I began my career as a litigation associate in two large Chicago law firms. Although the work was intellectually challenging, it wasn’t quite the right fit for me. So, I joined the faculty of Northern Illinois University College of Law to develop and grow its Academic Support Program. My mission was to help academically struggling students to overcome their obstacles and become successful students. It was exhilarating, exhausting, fulfilling and challenging. The opportunity confirmed my suspicion that I belonged in the teaching and learning field. A few years later, I joined DePaul University College of Law as Assistant Dean of Educational Services. Although my mission was the same, the student body was far greater in number. While at DePaul, I also was given the chance to teach legal writing, legal drafting and professional responsibility. I became active in the Academic Support movement and wrote a book about law school success with my friend and colleague Charlotte Taylor (now Dean of Students at Touro College of Law in New York).
How has your practice evolved in the last few years?
For the last ten years, I have taken my passion for teaching and learning to the Illinois Attorney General’s Office. I was tasked with building a professional development program for all the attorneys in our office who practice throughout the state. I began with a few discrete programs a year. Ten years later, my colleague Jaime Rivera and I are celebrating our 300th program! Each year we offer our attorneys over 50 in-house CLE trainings. Some programs focus on law updates, others on skill development (including a hands-on deposition and trial advocacy program), and of course others focus on issues of professionalism, diversity and civility. It has been a tremendous journey to follow Illinois’ adoption of CLE from its beginnings. I truly believe that by sharing our knowledge and focusing on these issues, we all contribute to enhancing not only the image of the profession but its practice. I am fascinated by the shift from teacher-focused programs to learner-centered trainings. As technology enables us to deliver knowledge and facilitate information sharing, the future is indeed exciting.
If you could offer one piece of advice for young lawyers, what would it be?
To set realistic expectations about the practice of law. I didn’t realize how much time I would have to spend on fact investigation – reviewing documents, interviewing witnesses, deposing parties. I came to the realization that although I loved the law, I didn’t much care for the facts! Luckily, I found a path that merged my interest in the law with my aptitude for learning and teaching and my commitment to enhancing diversity and civility in the profession. Given the debt load that so many students carry now, I think a number of paths are no longer viable. I have had candidates turn down job offers because our modest salary cannot support their monthly loan repayment.
What is the one technological device you could not function without daily?
Definitely my mobile phone. Whether it’s email, Twitter or Google Maps, I cannot live without it.
How has civility made a difference in your practice of law?
When I joined the practice in the late 1980s, women were just starting to make inroads into the legal field. Many of the senior male partners were reticent to accept us. I was once told by a senior partner that I would have made a great legal secretary and it was too bad that I chose to go to law school instead. In another instance, I was told by opposing counsel: “You are going to lose this argument, little girl, and then you are going to get fired.” Twenty years ago inclusiveness, civility and professionalism in the law were not hot topics. Bar associations and groups such as the Commission continue to challenge us to discuss these vital issues. I love designing programs that address concrete ways we can enhance civility and inclusiveness in the profession.
What do you do for fun?
I continue working with law students as an adjunct professor. They always have been and will remain to be my inspiration. I hate to admit this, but my favorite indulgence is a weekend nap. I spend most of my workday interacting with people and my free time with my family (my seven year old is high energy). I need alone time to recharge my battery – napping with my cat is a treasured pastime.
Ruta K. Stropus received both her undergraduate and law degrees from Loyola University, and was licensed to practice law in 1989. She started her career as a litigation associate at McDermott, Will & Emery and later at Sachnoff and Weaver, Ltd. She spent the next ten years of her life in legal academia: first, at Northern Illinois College of Law, and later as an Assistant Dean for Educational Services and Director of the Academic Support Program at DePaul College of Law. Ms. Stropus has taught various courses, including legal writing, advanced legal writing, legal drafting and legal profession. She is the Director of Attorney Recruitment and Professional Development with the Illinois Attorney General’s Office and is also an adjunct professor at Loyola Law School.