Anna Skubikowski, JD 2010
The work I’m doing is current, it's interesting, and it has an impact.”
BA, Comparative Literature, Barnard College; MA, Italian Literature, Harvard University
Career Before Law School:
Analyst, World Bank Group-Global Environment Facility Secretariat
Had she followed her original career path, Anna Skubikowski today might be spending her hours parsing the fine points of Italian Renaissance literature. Instead, sitting at her internship desk at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), she starts her day by checking the latest developments in the Climate Change Bill in the House of Representatives, which could give FERC a lead role in regulating carbon cap-and-trade markets. "It helps me contextualize what I'm working on," she says.
Likewise, last year at a State Department internship at the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, "we were definitely in the news," she says. She authored a briefing memo for President Bush when he met with the president of Indonesia at the G-8 Summit and prepared Senate testimony for a deputy assistant secretary on three ocean-related treaties, including one banning ship paints that decimate oyster populations. "The work I'm doing is current, it's interesting, and it has an impact," she says.
That's exactly what she was searching for when she made a dramatic career shift into law two years ago.
Following the path of her college professor parents, she had studied comparative literature at Barnard College. She started her first day of grad school in Italian literature at Harvard on September 12, 2001-and the events of the day before had changed everything, as did the subsequent war in Iraq. "I felt like what I was studying had nothing to do with anything that was important to me," she says. "I was working on articles that no one would ever read, checking out books no one had checked out since 1918-I felt isolated from things that mattered to me."
She completed her degree, then went to New York City and temped as a researcher at a hedge fund until her dream job came through: a two-year entry-level job at the World Bank in Washington, D.C. She was assigned to the Global Environment Facility Secretariat, which funds projects in the developing world with environmental benefits-and that's when she found her focus.
"I had thought the environment was about recycling and turning off lights and was kind of boring, but I found that it permeates everything-economics, health, politics," she says. On projects ranging from renewable energy in South Africa to soil management in Kenya to fuel cell technology in China, she worked "doing customer service for governments," helping train their staffs to develop projects and obtain funds, and responding to their questions.
She needed more education to build a career at the World Bank, and her next step became clear talking with VLS graduate Charles Di Leva, chief counsel of the Environmental and International Law Unit of World Bank. He took her to a VLS alumni gathering, where she was surprised by the breadth and depth of the people she met: "They were doing substantive, interesting work that makes a difference."
The more Anna looked at other law schools, the better a match VLS seemed for her. "VLS's focus on environmental law made it seem that I could get more skills for the career I had started establishing for myself and not be overly consumed by things I wasn't as interested in."
VLS was the only law school she applied to, and in 2007 she started classes. "I've had to recalibrate my brain," she says. "The classes are a lot harder than I'd thought they would be-I don't know anyone who can float through without working really hard." After a first year of basic law classes, she "got into the juicy stuff" and particularly liked Professor Sean Nolon's class on environmental dispute resolution.
She landed a position as an "Energizer," doing research and consulting with private- and public-sector clients for the VLS Institute for Energy and the Environment. Besides producing energy-related analyses, she was awarded a USAID-funded fellowship to produce a paper with a student at Sun Yat-sen University in China. She wrote a comparative analysis of sewage treatment privatization and traveled with four other VLS students to Sun Yat-sen University in China. There she saw first-hand raw sewage running into a river-as well as an impressive commitment among the Chinese environmental law students. "Without the backing of laws and courts that we have here, they're basically pioneers-and they're passionate," she says.
VLS is only an hour from Middlebury College, where Anna's father taught Italian literature and her mother currently teaches English. Although as an 18-year-old seeking excitement, Anna fled rural Vermont for the buzz of Manhattan, she's found that a rural environment works for her as a 30-year-old law student. "Life is calmer and simpler-so if you're stressed out by your class work, you're not stressed out by your surroundings as well."
She gets her doses of city life in her summer internships in Washington, D.C. In 2008, she worked on international environmental treaties, attended Senate hearings on three ocean treaty ratifications, and drafted memos on deepwater ports and trans-boundary oil spill cleanups, "It was a great summer," she says. At FERC, where three of the eight legal interns this summer are VLS students, she is doing the bread-and-butter work of writing orders resolving regulatory cases. They are published in the Federal Register, "which is kind of nerdy and exciting," she says. As President Obama sorts through issues and options such as smart grids and energy rates, "FERC is front and center to a lot of these issues," she says.
She would like to make her future in Washington, D.C., in international environmental diplomacy, helping to negotiate international climate change accords. She expects her VLS degree and contacts to be an asset: "VLS has a strong presence in Washington -there are VLS grads are at the EPA, Department of the Interior, and Department of Justice." Last year she arranged a meeting of State Department staff lawyers with a VLS faculty member. "They came away very impressed," she says. "No one else has programs like we have."