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An Interview with an Administrative Law Judge

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Experiential Learning

 

Judge Noell F. Allen, administrative law judge for the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, discusses her experiences, including the pros and cons. Judge Allen earned her JD from the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law. In 2008, Judge Allen made history by becoming the youngest black administrative law judge to be hired in the state of Indiana. She is currently an administrative law judge and manager for the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, where she presides over unemployment hearings. She also supervises administrative law judges in the three market areas throughout Indiana.

What made you want to be an administrative law judge and what did you have to do to make that happen?
I did not attend law school anticipating being an administrative law judge during my legal career. In fact, I had never heard of an administrative law judge until my limited exposure during an Admin Law course. Participating in the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law’s Pro Bono Project and providing legal research with an administrative law judge at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was my first exposure to an administrative law judge and the job functions. As a law clerk, I observed administrative hearings, discussed facts and law, and developed my writing skills. After working with Administrative Law Judge Dibble, I thought this would be a great career aspiration later on in my legal career.

I became an administrative law judge by happenstance. The Indiana Department of Workforce Development hired me to serve as a staff attorney. However, on my first day, the director of unemployment insurance appeals met with me to assess my interest in becoming an adjunct or part-time judge. Therefore, I would say I was at the right place at the right time.

Are there any particular personal characteristics/traits that are required to be successful in this position?
Yes. An administrative law judge must be a great listener. One must be able to gather all pertinent information from testimony given and weed out the information that essentially muddies the water. We are in the position to weigh and reweigh evidence, and it is our duty to apply the appropriate weight to evidence when discerning what are the facts to the case, applying law to facts, and finally rendering a decision.

Additionally, a judge must be able to manage his/her time wisely. There may be many cases on a docket with corresponding decisions to issue. In order to provide optimum service, I find that it is important to conduct hearings and issue decisions in a timely manner. Since I deal with unemployment insurance benefits, I want to ensure individuals who are eligible receive those benefits as soon as possible. Someone once told me while it may not be a lot of money, it is important money.

I also believe judges should have a sense of humility. We should not become bigger than the position and remain humbled while carrying out the law.

What are some pros and cons of working as an administrative law judge?

Pros

Work-to-life (family time) balance
Non-competitive environment
Prestige within the legal community
If working in an agency with multiple judges, the ability to discuss case law and other facts of a hearing to receive advisory opinions

Cons
Low salary compared to other legal professionals (exception: federal administrative law judges can make a six-figure salary, which surpasses many attorney wages)

What would you say you enjoy most about this job or working in administrative law?
I enjoy being able to make an impact on a very limited, yet purposeful area of law––an area that can affect so many different people (employees and employers alike). The record I create and ultimately my decisions, if appealed to a higher court, can create and set the precedent for all employers, employees, and legal professionals to follow. My decisions can also start an ignition in legislatures to make changes to existing laws.

What are some of the advancement opportunities for someone in this position?
I started as an administrative law judge where I was responsible for my caseload. After two years, I was promoted to a manager, where not only am I responsible for my reduced caseload, I am now responsible for supervising and training approximately 10 judges across the state. A promotion opportunity for me would be the director of unemployment insurance appeals.

What advice would you give someone looking to enter this career?
I would tell a new judge or any attorney looking to become an administrative law judge to not personalize the issues in a case, manage your time well, do not be influenced by politics when issuing decisions, study the law, and stay humbled.

By Brigitte Collier

Brigitte Collier (brigitter21@gmail.com), a 2L at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, is the 2012–13 Law Student Division liaison to the Section of Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice.

Vol. 41 No. 9

Student Lawyer Student Lawyer magazine provides guidance on educational, career, and related issues for ABA Law Student Division members and other subscribers. It is published four times a year by the Law Student Division of the American Bar Association. Student Lawyer is available online to members of the ABA Law Student Division and to print subscribers.

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