Jennifer Vandermeuse’s training in policy analysis helps her explain to Wisconsin judges how their decisions will affect the state as a whole.
As an Assistant Attorney General, the 2011 alum primarily represents state agencies and other state entities. “I defend them in lawsuits or give them legal advice to ensure they're complying with state laws,” Vandermeuse says. “My practice consists mainly of civil appellate work — writing briefs and arguing before state and federal appellate courts — but I also do some litigation at the trial court level.”
Vandermeuse completed her Master of Public Affairs and law degrees through the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s dual-degree program. After completing her degrees, Vandermeuse clerked for Judge Robert D. Martin in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. She then served in private practice for two years before joining the Wisconsin Department of Justice.
“My La Follette education has had a positive impact on my legal writing and oral advocacy skills,” she says. “My La Follette training taught me to tailor oral presentations to my particular audience, keeping their objectives in mind. When I write a brief or prepare for oral argument, I often analyze the policy ramifications of my case's outcome. My La Follette training has given me the ability to analyze and discuss these outcomes clearly and succinctly.”
While at La Follette, Vandermeuse worked as a project assistant at the Institute for Research on Poverty. “I analyzed statutes pertaining to state and federal public benefits such as Wisconsin Works and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, with a focus on the legal impact of minors ‘aging out’ of receiving these benefits,” she says. “I also provided research assistance on higher education for the National Conference of State Legislatures, focusing on a project to improve student access and college completion rates.”
As a Legislative Intern in the Office of the Secretary at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Vandermeuse tracked legislation and legislative committee actions and briefed the legislative liaison and the executive assistant on their status. She also gathered information for correspondence and testimony when state legislators had questions about DHS programs or health-related policy.
“These experiences taught me general skills of professionalism when communicating with legislators and administrators,” Vandermeuse says. “Through my La Follette School training in policy analysis, I learned to distill complex information to its essential points, communicating it in a concise manner. I also learned to take the ‘legalese’ and policy jargon out of my written work, so information is clear and accessible to clients. I use these skills in my job today.”
Vandermeuse found the dual-degree program to be a great match for her career goals, especially because she could tailor her La Follette experience to fit with her legal education. “La Follette has excellent faculty with diverse areas of expertise,” Vandermeuse adds, “a small ‘family-like’ learning community, a tremendous amount of flexibility in course selection, and an exceptionally strong alumni network.”
Vandermeuse enrolled in the dual-degree program and ultimately chose to work at the Department of Justice because she wants to spend her career in public service. “I want the work I do to have a positive impact on society,” Vandermeuse says. “Being an assistant attorney general is a great fit for me because the cases I work on are not just important to a single client — they're often of statewide importance. Department of Justice attorneys also adhere to high standards of integrity. They don't focus on winning cases at any cost, but instead, on helping judges and agencies reach results that are consistent with the laws of Wisconsin.”