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Assistant GC credits wealth of experiences for career success

January 8, 2013 | Alumni

Being trapped has never been a problem for Michele Schoeppe ’96. Her current occupation as an assistant general counsel for the American Chemistry Council and her previous positions with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and the American Petroleum Institute have given her a breadth of experiences.

Schoeppe’s work for the American Chemistry Council is diverse. Reading, writing, and researching are part of her everyday tasks.

“I provide the association legal guidance and more generally legal guidance on regulatory, litigation and legislative advocacy issues,” she said. “I have the opportunity to not just work on litigation, but press releases and research and all the various issues a trade association faces.”

Her role affects public policy and environmental law on a variety of platforms, including clean energy and sustainability of the industry. For example, Schoeppe has worked on advocating for the use of plastic auto parts, “which are made of chemicals,” she said.

More energy efficient insulation in refrigerators and houses are also projects she has worked on. “So energy efficiency is important,” said Schoeppe.

Although, she did work at a firm for a brief period of time and for the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, Schoeppe always knew that in-house counsel was her desired career path during her time at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.

“I’m a people person and a big part of this job (assistant general counsel at the American Chemistry Council) is that you work with over a hundred member companies on many diverse issues,” she said.

Despite her lack of a background in chemistry, her previous in-house counsel experience with other trade associations and her experiences in law school have been key factors in her doing her job successfully.

“I think some of the most important things in law school really are critical thinking, how you ask questions, how to be an ‘issue-spotter.’ That’s a huge part of my job,” she said.

Schoeppe’s plan was always to practice law outside of Ohio, and her first job with the United Mine Workers of America Health and Retirement Funds brought her to Washington, D.C. more than 10 years ago.

“They hired me because … they needed someone with a litigation background, and I had a strong litigation background from working for the Ohio Attorney General’s Office,” she said. “Take those jobs where you acquire a lot of litigation experience — like the attorney general’s office — because that’s what’s going to get you to an in-house counsel position.”

Her next job was as senior counsel for the American Petroleum Institute.

She explained that plenty of experience is required for students to find the right job in the right location for them after graduation — especially if their dream location is a major metropolitan city.

“I like (Washington) D.C. a lot. It’s a little tough coming there from Ohio State,” she said.

Moving to a new city and making a name for herself was no easy task, and Schoeppe doesn’t think it will be any easier for today’s generation of law school graduates.

“I’d say there are a lot of opportunities here (Washington, D.C.). Many of them are unpaid, but I think those are very rewarding. … Be open-minded; put your best foot forward; and you’re going to meet a ton of people,” she said. “You can do it, but it’s going to take work.”

Schoeppe advised that students take advantage of the multitude of opportunities available in a big city, including professional groups and events that will allow them to meet many new people.

Current law students at Moritz should start by taking advantage of the wide variety of classes across many disciplines, said Schoeppe.

“One of the main reasons I went to law school at Ohio State was because they allowed you to take this diversity of courses; they didn’t pigeonhole you. And you were able to take whatever you wanted to take and you weren’t forced into some curriculum and to take certain classes,” she said.

Schoeppe thinks this has really helped shape her career.

“You need to have that broad-spectrum background,” she said.

This diversity of interests helped keep Schoeppe from finding herself categorized under one specialization like so many of her colleagues. “Don’t pigeonhole yourself before someone else does it because there are so many opportunities,” she said.

This article was written by T.K. Brady.