• Jen_Gehring

    By Jen Gehring
    Kaplan University Faculty

    People often think the only career option for someone with a legal education is to work in a law firm, but I realized early on that practicing law was not the best fit for me. 

    Fortunately, a legal education can open a variety of career paths, and I found a rewarding role as a public policy specialist. Now I use my legal education to draft legislation, implement programs, secure funding, and develop innovative and effective ways to help those most in need.

    People may not realize it, but when a government official announces a new initiative or a local agency launches a new program, that program was probably developed by a public policy specialist. Where ever there is a cause or an issue that people care about, there is a public policy specialist advocating on its behalf. Government agencies, nonprofits, corporate businesses, and law firms all hire public policy specialists. It's the role of public policy specialist to:

    • Become an expert in a specific issue, researching all the latest best practices, funding sources, community partnership, and existing resources.
    • Understand how current laws impact an issue, draft new laws to further benefit the issue, and identify potential legislation that may negatively impact the issue. This is why having a legal education is so important for the job!
    • Advocate for public and private funding for programs and initiatives related to the cause.
    • Establish collaborations between government officials, community partners, and other stakeholders to continue a dialogue regarding the issue.
    • Educate the general public through awareness campaigns and outreach efforts on the facts related to this issue and why this issue is important to them.

    While public policy specialists can focus on any field they're passionate about, such as the environmental protections, civil rights, or veterans benefits, I chose to dedicate my efforts to criminal justice reform. Over the years I have worked with government entities to develop and implement new criminal justice programs, partnered with law enforcement agencies to enact improved training and response procedures, and advocated on behalf of nonprofits to secure public funding for their existing services.

    Finally, working as a public policy specialist does require a certain level of patience and commitment. Passing new laws and opening new programs rarely happens overnight, so it's important to be able to see the big picture. The rewards of this career come from watching how new initiatives and reforms truly impact people's lives. Throughout my career I've had the honor of meeting some of the people who have directly benefited from the programs I've developed, and seeing how these programs have helped them turn their lives around confirms that this was the right career choice for me.

    Jen Gehring is a faculty member at Kaplan University. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent the view of Kaplan University.


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