Going to law school was one of the smartest things I ever did. It exposed me to people and career choices I might never have had.”
Elizabeth MacDonough grew up in the nation's capital and stayed inside the district to earn her BA degree at George Washington University. When she was ready for law school, VLS's comparative quiet was "extremely attractive." She could not have predicted then how her Vermont years would help pave the way back to Washington, where she now dispenses legal advice around the clock to the nation's leaders.
Her career path points to the intersection of law and politics. After college she worked in a law firm library, served as a legislative reference assistant in the U.S. Senate Library and as the assistant executive clerk of the Senate (treaty and nomination office), and as the assistant morning business editor of the Congressional Record.
A JD degree, she realized, would increase her options. "Going to law school was one of the smartest things I ever did," MacDonough says. "It exposed me to people and career choices I might never have had."
Opportunities came via VLS internships for Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, and with the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) in Burlington, Vermont. "As part of my Burlington internship, I went to INS headquarters in Washington," MacDonough recalls. "Interns from other law schools were there, but my knowledge of a line of cases from Professor Dycus's National Security Law course bumped me to the head of the class. It was a good day for me and by implication for Vermont Law School. I've had other professional moments like that, where my VLS education has stood me in good stead."
"Law school is what you make of it," says MacDonough. "The other schools don't have any horn books that we don't have." What makes VLS different, she believes, is the supportive atmosphere. "Professors were so encouraging, and were very willing to reach out to students. I was impressed by that. I also derived substantial benefit from VLS's smaller school community. It was easy to feel like a number at GWU and I was looking for a more personal educational experience."
After graduation, MacDonough was employed through the Department of Justice Honor Graduate Program as an assistant district counsel for the INS in Newark, New Jersey. "Working for the DOJ and as a trial attorney were things of which I had dreamed. VLS's good relationship with the INS in Burlington opened up these opportunities for me."
In 1999 MacDonough accepted a position as an assistant parliamentarian for the U.S. Senate, and was promoted in 2002 to senior assistant parliamentarian, and in 2012 was appointed parliamentarian. "This job takes up a lot of my time and energy," she says, pointing out that her BlackBerry and cell phone can go off seven days a week. Her first major experience came in the wake of Bush v. Gore.
"Here I was, just a few years out of law school, helping to advise Vice President Gore on the procedure for counting the ballots in his own election. It was very exciting and humbling, and in the middle of it I remembered Professor Kreiling's lectures about the ‘word misers' who wrote the code and rules, and wondered where they were when 3 USC sec. 15-18 were being written."
MacDonough's work touches many areas; a senator called one night to ask about the procedural implications of the "nuclear option," and she was interrupted while painting her kitchen ("paintbrush in my hand") to field a call about the Terri Schiavo resolution. "There's something new every day," she says eagerly.
In addition to her position with the Senate, MacDonough has been a fellow in the Senior Stennis Congressional Staff Fellowship, a leadership development program for senior staff. Her Washington circle, already extensive, has been further enlarged by membership in the VLS Alumni Association's D.C. chapter. "This is a very big, socially responsible group of people. Many alums are very fond of the law school and feel that it served them well."