Paula Dow, attorney general for the state of New Jersey, possesses a set of attributes that no one who previously held this specific job did. She’s African American, Ivy-League educated, a woman, and a Democrat serving a Republican governor. She’s also a living example that the old adage, “Never put your eggs in one basket,” isn’t always right.
Dow, 55, loves every aspect of the law, whether it’s defending the victim of a harrowing crime or enjoying a ripped-from-the-headlines episode of “Law and Order.” And when she settled at a rather young age on this particular career path, she never once considered being anything other than an attorney.
She earned her legal stripes at ExxonMobil Corp., where she worked for seven years, handling pollution and refinery labor issues. By the time she left, Dow was lead counsel assigned to Exxon’s Baytown Refinery, one of the largest refineries in the U.S. Once she decided to move from corporate to civil to criminal law, Dow set her sights on each goal and never looked back.
She attributes her single-minded determination to her father, who used to take young Paula around the city of Philadelphia to listen to its great preachers in churches big and small. Her path was done with his encouragement. Whether it was to apply to Ivy League law schools — she earned her juris doctorate degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School; leave a safe job in the U.S. Attorney’s office in New Jersey to become Essex County prosecutor; or to adopt her second child as a single parent, her father was always her biggest cheerleader.
As New Jersey’s 58th attorney general, Dow oversees a department with more than 9,000 employees and serves as the state’s chief law enforcement officer and legal advisor. Now, just a few months into her tenure, Dow spoke with BlackEnterprise.com about the law, her career, and how she remains apolitical in a Republican administration.
BlackEnterprise.com: What attracted you to the law?
Paula Dow: I wanted to become a lawyer probably since I was in ninth or 10th grade when a social studies teacher steered me in that direction. I liked the courtroom challenges and contests with opponents as depicted to me on some of the popular television shows of that time. I didn’t appreciate then how many avenues you could pursue or the different types of practices, but loved the idea of challenging the establishment on behalf of the underdog and being successful.
Describe some of the strategies you used to advance your career.
After serving in the U.S. Attorney’s office on the civil side for about seven years, I wanted to do what the criminal prosecutors were doing and the challenge and excitement of being in the courtroom a lot more. I looked only at offices that had openings in the criminal area and after I made the transition I focused on more and more challenging cases. Other coworkers would leave and go into private practice or other avenues, but I have focused on being a public servant and enjoy it very much.