Jamie Bence

From the Seat of Power: Alexa Chappell

From the Seat of Power will focus on interviews with women lawyers working in the federal government. This column will explore the unique challenges and rewards of government work, including why these women chose their paths, how they got there, and what they hope to do next. The interviews will focus on balancing personal and professional goals as well as advice for aspiring civil servants.

This month's column features Alexa Chappell, Associate Director in the Office of the Intergovernmental and Public Liaison at the United States Department of Justice. Alexa received her bachelor's in public finance from the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University, and received her Juris Doctor from Michigan State University. Before joining the Department, Alexa worked in vetting and compliance. In 2009, Alexa was appointed to serve as the Special Assistant to the Director of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) in the Department of Justice, where she focused on the Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation and the Children Exposed to Violence Initiative. In the Office of the Intergovernmental and Public Liaison, Alexa's profile includes work with state and local governments, other federal agencies, external constituency groups, and the general public.

What factors led you to the U.S. Department of Justice? Did you always want to work in the federal government or was there an opportunity to pursue an area of the law that interested you?  I did not pursue the federal government but my job in Chicago led me to DC and subsequently to the Department of Justice. Of all the places I could have worked in the federal government, my first choice was the Department of Justice. I believe there is a certain level of respect that comes with the Department. In addition, because I don’t practice in the traditional sense, rather I work with all the associations and organizations that have interests in the Department, I have the unique opportunity to be a part of almost every issue. This is one of the aspects I enjoy the most!

How does your current job compare with your previous experiences? What do you think is especially challenging or rewarding about this job?  My current position took everything I loved about my previous job in the Department and allowed me to perform those tasks more than 75% of my time. In my former position I was able to determine what I really liked about my job, what I didn’t care for, what I was quite good at, and those tasks that even after I practiced, I didn’t seem to grasp.

I find the most rewarding aspect of my job is that I get to work with nearly every division of the Department, the constituents of the Department through associations, and the public in general. Because the office I work in serves as the public liaison, or sometimes referred to as public engagement, we are on the front line for calls from the public. The calls are wide ranging from questions as to what the Department does on a regular basis to specific questions regarding policy issues. If we cannot answer the question ourselves or need to do more research, the next step is to contact the correct person in the division who can provide the answer and then contact the individual from the public providing them with the requested information. It is generally a short process, which allows the office to serve the general public in a meaningful and helpful way.

Where do you see yourself going next? Would you like to stay in civil service or move into the nonprofit or private sector?  “Where do you see yourself going next?” seems to be the most popular question I am asked. I do not have an answer and I have sort of always lived my professional life that way. When opportunities present themselves I learn more about them and decide whether it is a move I would like to make. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am certainly proactive, making contacts and investigating the actual day-to-day work versus the job title and salary, but I have never determined what path I need to take in order to retire in a certain job. I still am trying to figure out what that end job might be; I consider myself still trying to decide what I want to be when I grow up….

Do you feel that your job affords good work-life balance? Have you had a chance to enjoy living in Washington, DC?  My work-life balance is amazing. I have found the Department as a whole and OIPL to be very accommodating when I request time to spend with family and friends. And yes, I have had a great chance to enjoy the city. I live right downtown and walk to and from work daily. Not only do I get to enjoy the best museums in the world, but I have decided that one of my favorite things to do in DC is to find new restaurants for long brunches with friends on the weekends. There is always plenty to do and new people to meet. It is a wonderful city!

What advice would you have to law students and lawyers who would like to work for the Department of Justice in a capacity similar to yours?  Don’t be scared to take a chance, volunteer as much as you can, and network, network, network!

Write a comment

Please login to comment

Remember Me

Become a Member

FREE online community for women in the legal profession.



Subscribe to receive regular updates, news, and events from Ms. JD.

Connect with us

Follow or subscribe