her career. “Matt opened up many doors, and I’m excited that Columbia has brought on someone who will provide an opportunity for students to further expand their networks.”
Moving Forward: Goals and Advice
Rachel understands herself to be at the “locus of the network” of current students looking for jobs and alumni looking to hire CLS students. In addition to fostering the D.C. externship program, Rachel is also developing programming (such as SJI Mondays), serving as the point person for the Department of Justice Honors Program and the Presidential Management Fellowship Program, coordinating clinical programs with faculty and centers where students can cultivate their practical skills in public interest work, and even consulting alumni through career transitions.
Rachel’s long-term goal for her time at CLS is simply to encourage more students to go into government service. “I think it is an honorable and a high calling. It’s why I did it. I hope I can lead students to do something they wouldn’t have thought of,” said Rachel.
But even for students who may never enter government work, Rachel, as a seasoned professional, has some words of wisdom: “When you start working, be a good subordinate and work hard. But be mindful of who you are working for, and open up to the people who really want to cultivate your professional skills and experience. If you can master and develop your workplace relationships, you’ll have more opportunities down the line. This is a skill that you can’t get in the classroom, but it’s just as important as what’s on your transcript. Because anyone can get a job, but to have a career is something really special. To get to choose what you want to do because it interests you is such a privilege. But takes a lot of hard work.”