Briefing Room

Eleanor Celeste


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Mixing science and the law

August 14, 2015 | Students

Coming into law school with an undergraduate or advanced degree in the sciences may not be the norm, but several graduates and current students said it’s a helpful background to have as they pursue positions in a variety of fields, from health to corporate law.

John H. Heithaus ’12 is using his legal and scientific knowledge in patent law. He holds undergraduate degrees in biological chemistry and the biological sciences, as well a master’s degree in biochemistry and molecular biology. That background, he said, has made him more conversant with his clients who are looking to protect their latest designs and innovations.

“There aren’t many people who can do the math or the chemistry, and still speak well and handle the patent applications and cases from all sides. That’s just the reality,” he said.

In his position, Heithaus works with his clients to secure and defend patents science on groundbreaking advancements. From the newest medical devices to pharmaceutical medications, Heithaus said one of the most exciting aspects of his job is learning what innovations are up and coming, long before they hit the market.

“I hear the new ideas and understand where the market is going years before everyone else. I know what new devices are coming out. It’s exciting because I have a little bit of an edge,” he said. “The other great thing is I often have the opportunity to help individuals who may just have a small business with a handful of employees and I can make a positive difference in those people’s lives. It’s really great being part of the whole process of innovation and driving the market. It can be a really rewarding experience.”

For Kristine Murphy ’13, who holds a biological sciences degree, a discussion with an undergraduate advisor ultimately led her to pursue a law degree and go on to work in health law.

“I had always intended to go to medical school, that’s why I originally chose a science major. I even took the MCAT at the start of my senior year, but by then, I knew I didn’t want to go to medical school anymore,” Murphy explained.

“I wanted to do something related to the health care industry. It was actually my undergraduate advisor who asked me if I had thought about law school and maybe becoming involved in the health care industry in that way,” she said. After spending a year working and interacting with attorneys in a clinic technology commercialization department, where she saw lawyers involved in hospital operations, she was set on making law school her next career move.

Murphy is now a member of the health care practice group at Jones Day in Cleveland. While she may not use the technical knowledge she gained from her undergraduate studies, she does use the analytical and writing skills learned while pursuing both of her degrees to navigate the ever changing field of health law.

“Just having a science background is what piqued my interest in health care. Now I do both transactional and litigation work all focused on working with health care providers, hospital systems, academic medical centers, and all sorts of entities involved in the health care industry,” she said. “Health care law is really developing and changing right now. There’s a lot going on and I think it’s a really good fit for people who like to continue to learn in a fast-paced field.”

2L Eleanor Celeste also hopes to pursue a career related to health law issues after graduation.

She holds an undergraduate degree from Wesleyan University’s science in society program with concentrations in biology and feminist, gender, sexuality studies, as well as a graduate certificate in biohazardous threat agents and emerging infectious diseases, from Georgetown University.

Celeste has always been passionate about science, but when she moved to Colorado to work on Senator Michael Bennet’s campaign, he and his wife, who are both attorneys, inspired her to consider a career in the law.

“While both had a lot of pros and lots of cons about being a lawyer and the law school experience, they are the reason I ultimately decided to come to law school,” she said.

Looking toward the future, Celeste is planning to graduate early from Moritz to try and work on a political campaign during the 2016 election cycle after graduation.

“Ideally, and with my background, I would help with public health, health policy, and women’s issues. I would like to think I could do the security side of the bioterrorist threats,” she said. “And whether it’s through policy or eventually going into practice, whatever I do I would like to keep health in my practice.”

Celeste added that having an extensive scientific background prior to coming to law school seems to be a major advantage so far when it comes to talking with potential employers.

“I’ve been meeting with people, especially on the political side, who love that I have a non-traditional background for someone interested in the political science. It’s actually been a huge help. When I’ve talked to people about the 2016 cycle, it has been the one thing they continue to praise. I think it’s been a huge, huge benefit to have a nontraditional background,” she said.

Although his career began in the sciences, 3L Drew Danielson is now hoping to use the skills and ideologies he applied while working in a laboratory to help businesses and other organizations solve their problems and better support their customers, employees, and communities.

After graduating from Arizona State University with a degree in microbiology, Danielson went to work for an Arizona state laboratory testing water and food samples, before moving on to work at a hospital lab helping with bench research.

Over time, however, his interests began to drift toward business. He discovered his passion for helping others in his community, something he had loved about the scientific field, could be easily applied.

That thought eventually led him to law school, where he is currently working toward a J.D./M.B.A degree.

“Around the crash I started getting interested in topics outside of the sciences. I had never really spent time thinking about the institutions and other formal structures that we have built up in society. In my opinion, businesses are a societal lynchpin; they create value and wealth through serving their customers, they provide their employees the dignity of work, all the while generating value for their owners. In essence, businesses attempt to facilitate transactions that make all parties involved better off. I decided that these individuals and entities – the builders, makers, and doers – were the customers I wanted to serve,” he explained.

“I spent some time thinking about where I felt I would fit in. I felt the law was a means for me to use my strengths to help businesses solve their problems, which according to Professor Douglas Whaley, is really what an attorney is supposed to be – a problem solver. I understand how important free market enterprises are to the health of a society, but if solving problems for businesses is what I want to do, I need to be able to speak their language and try to understand the problems they may face. That is why I decided to pursue a joint degree.”

With a combination of his scientific background as well as the legal and business education, Danielson feels he will have a broad perspective that will allow him to think not just as a lawyer or businesses person, but a combination of both.