Keeping Tabs is a Q&A series that follows alumni on their careers after graduation, the lasting impacts of their clinical and pro bono experiences at HLS, and their experiences in a variety of sectors of law.
Anna Lumelsky, Class of 2004, did not anticipate working as a government lawyer upon her graduation from HLS. After clerking and working for large law firms, she found herself at the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, where she now serves as the Deputy Division Chief in the Appeals Division of the Criminal Bureau. Today, Lumelsky supervises HLS students placed in her division as a part of the Government Lawyer: Attorney General Clinic. We caught up with Lumelsky to learn more about what influenced her pivot to government work, the power of state law as an avenue for change, and where she finds inspiration and fulfillment in her work.
Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs (OCP): Please tell us about your work at the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office. Do you have a focus area? What types of legal skills do you employ on a daily basis?
Anna Lumelsky (AL): I am the Deputy Division Chief in the Appeals Division of the Criminal Bureau at the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office. The Appeals Division defends Massachusetts convictions, criminal justice officials, and criminal laws. The work in our division is quite varied – our attorneys appear in both state and federal court regularly, at both trial and appellate levels, in both criminal and civil matters. As the deputy chief of the Appeals Division, I work with the chief of the division to supervise the line Assistant Attorneys General in our division. That supervision involves, among other things, reviewing and providing comments on drafts, consulting on cases, and participating in moots prior to oral arguments. We also consult with the leadership of the Criminal Bureau and of the Office more broadly, as well as with various state agencies. And I sometimes work on my own appellate cases, drafting briefs and handling oral arguments.
OCP: How did you become interested in government lawyering? How did your path post-law school lead you to your current role?
AL: After law school, I clerked in the federal district court in Boston and then on the Third Circuit, in Newark, New Jersey. I spent a number of years working at law firms, first at Covington & Burling in New York, and then at WilmerHale in Boston. I majored in biology in college, and used that background to develop a specialty in patent litigation. The lawyers I met at both firms were incredibly talented, and it was exciting to participate in law practiced at such a high level. I had terrific mentors at both firms, who set an example that I try to follow. I had the opportunity to brief and argue a pro bono Sixth Circuit appeal on behalf of a federal habeas petitioner, and we won the appeal. That was an incredible experience.
Over time, it became clear to me that, while I enjoyed the complexity of patent litigation, I wasn’t inspired by it. And I also recognized that I am an appellate lawyer at heart. I enjoy trying to craft a clear, persuasive brief; I am not as fond of the rough and tumble world of trial-level litigation. Oral argument is exciting; negotiating with opposing counsel, on the other hand, usually just makes me anxious.
I wish I could say that it was always my goal to end up at the Attorney General’s Office, but that would suggest a level of organized planning that I did not have. I was hoping to make the jump from law firms to government, I wanted to do appeals, and I saw that the Appeals Division was hiring. I had never done criminal work before (apart from the pro bono case I mentioned), and had done very little state litigation, but I hoped I could figure it out. I came to the Attorney General’s Office in 2017 as a line Assistant Attorney General, and became Deputy Division Chief just this year. So my path to my current position was not at all a straight one!
OCP: What do you find most fulfilling about your work?
AL: I find it fulfilling to represent the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the Attorney General. It was a thrill the first time I introduced myself as “Anna Lumelsky, for the Commonwealth” in court. Being part of an organization that has such an important public role is exciting; it also imparts a sense of responsibility to get things right and do good work. The office is full of smart, motivated people who enjoy what they do. Our work is highly varied and challenging, which keeps it interesting. I have been grateful to have had the opportunity to argue in the Massachusetts Appeals Court, the Supreme Judicial Court, and the First Circuit, and to submit briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court. I’ve only recently become a supervisor of other attorneys in the office, and I’ve found that I enjoy that work as well.
OCP: What do you see as the power of government lawyering, particularly on the state level, as an avenue for making change? Have you seen any significant state-level changes as a result of cases that have come through the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office?
AL: There is often a focus on federal courts and federal law in law school, but so much of government that affects people’s daily lives happens at the state level. The vast majority of criminal prosecutions happen in state rather than federal courts. Education is primarily a state and local function rather than federal function. The federal constitution sets a minimum for protecting individual rights, but state constitutions and state Supreme Courts often recognize rights and protections above that baseline. Particularly given the gridlock that has recently characterized the federal legislature and the changes to the composition of the U.S. Supreme Court, state courts and state legislatures are a critical avenue for making change. One example of an effort to make such change is our office’s continuing lawsuit against Exxon Mobil Corporation in state court alleging violations of state law – in particular, engaging in deceptive advertising and misleading Massachusetts investors about the risks to Exxon’s business posed by fossil fuel-driven climate change.
OCP: You now serve as a supervisor to students placed with your office through the Government Lawyering: Attorney General Clinic. What do you hope they learn during their time working in the clinic?
AL: I hope they learn about the importance of state law and of the Attorney General’s Office. When I was in law school, I don’t think I even knew what the Attorney General’s Office was! I hope they learn about the many different roles the office plays in state government – we have lawyers who specialize in multiple areas and types of law including antitrust, charities, civil rights, consumer protection, energy and environment, fair labor, false claims, health care, and many others, in addition to criminal law. I also hope they come away from the experience recognizing that our office is full of talented, motivated lawyers doing public service, and that it is a great place to practice law.
OCP: When you think back to your time as a law student, do any specific memories stick out to you? What lessons from HLS have you carried with you throughout your career?
AL: I had several classes with professors who were dynamic, committed teachers and changed my perspective on the law. Since I’m now practicing criminal law, I’ll highlight my Criminal Law class with Professor Daniel Meltzer and my Criminal Procedure class with Professors Carol Steiker and William Stuntz. (Professors Meltzer and Stuntz have unfortunately both passed away since then, too young.) These professors didn’t just teach legal doctrines; they also urged us to question those doctrines and our own priors, and to think about the often uneasy, ambiguous relationship between morality and the law. They showed us how well-meaning decisions can have pernicious unintended consequences. I’ve tried to carry those lessons with me into the practice of law.
OCP: What advice would you pass along to current law students considering a career in the attorney general or state government world?
AL: I encourage them to pursue that goal! Look for opportunities while still in law school to learn about and try out a variety of government jobs, whether during the summer or through clinical opportunities. As you move through different work settings, think about what type of work inspires and suits you or doesn’t—as my experience shows, it can take a little while to figure that out. Seek out mentors who hold the types of jobs that interest you. If you decide to go into private practice but intend to move into government later, keep the goal in mind – sometimes law firm life gets so busy that you think you don’t have time for making plans, and many years can slip by that way. Be open to opportunities that come up unexpectedly, even if the timing isn’t perfect. Learn from the great lawyers you encounter.