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Law professor spends sabbatical at attorney general’s office


September 25, 2007

In a unique collaboration between academic and practicing legal communities, Catherine O’Grady, a professor at ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, is spending six months of a research sabbatical at the Arizona attorney general’s office, working with the solicitor general’s office.

She will concentrate primarily on brief writing for cases in the Arizona and U.S. Supreme Courts, while also designing supervisor training and CLE programs.

“I wanted to work on the front lines of the profession, which I haven’t done since I started teaching 16 years ago,” O’Grady says, “and I wanted to do something very different – something I’d never experienced before.”

With the help of a couple of mentors, she came up with the plan to work at the attorney general’s office, then write about her experience.
Attorney General Terry Goddard said the arrangement provides benefits for both sides.

“Part of professor O’Grady’s sabbatical is researching how to better prepare law students for the practice of law,” Goddard says. “The attorney general’s office has the widest variety of practice of any legal organization in the state.

“For our part, it allows our practitioners to talk to somebody of very significant knowledge. For instance, she recently helped us with a commerce clause issue that came up in an important case. She knows more than anybody else in the office about that and gave us good guidance.”

The workload was one of the attractions for O’Grady.

“It’s the largest law firm in the state,” O’Grady says. “There’s an amazing amount of work and unique challenges. I want to make a connection between those challenges and what we do in law school.”

Goddard says O’Grady’s professional competence and positive personality makes a difference wherever she goes, and that her arrival at the attorney general’s office has sparked great enthusiasm.

“We have a lot of lawyers who are ASU grads and have had professor O’Grady,” Goddard says. “They know her and respect her and are excited to work with her.

“She came to the new attorney orientation last week, because technically she’s just starting as an employee. You could just feel the buzz. It was palpable.

“Five of the 25 new lawyers at that session had taken classes with her and the idea that Professor O’Grady would be part of their peer group was exciting for them.”

Goddard says he and Patricia White, dean of the College of Law, have discussed ways for the two entities to collaborate, but that it has been decades since a professor actually worked in the attorney general’s office.

“Getting a leading professor? It’s been 30 years,” Goddard says, referring to the time ASU law professor Jonathan Rose worked for then-Attorney General Bruce Babbitt.

“That was in 1974-1975,” Goddard says. “Professor Rose reformed the offices’ antitrust function and wrote what became the state procurement code.”

O’Grady will work closely with Solicitor General Mary O’Grady – a classmate, not related, whose similar name has caused confusion over the years.

“She used to get my e-mails,” Mary O’Grady says. “People would tell my husband, ‘I saw your wife on Horizon.’ Someone would say, ‘I hear you gave a student an extension on a paper.’ I’ve been getting credit for Cathy’s good work for years.”

Mary O’Grady says she is thrilled to have Cathy O’Grady in her office, and that she will help with many efforts they haven’t had the resources to deal with.

“In the solicitor general’s office, we review filings to help improve the writing and the legal arguments,” Mary O’Grady says. “It’s an arm’s-length review, from a bit more distance. She will review everything we file at the state Supreme Court, work with the criminal appeals section looking at briefs we previously haven’t had the resources to review, and review our U.S. Supreme Court filings.”

Mary O’Grady says the lawyers in the office are excited about having a law professor look at their work.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to write a better brief, to improve the quality.”

Cathy O’Grady says she loves the work.

“This is great work,” Cathy O’Grady says. “I have six giant case files scattered all over my desk right now. I’m doing more front-line legal research now than in a long time, and I’m doing it myself instead of reviewing a student’s research.

“I’m doing more persuasive advocacy writing. And I’m reading a lot of case files to get up to speed on issues. I am also enjoying meeting new people – the attorneys here are smart, hard-working and really happy with their choice to be at the AG’s office. When they talk about their cases, they just smile. I’m having fun.”

Judy Nichols, judy.nichols@asu.edu