Feature Stories 2023: Katherine McCormick, JD ’23 aspires to pursue justice for America’s workers

Inspired by the U.S. labor movement and former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal, Katherine McCormick plans to become a labor lawyer to advocate for unionized workers.
Feature Stories 2023: Katherine McCormick, JD ’23 aspires to pursue justice for America’s workers
Katherine McCormick, JD ’23 aspires to pursue justice for America’s workers

McCormick has taught elementary school in Bangkok and excelled in the recent ABA Client Counseling Competition

Katherine McCormick, JD candidate ’23 of Needham, MA majored in anthropology and minored in labor studies at UMass Boston. After graduating in 2017, she became involved in labor activism and political organizing. She then lived and worked abroad in Bangkok, Thailand before ultimately deciding that the best way to serve the labor movement was to return home and study law. She is grateful for her experience at UMass Law that provided the foundation for her future career.

McCormick’s interest in labor law began in college when she started taking labor history classes. She learned how collective bargaining can improve the lives of American workers and feels that much can be solved with increased unionization. Her inspiration? President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He established the National Labor Relations Board in 1935, outlawed unfair and coercive management practices, ended child labor, and supported workers’ strikes. McCormick hopes to continue this advocacy as a labor lawyer.

Interest in labor law

After graduating from college, McCormick worked for several labor unions, including the Massachusetts Nurses Association, for passage of the Nurse-Patient Assignment Limits Initiative on the MA ballot during the 2018 state election. The bill would have limited the number of patients each nurse could care for at once.

“Our nurses are so overworked,” said McCormick. “I worked full-time on the campaign, knocking on doors, organizing rallies and events, doing public speaking. When it didn’t pass, it was a significant personal loss. I felt really disheartened, so I went on a solo backpacking trip to Thailand. I saw a sign that there was a need for English teachers. I came home, packed my stuff, and went back.”

She taught first-grade English in Bangkok for a year and a half at Assumption Sriracha, a private elementary school, where all the students spoke Thai. “Living and working abroad was an incredible experience; one full of challenges that I used as opportunities to become more independent and self-sufficient. It was great. It was also difficult, very far away from everything and everyone I’ve ever known. I loved my students and miss them every day.”

 It was in Thailand where McCormick decided to attend law school and studied for the LSAT. “I constantly kept myself updated with U.S. labor news and realized that my heart was still back at home. I started thinking about how I could best serve the labor movement and ultimately decided that I’d like to advocate on behalf of unions/workers as an attorney,” she said. “This country has such a rich labor history that often goes unsung. I would like to contribute to it in some small way.”

Why labor law?

“I learned more about the labor movement at UMass Boston and stayed for an additional year and a half to finish my labor minor,” said McCormick. “I believe labor unions are the solution to many of our contemporary problems. Collective bargaining units can make demands regarding a living wage, paid parental leave, and high-quality healthcare.

“I am very inspired by the coal miners in Appalachia, the farm workers in California, and the textile mill workers here in Massachusetts. They took on huge monopolies to establish fair wages, safety precautions, a 40-hour work week, and a weekend. I really admire FDR and how he established the National Labor Relations Board as a part of his New Deal. This created a legal relationship between employees, unions, and employers. It increased worker protections and created the right to collective bargaining. The roots of the labor movement intertwine with the continued struggle for civil rights, women’s issues, and racial justice. It’s all connected.

“I waited tables in college. I’d close the restaurant at 3 am, go home, wake up, and reopen at 10 am. That experience really catapulted me into advocacy for employees. The workplace is where we spend most of our lives and I would like to help create equitable and democratic workplaces for all. We deserve better.”

With students in Bangkok, Thailand
Katherine McCormick taught English in Bangkok, Thailand before returning to the U.S. to attend UMass Law. She is pictured with two of her former students.

UMass Law experience

“As a UMass Boston alum, coming to UMass Law was the obvious choice and I’m so glad I did. UMass Law was the only law school I applied to,” McCormick said. “I love UMass Law and will always be so proud to have attended the only public law school in my home state.  I loved my professors and I’ve made friends here that I’ll have for the rest of my life.”

