Misty Autumn Seemans, public defender

I am fortunate to have met Misty Seemans through a contact of mine. Misty discusses her career path and offers advice to law grads and to new attorneys.  Learn about Misty's story here: 

1)    Can you please provide a brief summary of your professional background? 

I went off the beaten path in becoming an attorney. I was a playwrighting major at Bard College, and loved to write, but also loved studying and advocating for human and civil rights. After college, I was a newspaper reporter in Delaware, covering everything from local parades to Chancery Court lawsuits. Later, I was a Press Secretary for Vice President Joe Biden’s Senate replacement, U.S. Senator Ted Kaufman. That was a wonderful experience. Senator Kaufman voted his conscience and it just so happened to be an exciting time to be in Congress with healthcare reform and Wall Street reform. I use skills I learned from all of those experiences in the courtroom today.

2)    While in law school, did you know that you wanted to work in your current field?

Yes and no. Before law school, I thought about wanting to be a Public Defender. I called the Public Defender Office in my homestate of Delaware and asked to speak to an attorney about what it’s like to work there. I spoke with an appellate attorney, Bernie O’Donnell. He invited me to an oral argument and was very encouraging. However, in law school at American University, I focused on international business and human rights, another passion of mine. I worked at EarthRights International and the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR) on some cases that went to the U.S. Supreme Court involving human rights victims suing corporations for human rights abuses abroad. I have always been interested in an individual’s rights and I think that protecting a person’s human rights against corporate actors or fighting for a person’s constitutional rights in the courtroom are more similar than they are different: it’s protecting David against Goliath.

3)    You are an attorney and are also affiliated with a human rights commission.  Could you tell the readers about these positions? 

I work as an Assistant Public Defender in Delaware. I handle felony and misdemeanor criminal cases. I represent clients in plea negotiations, jury trials, violation of probation hearings, and appeals. I love what I do. My office is filled with attorneys who are passionate about this work and for advocating for our clients, and are more than generous with knowledge and insight on how to help their colleagues approach a case. 

I also volunteer, serving as Legislative Committee Chair of the Delaware Human Relations Commission. The Commission seeks to protect individuals from discrimination. We hold hearings and are involved in community outreach to increase public awareness of civil and human rights in Delaware.

4)    Did you have a mentor at any time? 

I have been lucky enough to have worked for or studied under people who have been generous with good advice. I would bounce ideas off of law school and graduate school professors as well as the attorneys I worked for at EarthRights and ICAR. Also, the Delaware bar has an interesting tradition, in which someone seeking admission must have a preceptor to guide them through the application and exam process. My preceptor was Drew Fennell, whom I interned for in high school at the ACLU of Delaware when she was the Executive Director. I’m no shrinking violet when it comes to reaching out to smart people for guidance.

5) Do you have any final advice for newly minted female lawyers/JDs who are embarking on their careers?

Speak up! Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want or to ask other lawyers for best practices. Also, be yourself. When I found out I passed the bar exam, I thought to myself, ‘Am I supposed to dress and act only like a lawyer now?’ But, that thought quickly faded. I try to be myself – odd sense of humor and all – but still be professional. 

Finally, don’t take yourself too seriously, with one exception – don’t try to tell a joke to a jury – that usually doesn’t go very well!

Misty Autumn Seemans, Esq., is an Assistant Public Defender at the Delaware Office of the Public Defender. She is admitted to practice law in Delaware. She received a J.D. cum laude from American University Washington College of Law, a M.A. in International Affairs from American University, and a B.A. in Playwrighting from Bard College. Misty serves as a Delaware Human Relations Commissioner by gubernatorial appointment. 



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