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WJA 2021: Monica J. Allen

Monica Allen might be said to have come full circle in some respects.

allen-monicaAfter all, Allen, 64, graduated law school from Washington University. Now, she’s back there again – as the institution’s general counsel.

“I enjoy being in an environment where education is a core mission,” said Allen, a native of Cleveland. “Seeing the incredible students come to campus every fall and just marveling at their energy, their creativity and their commitment to making the world a better place. It is just a very inspiring place to work and be a part of.”

Actually, Allen’s plans to become a lawyer didn’t really come into focus until her 30s. She initially leaned toward an academic career via a graduate program for comparative literature.

“I had not really grown up thinking I’d like to be a lawyer but I was very much a reader,” she said.

Initially, she was put off by the dense, crusty material she found in law books.

“But over time, it became clear that I was not really going to be content being an academic. I wanted more engagement,” she said. “I liked teaching but I wanted more immediate tangible results from the things I was doing.”

That realization put things in a new light.

“I revisited the law school idea and realized how really those seemingly difficult and dry cases were about real people’s lives and difficulties and were very compelling,” she said “I decided that that’s where I wanted to pursue, being engaged in that sort of work that was on the one hand very analytical and on the other hand very tangible and had meaningful results for people who found themselves in difficult situations.”

She went on to clerk for federal district court Judge Jean Hamilton and then went on to work at a firm as a litigator before moving on to a senior counsel position at the Federal Reserve Bank. Later, she’d become an associate at a new startup firm.

Finally, it was back to her alma mater where she has worked her way from senior counsel to deputy counsel to general counsel.

“I enjoy what I do because I work in an incredibly interesting, complex environment where there are people doing innovative, interesting, cutting edge things all around me,” she said. “The problems are different every single day. It is just a very rich, rewarding place to work.”

She said she feels integrity should be at the core of the practice of law.

“You have to always be assuring yourself that you are putting your clients interests first and foremost,” said Allen. “That’s what you are there for. You take on your client’s concerns and your client’s goals. That’s an exercise in discipline you have to do day in and day out.”

Women's Justice Awards 2021