Safe at home — in the law
By Irene Sherlock
When University Scholar Alison Healey graduated with a B.S. in Justice and Law Administration (JLA), her perfect 4.0 grade-point average earned her the Ancell School of Business Dean’s Award, recognizing her as the top student in the university’s business school.
By then she’d already been inducted into Alpha Phi Sigma, the national criminal justice Society, and Psi Chi, the psychology honor society. She helped organize, then presented at, the Connecticut Collegiate Honor Council Conference. She was a student instructor in psychology and co-captain of the women’s tennis team.
That she was accepted to nearly every law school to which she had applied surprised no one –– except perhaps Healey.
“I was really quite amazed,” she says of the many acceptances. These included the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia and the school from which she graduated, Harvard Law . “I wasn’t sure where I’d get in and I wanted to be on the safe side, so I applied everywhere.”
The “safe side” is where Healey is today. Seriously. She’s an attorney in the National Security Division’s Office of Intelligence at the Department of Justice, in Washington, D.C.
“I love my job,” she says of her now six-month stint at the Justice Dept. “I have a fantastic mentor, which is a tremendous asset in any job. And D.C. is an exciting place to be. I’m still finding my way around.”
Healey, who was raised in Newtown, Conn., has had to find her way around any number of interesting cities. On two separate occasions, she taught graduate students the fundamentals of negotiation and leadership in –– of all places –– Paris, France.
“That was a wonderful experience,” she says of the weekend workshops, noting their location was almost as appealing as the assignments themselves. “My mother is a teacher and I’ve always been aware of what an important job it is.”
Healey, whose father died when she was 10, is very close to her mother, Maryann, a reading consultant in Danbury. When she was a student at Harvard, Healey called her mom regularly.
“Every time I became excited about something or got riled up about an issue, I’d call her.” The young attorney smiles. “My mother feels as if she’s also earned her law degree.”
One of Harvard’s great strengths, Healey believes, is the university’s insistence on an atmosphere of diversity and collegiality. “It’s where I learned to appreciate a variety of perspectives on any given issue,” she reflects.
She graduated from law school in 2008. That same year, she received a Harvard Negotiation Research Fellowship in recognition of her exemplary academic research. In addition, she was acknowledged for her more than 1,000 hours of pro-bono work.
As much as she likes to work, this dedicated young woman will admit she does kick back now and then to watch or play sports. When time allows, she loves to bake, and enjoys the challenge of creating origami, the Japanese art of folding paper into decorative forms. Nevertheless, if you met her at a party, chances are you’d find yourself in an interesting discussion involving the ambivalent nature of constitutional law, not hobbies.
That’s where the safety issue come in. “I like the push and pull of the National Security Division,” she says of her work. “Always, we have to weigh a citizen’s civil liberties against issues of national security. It’s an important responsibility that we in the division take extremely seriously.”
She’s come to appreciate the power of perspective after working on cases involving one side of the law and then the other. At Harvard, she was senior editor of Harvard Negotiation Law Review. She was vice president and a basic training director of the Harvard Mediation Program. Clinical experience included work at an environmental law and policy clinic and at a sports law clinic. At the New England Innocence Project, an organization that works to exonerate individuals wrongly convicted of a crime, she investigated legal and factual circumstances and evidence available in a case.
Before that , Healey had interned for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. Later, she clerked for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Certainly one of her most impressive accomplishments includes a clerkship for a United States District Court judge, where she managed civil cases and assisted with criminal trials.
“I’ve always loved criminal law,” says Healey. “I’m not surprised I wound up at the Department of Justice. It’s sort of my dream come true.”
If this extraordinary alumna sounds like she has the makings of a constitutional scholar, it’s because she’s been trained by one of the best –– mentor and WCSU Professor Emeritus of JLA Dr. Harry Schramm.
While waiting for security clearance for her job last year, Healey co-taught a commercial law course with Schramm. “Alison is a born teacher and communicator,” says Schramm. “Her success shows that if you work hard and have the goods to back it up, you can succeed at the top-ranked law school in the country.”
For this commercial law class, Healey developed concrete hypothetical situations to illustrate abstract material from the text. “She even devised a game of JLA Jeopardy to help students learn the vocabulary,” Schramm says. “I hope she goes into the field of legal education one day. She’s a natural.”
Then again, if she does leave the Justice Dept., it might be to don her other career (baseball) hat. For the last three years, at the professional minor league baseball winter meetings, Healey has researched and prepared presentations on the most up-to-date information regarding ballpark liability.
“Part of what I do is to keep management appraised about current court cases,” she says. She illustrates with the ‘Baseball Rule,’ which outlines the ways in which ballparks are responsible (or not) for the safety of their spectators. “As you might guess, liability is an important issue for teams, stadium owners and operators. However, the ‘Baseball Rule’ varies state to state. Also, courts differ in their application and interpretation of the rule, which means it’s hard to predict exactly how outcomes will be decided.”
At these meetings, Healey has reported on sexual harassment issues specific to the sports world, as well as ramifications of the Americans with Disabilities Act amendments of 2008 and how they impact teams and stadium owners and operators.
“Alison has contributed her considerable talents to many important issues facing professional baseball today,” says L. James Juliano Jr., an attorney at the law firm of Nicola, Gudbranson & Cooper LLC, in Cleveland, Ohio.
Characteristically, Healey waves away any credit. “I work as part of a team and do my bit, but the fact is, I really love baseball,” she says. “And it’s such a thrill to be a part of this world.”
“If only Alison’s brand of enthusiasm and drive and her appetite for challenge and accomplishment could be branded,” says WestConn’s Chair of JLA and Professor of Legal Studies Chuck Mullaney. “I guarantee you, the world would be a better, more interesting place.”Certainly a fairer, safer place, if Healey has her way.