Assistant General Counsel
Jessica Escobar
Employer: Texas Department of Agriculture

Position description:
Since I work in General Counsel (as opposed to a specific division of the agency), I get to work with a variety of programs and get to handle several different experiences. I work mostly with contracts and grants, but also get to work with public information requests and even administrative hearings.

A day for me can include several meetings with people from the various programs within the Department of Agriculture, or it may involve me handling negotiations of outstanding debt or contract terms with grant recipients. Or I may be serving as a representative for the agency for public board meetings.

I get to advise agency individuals on various legal issues and provide my opinion.

I like what I do because I get the opportunity to experience many different things and the work does not become monotonous. I've even had the opportunity to work at the State Fair of Texas assisting with supervision of our sponsored events.

Photo: Jessica Escobar
How They Got There
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Undergrad degree:  Political Science

Favorite class in college:  I didn't have just one. I really enjoyed my upper level political science classes. In law school, it was probably my small lecture classes. I enjoyed the opportunity to analyze and discuss various issues.

Changing majors:  I went to a medical magnet high school. But for some reason the need to be in the medical field escaped me when I got to college. While I explored business and (VERY) briefly nursing as majors, I really enjoyed Political Science.

I think the reason I even considered business or nursing was because I knew that those were "practical" degrees that I could get a job in out of college. Ultimately, they weren't what interested me and I continued on with political science.

Graduate degree:  Juris Doctor (JD)- Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law. I knew I had to go to law school because I did not want to teach and jobs with a political science degree are hard to come by. But I also knew that I would be a lawyer.

College to career:  My undergrad degree wasn't essential to get me where I am today, but it helped. I needed a degree to be able to go to law school, but law schools consider a wide variety of degrees.

I'm glad that I chose the major I did because the amount of reading and writing I did was helpful in law school. While other majors like English do the same, the style and type of writing is very different. I saw that many people had a transition to get out of "business" writing or writing as English majors.

Being able to analyze and look at things from a different perspective was definitely helpful in law school and continues to be helpful today.

Career influences:  There were a couple of things that influenced me:

1) My grandfather. Growing up in El Paso, I didn't know any lawyers. I knew my grandpa (who did not have higher than a high school education) believed in helping people and speaking up when he didn't think something was right. I went with him on many voter education and petition drives. He inspired me to get involved.

2) In undergrad, I participated in the Law School Preparation Institute at UTEP. Without that, I would never have had the opportunity visit a law school (UT) and would have had no idea how to prepare for the LSAT, law school or had any idea of what to expect. Because I didn't know anyone who had gone through the law school process, this was vital. I enjoyed the techniques we learned and the way classes were taught (it was my first exposure to Socratic method).

The Ups and Downs
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Pros:
  • Flexible hours, no billing time in 6 minute increments (like at firms).
  • Business casual work environment (and often jeans are fine as well).
  • Opportunity to learn new things from different individuals and learn more about different departments.
  • Opportunity to transfer state benefits when you move agencies. I have great bosses that are very understanding when it comes to taking time off for sick children, or other obligations. Continuing education and bar dues are paid.

  • Cons:
  • State pay isn't as lucrative as private law firms, but there are excellent benefits.
  • Depending on what agency you are in, the opportunity to advance may be slim. For some agencies, there is no where to go, not even lateral to a different department. Luckily that's not an issue with TDA.


  • Recommendations
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    Remember what you are doing now will be looked back on later. During my time as a recruiter with SMU Law, one piece of advice I offered applicants was to be professional. Get an email address that incorporates your name (or doesn't have nicknames or slang), and be aware of what you are putting online. Twitter and Facebook are great places for employers and schools to begin their research about you. Don't give them anything to judge you on (fairly or not).

    Don't choose a career because you think it will "make money." Often we incur debt for school thinking we are making an investment because we are guaranteed a job upon graduation. This isn't the case. Also, you may aspire to work for a big law firm and make great money, but you may realize that the environment or lifestyle is not something you really want.

    When trying to decide what you want to do after college, take several things into consideration--especially whether you will enjoy what you do. While jobs are hard to come by in this market, you don't want to spend the majority of your waking hours doing something you don't enjoy or even like.

    I wish I'd known how important first year grades really are in law school. While you have the opportunity to continue to raise your GPA throughout your law school career, those first year grades will lay the foundation for opportunities you will encounter during the summer of your second year.

    Get to know your college (or grad school) career service counselors and take advantage of them. That's what they are there for. They can be an invaluable resource for connecting you to future jobs. Mine definitely were.

    Interested in This Career?
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      This is a great place to find state jobs.
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      Be sure to get involved in your local student organizations. This helps you with time management and can also boost your resume/application for grad school.