Sidebar Beryl Brown Piccolantonio ’06
Beryl Brown Piccolantonio ’06 serves as the chief ombudsman for workers’ compensation for the State of Ohio and is board president of the Gahanna-Jefferson School Board. “There are so many things that you can do with a law degree. As a kid, when I originally thought I was going to be a lawyer, I had a very fixed idea of what a lawyer was, and it was a criminal defense attorney or a prosecutor, or something related. But, when I was older and as an adult and made the decision to go to law school, that’s when I really realized how many options there are and that it provides great training for anyone who is interested in law in any way.”
As a child, Beryl Brown Piccolantonio ’06 imagined herself following in her father’s footsteps and attending law school. As an adult, however, it wasn’t until after she started graduate school studying psychology that she realized her childhood dream was her true calling.
“A lot of kids want to grow up to be like their parents. I admired my father a lot. But, when I was in college and not a little kid anymore, I thought I would try something different. I went to graduate school for psychology and spent two years in a graduate program focused on child cognitive development. I wanted to do something that would help people. But, interestingly, once I got into the program, I decided that law actually was the right path for me, even though I had doubted it,” she said. “I made the decision to leave the graduate program I was in and go back to my original plan, which was to go to law school. I think it was the right decision. I had a great experience at the Moritz College of Law.”
Today, Piccolantonio serves as the chief ombudsman for workers’ compensation for the State of Ohio. It’s a position she said combines her passion for helping others and also her enthusiasm for employment law.
Established in 1978, the ombudsman’s office serves as an independent agency that helps anyone interacting with either the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation or the Ohio Industrial Commission who has experienced difficulties in navigating the system. In addition to helping people figure out what their options and legal rights are, Piccolantonio also regularly travels around the state talking to different groups, from union members who are potential injured workers and union representatives representing other union employees to employers, employer representatives, and groups of attorneys. The content of her discussion often varies by what group she is addressing, she explained.
“Sometimes I’m talking about what people’s rights are within the workers compensation system, sometimes I’m giving updates on changes to the law or initiatives at either of the two agencies, and sometimes I am there in a more open-ended manner, where I’m taking questions from representatives who have particular issues that they’re working through.”
With such varied work, no two days are ever the same, Piccolantonio said. And, that’s part of what makes the job so interesting.
“This wasn’t somewhere I ever expected to be honestly,” she said, reflecting on the path that brought her to her current role as ombudsman. Within her first year of law school, Piccolantonio had developed an interest in employment law. She accepted an internship at the Ohio Industrial Commission where she worked full-time during the summer and then part-time during the academic year. That experience not only introduced her to the field of workers’ compensation law, but also opened the door to her first position out of law school.
“While I was an intern I got to know some of the people at the Industrial Comission,” she said. “I had a non-traditional law school experience, however, and ended up leaving to try and finish up my degree in three years.”
Piccolantonio’s non-traditional path included getting married and having two children while continuing to work toward her J.D. Shortly after leaving her internship to focus on her studies, a commissioner from the Ohio Industrial Commission reached out to her, asking her to come back and serve full-time as his legal staff.
“I made a decision to accept that job, so I ended up finishing law school in four years,” she said.
Piccolantonio worked at the Ohio Industrial Commission for more than eleven years in various roles, including conducting legal research, serving as the assistant director for the office of human resources, and in the position of district hearing officer. In December of 2013, she left the commission to take on her current role as ombudsman.
At the start of 2016 Piccolantonio also began serving on the Gahanna-Jefferson School Board and was selected to be the board president. It provided her with an opportunity to explore another means to use her skills and experience to give back to her community, she said.
“Finding ways to be of service to my community has always been something that has been really important to me. Before I started serving on the school board, my husband and I were active volunteers in our kids’ schools and in our city. School board service seemed like it would be a good match for me given the things I was interested in and given some of the background that I have, and it has been,” she said. “I’m finishing my first year right now and it has been very interesting and very rewarding to know the things that I’m doing are for the purpose of making sure our kids receive a quality education. And, really I can’t think of too many other things that would be more rewarding.”
As she reflects back on her time at Moritz and where her career has taken her, Piccolantonio said the best piece of advice she could give to those considering attending law school is just to go.
“There are so many things that you can do with a law degree. As a kid, when I originally thought I was going to be a lawyer, I had a very fixed idea of what a lawyer was, and it was a criminal defense attorney or a prosecutor, or something related. But, when I was older and as an adult and made the decision to go to law school, that’s when I really realized how many options there are and that it provides great training for anyone who is interested in law in any way. I would encourage people to think about what they’re passionate about, and to know that there is a match for anything you can think of with a law degree,” she said.