Katherine Barrett ’17
Last fall, Katherine Barrett ’17 had a front row seat to the final months of the Obama administration when she served as a member of a small legal team in the office of Vice President Joe Biden. “The lawyers gave me a lot of responsibility and treated me like a peer,” says Barrett, who was working in Washington, D.C., as part of Columbia Law School’s Externship on the Federal Government.
But this is just one of several extraordinary work experiences Barrett had while pursuing her law degree, something she knew she wanted to do since interning at the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office as an undergraduate student at the University of California, Berkeley. At the Law School, Barrett chose classes and internships that would help her acquire all the skills necessary to be an effective litigator, leading to some substantial hands-on experience.
As a 1L, she interned at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, where she was the second seat at the trial of three men who parachuted off of One World Trade Center while it was under construction.
The following summer, Barrett worked at Neufeld, Scheck & Brustin to get a better understanding of “the pitfalls in the criminal justice system.” Partners Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck are famous not only for their roles in helping secure the acquittal of O.J. Simpson in his 1994–95 double-murder trial, but also as the founders of the Innocence Project, which exonerates the wrongly convicted through DNA testing.
One of Barrett’s favorite Columbia Law School classes was trial practice, which was co-taught by two lecturers—Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton partner Lev Dassin and Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer partner Jeffrey Horowitz—and Adjunct Professor Cathy Seibel, a U.S. District Court judge. “Every week we did a different component of a trial—a cross exam or an opening statement,” Barrett adds. “It was really nerve-wracking, and I spent more time on that than any other class.”
Throughout all the courses, internships, and other work, one constant during Barrett’s Columbia years has been her involvement with OutLaws, the Law School’s LGBTQ student organization. “The queer community has made a big difference in my life here,” says Barrett, who served as OutLaws’ academic chair. “People get very attached to their affinity groups here, and they pass down institutional knowledge.” She was also an articles editor of the Human Rights Law Review, a social chair for SPIN (the Student Public Interest Network), and a teaching assistant for Professor Bert I. Huang.
After graduation, Barrett is heading to Las Vegas to clerk for Judge Richard F. Boulware II ’02 of the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada. But her time at the Law School has made an indelible impression. “The experiences I’ve had have helped me to see what’s at stake in people’s lives, compared to my own concerns,” she says. “There’s a much bigger picture out there. It’s given me perspective.”