Beginning with an early interest in the arts, including a stint as a child actor, through several years in her college's international medical outreach program, Erin Kathleen Mawson Wiley '09, has now opted for a career in corporate law. Her interest in the discipline, she recalled, also began in her youth. "When I was fifteen, I heard a speech by international prosecutor Louise Arbour," Wiley remembered. "I was so inspired by her work and the importance of her practice as a lawyer, that it never really left me. Law was a natural choice."
Her parents are both teachers and made sure that she was exposed to the arts, current events, and even a summer engineering camp. But the best decision her parents made, Wiley said, was to put her in a French immersion program when she was five years old. Growing up on the prairies of Alberta, Canada, Wiley took most of her pre-college schooling in French. Her skill in that language is important to her success at the Université de Paris I and Institute d'Études Politiques de Paris, where she is a candidate for a Master of Global Business Law to add to her upcoming Law School J.D.
As an undergraduate at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, studying English and history, Wiley spent two summers in Ottawa using her bilingual skills as an interpreter-guide for Parliament and the residence of Canada's governor-general. "It was phenomenal," she said. "You were right in the heart of Canadian politics with other young people. I made lasting friendships."
Wiley also joined Queen's Medical Outreach, a student-run project that develops health-related programs in Kenya, Guyana, Belize, and Northern Canada. For two months, Wiley taught in a school in Belize and partnered with governmental and nongovernmental agencies to facilitate sustainable education projects. Upon her return, she became codirector of the Belize Project, and then codirector of the Medical Outreach program as a whole. "The experience strongly influenced me in my formative years," Wiley recalled. She then used her skills to work as an intern for conference at the United Nations with ATHGO, the Alliance Toward Harnessing Global Opportunities. The group runs conferences for students from around the world who are interested in international affairs.
Wiley decided that law was the way to nurture her interests in international public policy. "You get a great skill set to bring to those areas, as well as respect from other fields," she noted. Although she plans to live and work in New York City, Cornell's strong program in international law and wonderful reputation—as well as the Paris program— drew Wiley to Ithaca.
At the Law School, Wiley emphasizes that Professor Joel Atlas "taught me many of the skills that made my summer associate experience a success. He has been incredibly supportive, and has a true commitment to his students." Wiley also particularly enjoyed her classes in international law with Professor Muna B. Ndulo, and torts and products liability with Professor James A. Henderson Jr., the Frank B. Ingersoll Professor of Law.
Her main activity, however, was Ms.JD, a blog created by women in law schools across the country to discuss issues relevant to women in law. As their Web site says, they were "concerned by the rates at which women opt out of the legal profession, the lack of representation of women in the highest courts and echelons of the legal community, and the role of gender in the progression of many women's legal careers." The blog was created in March of 2006.
In her first year at the Law School, Wiley attended Ms.JD's launch at Yale, met the founders, and eventually became copresident of the Cornell chapter. Professor Bernadette A. Meyler, who served as their faculty advisor, "provided incredible support," Wiley said. Then Associate Dean Lukingbeal helped Wiley get an interview with Sandra Day O'Connor. "Justice O'Connor agreed to have it published in Ms.JD, and that brought us a lot of exposure!" said Wiley. From Paris, Wiley now serves on the group's board of directors as national content coeditor, updating posts and soliciting content. The site can be found at ms-jd.org.
Her experience as a summer associate for Weil, Gotshal, and Manges changed her focus from international development to corporate law. "Friends, and friends of my parents, told me to go into law school with an open mind," Wiley recalled. "I never thought I'd say I'm going to be a corporate attorney, but now I can see working there for many years. I had a fantastic time. I was so lucky to have a great many learning experiences with attorneys and partners who took the time to talk to me and answer my questions." Her time in New York City also allowed her to go to theatre and ballet performances, as well as to take classes at the Alvin Ailey dance company.
In Paris, Wiley has used her free time to visit friends in Europe, and to spend three weeks in Weil's Paris office. Her classes, Wiley noted, have required an adjustment in how she learns. "In America we study cases," she explained. "This is theoretical, looking at where the law comes from. We're also considering communitarian law, the law of the European Union. It's a different approach to law and a different way of learning."
Wiley still has many friends in international development, but, she says, "for where I am right now, I think the corporate route is best for me." She hopes to use her development experience in her pro bono work.
As she completes her semester in Paris, Wiley is training for the annual 10K race in which she and her father compete every New Year's. "It's nice to run in Paris," she says. "There are beautiful gardens." She also goes to the many galleries available, keeping her interest in the arts strong even while she focuses on the law.