Carol King '79: A Series of Happy Accidents on the Path to a Diverse Career
Carol King ’79 explains that her career path “has been more the result of ‘happy accidents’ than ‘advance planning.’” Her law school class was the first to have a substantial number of women: 20% of her class was female, compared with 5% the year before. Carol says that upon graduation, “The larger firms were still hesitant to hire women,” and at the same time, “The economy wasn’t great and people were nervous about finding jobs.” In what became the first in the series of happy accidents, Carol was offered a job at the Ohio Legal Rights Service (OLRS). As an attorney at OLRS, she advocated for people with disabilities.
After three years at OLRS, Carol says, “I made the change to practice accidentally.” She explains, “I was doing a great deal of litigation and the same person was often my opposing counsel. He asked me to join his practice, and I thought, ‘I’d like to try that.’” Carol enjoyed working with the other attorneys at the firm, and she expanded her skills to include many types of law, including family law. She realized she was able to practice family law yet avoid the pitfall of ‘taking it home.’ She clarifies, “I could understand why my clients were upset, but I would get them calmed down and explain how I could help.”
Although Carol wasn’t particularly bothered by the emotional component of family law, she became disillusioned by the process. The process, she elaborates, is one where “family disputes are resolved through attorney-negotiated settlements or court orders.” Her complaint is that, “To a large extent, the process failed to involve the people most impacted by the result.”
This disillusionment led Carol to explore, while still practicing at the firm, the field of mediation. Mediation, Carol feels, encourages the active participation of the family embroiled in the conflict, so that the outcome is at least in part something the family members designed. Mediation was a growing field and was quite new in Ohio at the time. Carol took a training course on divorce mediation and got involved with what is now Community Mediation Services of Central Ohio.
As Carol immersed herself in mediation and her practice, another happy accident developed that led to her move into teaching. Carol heard about a job opening in the clinical program of The Ohio State University College of Law. Mediation experience was preferred, so Carol decided to apply. Carol remembers, “When Professor David Goldberger called me about the position, he said he’d given up looking for someone with a mediation background, but I was able to say, ‘I have that experience.’”
Carol moved from private practice into academia and began teaching Mediation and Civil Litigation. She found that she thoroughly enjoyed working with students. She also appreciated the challenging “mix of mediation and litigation. It used two parts of my brain, the analytical part for litigation and the interpersonal part for mediation.” Professor Goldberger recollects, “Carol was an excellent clinical teacher. She was skilled at teaching the art of advocacy. And, she instilled in her students an understanding of the importance of professionalism and of top-quality representation in the practice of law.”
Continuing along the teaching path, Carol joined the faculty of Roger Williams University School of Law in Rhode Island. She explains, “Thanks to the influence of Nancy [Rogers], I was interested in legal policy. Rhode Island was way behind Ohio in the field of alternative dispute resolution, and I wanted to help change that and improve access to mediation in Rhode Island courts.”
In addition to her teaching responsibilities, Carol became a board member of the Community Mediation Center of Rhode Island. She sold the Center on the idea of a small claims court mediation program with volunteer mediators from the Center, and this program is still running in Providence today.
Carol was asked to assume the position of interim director of the Community Mediation Center of Rhode Island, and she left her teaching post to devote more time to the Mediation Center. Through her work with the Center, she met people from other communities. She decided to apply her mediation and litigation skills to a different ideal: serving low-income clients. Carol began work as a managing attorney for Southeastern Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (SMLAC). She describes her responsibilities at SMLAC as “fun, but very hard work.”
The most recent happy accident of Carol’s career came after a couple years at SMLAC. A coworker, Ray Wallace, decided to form his own practice, and he invited Carol to join the firm. She says, “This was a big change [from SMLAC], because now I’m doing a great deal of special education law.” Her involvement with mediation has shifted too, from being the mediator to the attorney for the client involved with mediation. She explains, “The attorney’s role in mediation is to discuss with the client the pros and cons of the proposed agreement, and help the client think through the options.”
Carol has been at Wallace Law Office for about five years. She’s
enjoying her work and “does not foresee any more happy accidents”
in her future, because she’s right where she belongs. She explains,
“It has been fun seeing my career come full circle, from representing
people with disabilities at Ohio Legal Rights Service and now, years later,
representing people with disabilities again.”