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Meet the Counselor: Kathy McDonnell

June 10, 2014

CP&P Career Counselor Kathy McDonnell is quick to cut to the chase. “What am I doing here? Is that what you’re here to ask me?” she jokingly demanded and just as easily changed to a thoughtful tone with a shrug. “It seems like all the activities in my life brought me to this.”

She makes a good case. Now retired from an approximately 30-year career in Philadelphia’s District Attorney’s office, Kathy has a wealth of knowledge she brings to Penn Law. She served as the Chief and Assistant Chief of the D.A.’s Legislation Unit from 1987 to 2011 and as Assistant District Attorney prior to 1987. In addition, she was the Hiring Committee chairperson for the D.A.’s office for 20 years.

“I probably hired thousands of people,” she said. “That makes me uniquely qualified for the job.”  Along with a vast knowledge of hiring and interview practices, Kathy continues to stay well connected within the field on both a state and city government level.

A self-professed people person, Kathy prides herself on being easy to talk to. And she is. Of a short and commanding stature and an always-affable presence, she speaks openly about her career and its initial zigzagged path.  Law, she said, is something she “stumbled into.” She previously had jobs in social service, such as working in juvenile placement and residential drug treatment programs. Ultimately, she realized she would make more of an impact by representing marginalized communities.

In 1980, she graduated from Temple University School of Law and took a job in big law. It was not the right fit. “I got a case of the shoulds,” she said. “I should take the opportunity because it was offered.” Four years later with several friends from the firm and a strong foundation in practice, she took time for self-assessment and spent a summer in a comedy troupe before returning to her career with a criminal law path as the objective. Through reaching out to her friends from the firm, she began working in the office of the Hon. Carolyn Engle Temin before transitioning into the D.A.’s office.

It’s very rare for the first job a lawyer takes to be his or her last one, Kathy said. It is part of a process of finding out more about yourself, meeting mentors, learning from each job.