President Joe Biden appointed Menlo alumna Judge Veronica Rossman (‘90) to the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in 2021. Even though she now holds one of the most prestigious positions in the judicial field, Judge Rossman did not take a very traditional path.
After graduating from Menlo, Judge Rossman attended Columbia University where she majored in comparative literature. Up until her final year in college, Judge Rossman fully intended to become a writer. Ultimately, Judge Rossman matriculated at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, now known as The University of California College of the Law, San Francisco.
Although Judge Rossman’s path does not fit the typical pre-law mold, she believes that focusing on her writing skills in college offered amazing preparation for the legal field. On top of her classes, Judge Rossman also participated in the theater programs at Menlo and Columbia which strengthened her public speaking skills.
Prior to accepting Biden’s appointment, Judge Rossman worked as a federal public defender, which is a defense attorney for the federal government. Her job made her a unique candidate for the 10th Circuit position since most federal judges do not come from the public defender sector, but she believes that diversity in her background made her stand out.
Judge Rossman loves the opportunity to mentor her law clerks, who are usually only a year or two out of law school, and work in a collaborative law environment. Alongside the positives, though, the job also brings a lot of stress and pressure. When the hours get especially long, Judge Rossman often tells her law clerks that what they are feeling is not stress, but rather “it’s what privilege feels like because we have an enormous privilege to be able to do this work.”
Unlike lawyers, who often get to decide which cases to bring, judges do not decide what cases they hear. In each case, Judge Rossman reminds herself and her clerks that “it’s the most important case for the people in that case,” so no decision should be taken lightly. According to Judge Rossman, she works hard to “honor the humanity of every litigant that comes before the court.”
In the end, the results are not based on the judges’ preferences but instead on legal precedent. With an increasingly polarized judicial system, though, sometimes it’s hard to remember that the judiciary is not a political institution. When Biden appointed Judge Rossman, many newspapers wrote about the potential effects that Biden judges, typically more liberal, could have on future legal decisions.
Judge Rossman believes that judges have a duty to remind the public that the judiciary’s role does not lie in politics, but in resolving cases brought before the court according to applicable law. “There’s no such thing as a Biden judge or a Trump judge, we’re all just Article III judges,” Judge Rossman said in an interview with The Coat of Arms, referring to Article III of the United States Constitution which establishes the Judicial Branch.
In such a controversial and time-consuming job, sometimes it’s particularly hard to find a manageable work-life balance. For Judge Rossman, finding balance isn’t a day-to-day goal, but rather something to strive for over longer periods of time. “In order to do this very challenging work and have it be sustainable, you have to take care of your physical health and mental health,” Judge Rossman said. While she doesn’t have time every day to loop in self-care practices, Judge Rossman believes that getting outside and spending time with friends and family when possible help her maintain a healthier work-life balance.
Even deep into her career, Judge Rossman traces some of her success and ability to keep up with a rigorous workload back to Menlo’s education. “Menlo just gave me the opportunity to become a really good writer and to appreciate reading and writing, which is something I always loved,” Judge Rossman said. Judge Rossman also believes that studying literature, although a less traditional path into the legal field, taught her to be empathetic and a good listener.
For any Menlo students hoping to pursue a future in the judiciary or broader legal field, Judge Rossman emphasizes that all high schoolers should keep in mind that there isn’t one specific path to any career. Instead of following the standard, Judge Rossman urges everyone to follow the courses that interest them rather than the ones they believe are most targeted to their future. “Focusing on what is important and meaningful to you in the moment is just as significant as the long range planning that I think a lot of high school students are encouraged to do and are thinking about,” Judge Rossman said.
Writer’s Note: If you are looking for an alumni mentor, search through Menlo Connect, a networking site exclusively targeted towards the Menlo community.