by Veralene Campfield
I’m a senior staff attorney at the Missouri State Teachers (no apostrophe) Association (MSTA) and I have been asked to write a little blog on careers and opportunities for people who are interested in education law. I had a rather extensive career in California in environmental law and litigation. It never occurred to me that there was a field of law called education law. Like everyone else, I was aware of the newsworthy education issues but I didn’t think beyond that to the fact that the participants – unions, teachers, administrators, students – would need legal advice for the various positions they were taking.
When I returned to Missouri, I did not have a job lined up so I did what everyone does who needs work – I became a substitute teacher. Serendipitously, a research position opened at the MSTA which I was lucky to get and have enjoyed ever since.
I will start with MSTA since that is my main knowledge base of legal education employment. MSTA is a state wide professional educator association with an emphasis on advocating for and empowering public educators so they can teach. In Missouri we provide direct Field Service Coordinators, many of whom were teachers, to assist school staff with a variety of issues from plan time to extra duties. We have a Government Relations Department that presents and pursues the legislative priorities of our association. We provide continuing education and offer other benefits including a liability insurance policy. The Legal Services lawyers may be required to address an issue in any of these areas. We also provide attorney representation at school board hearings, DSS investigations, and DESE hearings.
The national education unions are organized nationally, are legally organized as unions, and have extensive funding for national politics as well as education issues. At the state level, they cover some of the same legal matters as MSTA.
The flipside of being a teacher representative is to be a representative for the school district. These attorneys typically work in private firms with a specialty in education, although some of the larger school districts have in-house counsel on staff. If you are representing school districts, your work includes budgets, employee termination hearings, school violence, discipline, and privacy rights, to name a few areas. Actually, except for budgets, we deal with these issues, too.
Government jobs are available for attorneys at the state and federal levels. In Missouri the department is the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE.) They have lawyers working in various capacities such as policy development, legislative priorities, certification and compliance, and so on. There are many opportunities at the federal level including in the Department of Education, and rights and enforcements areas such as OCR, and Title IX , to name a few.
I’ve exceeded my word limit, as lawyers often do. Please feel welcome to contact me if you want to discuss any of these topics. Or a few I didn’t get to discuss. I can be reached at 573.442.3127, or firstname.lastname@example.org . Thanks!