Attorney trades fast track for more satisfying work

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By Jo Mathis

Legal News

Two years ago, Kristin Rosella was on the fast track, earning big money doing corporate litigation and bankruptcy work for a Manhattan law firm just seven blocks from her apartment.

But when she considered a future doing more of the same, she knew she had to get out.

"At the end of the fifth year, you're deciding if you want to be partner, and you're looking at the people above you and seeing what their life is like," said Rosella, 31, who grew up in Ann Arbor. "It wasn't the amount of work that got to me. I just wasn't feeling a connection to it. I wasn't feeling that passionate about it. I figured that if I'm going to be doing something eight hours or more a day--and at the point, it was sometimes 16 hours a day--I'd like to really like it."

Because she'd been so swamped at work, Rosella didn't have a clear idea of what else she wanted to do. But she knew she needed to leave the law firm and begin the search.

A Francophile, Rosella flew to France and enrolled in some intensive classes to perfect her French to fluency, and see where that could take her.

When she returned, she started working as program associate at Women Deliver, a global human rights and maternal health organization, and began to think she should leave law completely.

Three months later, however, she realized she missed legal analysis and writing.

Worried that she'd never find a job that met her needs and goals, she started looking at jobs where she could combine legal knowledge with human rights.

While attending continuing legal education lectures at the New York City Bar, she happened to hear a lecture by the co-founders of the International Justice Program, 501(c)(3) organization based in Newark, N.J. that promotes human rights and helps victims of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes through casework, advocacy, training, and programs.

She also learned that the IJP was looking for someone to fill a fellowship.

The search was over. She won the fellowship, and became the program director, as well.

"I love the job so much," said Rosella, who now commutes an hour by train to get to her office in Newark, N.J. "I still work really long hours. There's a certain level of pressure that's still there, but it's a different kind of pressure than you feel at a law firm because I really feel that connection to people on a daily basis."

As IJP program director, she seeks justice for Darfurian refugees and survivors of genocide and other mass atrocities and helps them rebuild their lives. Rosella and the IJP assist and support the Co-Founders in their representation of victims before the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Though the hours are long, she's never had to pull an all-nighter at the office, which she'd done a number of times in Chicago and New York.

"The people I work for are so passionate about what they're doing, and learning from somebody with that kind of energy is so different ... Here you have this passionate, constant learning, and I like that."

Right now, she's earning a stipend as the Marilyn S. Broad Fellow for one year.

Rosella knows she couldn't do it--especially in pricey Manhattan--without the support of her husband of nearly a year, attorney Eric Falkenberry.

"He was excited and nervous for me because it's not something he would have done himself," Rosella said. "But he wanted me to be happy, and he was very proud of me because it's hard just stop working at a law firm and start something new."

Can she imagine ever returning to a large law firm?

"Noooo!" she said with a laugh.

Acknowledging that she would do so only if absolutely necessary to support her family, she added: "It would not be ideal."

She said it would have been easier to go straight to a non-profit after graduating from law school in 2005, but at the same time, she learned a lot of skills at the firms that serve her well now.

Rosella graduated from Greenhills High School in 1998, then got a degree in history from the University of Michigan before enrolling at Chicago-Kent College of Law.

Throughout her career, she has advocated for human rights, and has offered her services on a pro bono basis to victims of gender-based and political-based violence seeking asylum in the U.S.

Retired local attorney Kurt Berggren has known Rosella since she was in high school, and is struck by the fact that she has sacrificed so much financially to live her ideals.

"What she's doing is pretty awesome," he said.

Rosella was back in town over the weekend to attend an IJP benefit party held by her parents, John and Jean Rosella in their Ann Arbor home.

''This was our first fundraiser in Michigan, and my first time presenting the work of the International Justice Project to my family and friends," she said. "It was really exciting, and people were very interested in what's going on in Darfur and at the International Criminal Court. Because my parents hosted the fundraiser at their home, we were able to have a discussion format, and people very much enjoyed being able to ask questions and learn more."

For more information, go to internationaljusticeproject.com.

Published: Thu, Jul 19, 2012

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