Do you have a favorite memory? Is there an interesting or meaningful experience you would like to share?

“I’ll always remember Professor Michael Hillinger’s Secured Transactions class in Fall 2022,” said McCormick. “We made it such a warm, friendly, supportive, and motivating learning environment, and we had a really fun time learning about a very difficult subject. We applauded each other and celebrated each other even when—especially when—we got the wrong answers. I have already forgotten some of the subject matter, but I will never forget the class.” 

Is there a faculty or staff member who made an impact on you?

“Professor Kevin Connelly, Professor Spencer Clough, and Professor Justine Dunlap were three professors who enhanced my legal education in ways I can’t even describe.”

 What is the UMass Law Client Counseling Team?

 The ABA hosts several competitions for law students that test practical lawyering skills like negotiation, arbitration, and client counseling. Client counseling involves communicating legal issues and terminology in an uncomplicated, easily digestible format while building interpersonal relationships with a new client who is seeking guidance with a legal problem. 

 McCormick, along with teammates Janay Davidson, JD candidate ’23 and Kevin Lefrancois ’24, reached the final round of this semester’s ABA Client Counseling Competition. They competed against Albany Law School, Boston College, Pace University, Loyola Chicago, and the University of Hawaii at Manoa Richardson School of Law, to name a few.

“In the competition, we simulated an initial meeting with a new client. We were judged on our client counseling interview based on how well we were able to gather information about the legal problem, explain legal issues, and identify next steps,” McCormick said.

“The experience was challenging and rewarding, something that I will never forget. I am so grateful for the opportunity to practice such a fundamental lawyering skill,” she added. “I feel as though the experience was a very formative one that prepared me for real-world lawyering. I also am grateful for all the mentorship and support from faculty members and especially Dean Julie Cahill for her expert coaching. I couldn’t have done it without my teammates, Kevin and Janay.” 

 Practical experienced gained in internships in New Bedford and California

 McCormick gained valuable practical experience interning at an immigration law firm in New Bedford and in the Humboldt County, California District Attorney’s Office.

 “I really, really loved my Criminal Procedure and Evidence classes. I thought it might be something I’d like to pursue,” McCormick said. “I worked on several homicide cases over the summer. I did research, prepared motions, responded to defense briefs, met with family members, searched for evidence in jail phone calls, and worked with investigators. I enjoyed it, learned a lot, and it was really exciting.

 “The immigration firm was also really fun. I saw firsthand how legal representation can positively impact someone’s life.”

 What advice do you have for current or future UMass Law students?

“Take it seriously but don’t make law school your life,” McCormick advises. “Three years goes by so quickly and, at the end you won’t remember all of the note cases or theoretical policy discussions or the exceptions to the exceptions to the rule. Study hard but also make sure to prioritize your other interests and relationships. Try to find that balance. Also, when it becomes overwhelming, try a simple reframing exercise by just repeating to yourself: I don’t have to do this, I get to do this.” 

Future plans include a love for learning

Do you feel that UMass Law prepared you for your future?

“Yes! I remember fall of 1L in Professor James Freeley’s Legal Skills class, learning the format of a simple legal memo, and thinking to myself…. I will never be able to do this. So many rules, so many words I don’t understand, so many intricate details, they want page numbers where exactly, what font and what size, how do I cite this, what am I doing here, I can’t do this.'

“Fast forward to now, where this would not be an issue at all for me. This is obviously attributable to the patience, dedication, and constant encouragement from the UMass Law faculty. I will miss them all!”

 What are your plans following graduation?

“After I take the bar exam in July, I’m going to Rishikesh, India (the birthplace of yoga) for two months to study meditation and complete my yoga teacher certification,” McCormick said. “I could not have made it through law school without these wellness practices and it only feels right to honor them in this way. After that, I’ll be back in Massachusetts and would like to work for a labor union that represents teachers, nurses, railroad workers, or service industry employees.

“I plan on a lifetime of staying curious and nurturing a love for learning in whatever way I can. I look forward to learning the law for the rest of my life.”