“To be a lawyer, you have to be multifaceted.”
In addition to being recently admitted to the New York State Bar, Phil Duggan ’15 is a history buff, a Francophile, a rudimentary bicycle repairman, an alumnus of the Habitat for Humanity theme house, a proud Buffalo Bills fan, and the owner of an impressive collection of houseplants. In a word, multifaceted.
Duggan is also a recipient of the St. Lawrence University-Cornell Law School Scholarship and a 2021 graduate of Cornell Law School. Established in 2016, the scholarship is awarded to eligible St. Lawrence graduates upon admission to the J.D. program at Cornell.
“When you are choosing between law schools, the financial decision has a significant impact,” says Duggan. “I was already leaning toward Cornell, but the scholarship really put it above other schools for me. It helped me afford to live in Ithaca, but more importantly, it has given me the freedom to pursue other passions without having to worry as much about paying off loans.”
The flexibility Duggan describes allowed him to pursue his current position as a judicial clerk in a federal court in New York’s Southern District, where he helps research and write court opinions for Senior United States District Judge Paul Crotty.
Duggan lives in New York City, but he calls Buffalo, New York, his home. The son of two attorneys, conversations about judges and colleagues in the legal field were common around the dinner table. Growing up in that environment made his decision to go to law school easy. His undergraduate experiences at St. Lawrence as a history major and French minor have also come in handy.
“St. Lawrence set me up really well for law school. My advisor, Professor Eissenstat, always called it ‘grit’: the ability to go with the flow, adapt to new situations, and learn on the fly,” says Duggan. “When I was interviewing for my first job as a lawyer, I was initially caught off guard because I thought I’d be asked about my GPA or my favorite classes in law school. But every single conversation I had was about something I did at St. Lawrence or after college—like studying abroad in France, trips into the Adirondacks as an Outdoor Program guide, or building homes in the North Country with Habitat. The things that people do at St. Lawrence are pretty cool, and they demonstrate a diversity of interests and skills outside of your academics.”
In addition to volunteering with Habitat, Duggan has also been a volunteer and a guide on several Bike and Build trips, pedaling across the country to help build affordable housing. Before going on to law school, he added another layer to his passion for public service when working as a paralegal for New York-based multinational law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton, & Garrison.
“Working at Paul, Weiss helped me make connections with real lawyers and get candid views on different law schools,” he says. “I remember talking with a couple of lawyers at the firm who were Cornell Law graduates. They were already the sort of people that I liked to work with, but they also went out of their way to foster the career development of a paralegal. Most importantly, they were into pro bono work.”
It was at this point that Duggan developed an interest in representing defendants who could be subjected to capital punishment.
“I had worked on a couple of death penalty cases at the law firm, which I found to be really interesting. The lawyers that I worked with were drawn to them because of the work they had done at Cornell,” he says. “They mentioned that I’d get a lot out of Cornell because it has a world-class capital punishment clinic. This clinic really influenced my path.”
Like the attorneys who have helped him, Duggan wants to pay it forward. Since graduating, he has worked with St. Lawrence’s pre-law advising program to share his insights with aspiring lawyers from his undergraduate alma mater, helping them navigate the process of applying to law school while putting their multifaceted interests to use.
“My recommendation is to take a couple of years before going on to law school so you can make as informed a decision as possible. It's the St. Lawrence way to go out into the real world and get some practical experience,” he says. “Meanwhile, use your time as an undergrad to do the things that you’re interested in. Be able to speak clearly and passionately about those experiences, and you will set yourself up well for your next step.”