Beth Neitzel ’03 just wrapped up a clerkship with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Sometimes attorney Beth Neitzel ’03 seems a bit surprised by her own success. From attending Macalester to earning a Fulbright fellowship to attending law school at Stanford, she’s enjoyed more accomplishments than she once thought possible.

But the real cherry on top? That was the last year, which she spent clerking for revered U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Of course, Neitzel has worked hard for these opportunities. She transferred to Macalester from the University of Minnesota, where she’d been “passively participating in my education,” and transformed at Mac into a student who skipped Springfest to study, earned a 4.0, and graduated first in her class.

“I don’t recommend it,” she laughs. “By senior year, my parents were offering to pay me to earn lower grades.” But Neitzel’s academic prowess and work ethic did not go unnoticed. Political science professor David Blaney persuaded her to write a senior honors thesis, an experience she calls the “hardest and most rewarding thing I had ever done.”

Then Dean of Students Laurie Hamre encouraged Neitzel to apply for the Fulbright, which supported a postgraduate year at La Universidad de los Andes in Bogota, an experience that confirmed her decision to work toward a political science PhD at Berkeley. At the time, Neitzel had never considered a law career, she says, as her short stint as an immigration paralegal had given her the false impression that “legal practice was all paperwork and technicalities.” But once again, Neitzel’s life surprised her.

She had nearly finished her PhD in 2009 when she began to question whether a career in political science academia was the right fit. Meanwhile, Neitzel’s interest in public law and the role of courts had grown. Taking a risk, she enrolled at Stanford Law School and soon discovered she loved everything about law, from the thinking-on-her-feet oral arguments to writing briefs.

A bit of luck and some advantageous connections gained her two post-graduation clerkships—the first with Judge Diana Motz of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and the second with Judge David Tatel at the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals, whom she’d argued before in Stanford’s moot court competition. While interviewing with Tatel, she learned he is a Macalester parent with an honorary doctorate from the college.

Tatel is close to Justice Ginsburg, so it was with his recommendation that Neitzel applied for and earned the Supreme Court clerkship, which she completed in July.

While much of the work Neitzel did for Ginsburg remains confidential, her primary responsibilities were divided among three areas: evaluating cases for merit of the Court’s attention (Neitzel herself wrote more than 200 evaluations); handling emergency applications to stay lower courts’ mandates; and writing briefs and bench memos for merits cases, which the Supreme Court hears while in session. She also occasionally drafted opinions with Justice Ginsburg, whom Neitzel has long considered a personal hero.

“She has an extraordinary gift of persuasion and effectiveness, while remaining understated and diplomatic at all times. She believes you will not persuade others to your position if you show anger or impatience or frustration,” Neitzel says. “That’s been an important lesson for me, not just in law but in life.”

October 30 2017

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