Shaunis Mercer ’02 explored several majors before landing in NC State’s College of Management, where she completed a degree in business management. Although she concentrated in human resource management, Mercer said she enjoyed the diverse curriculum the college offered. Years later, when starting her own law firm, and in her current role overseeing juvenile defenders, she fully realized the value of her undergraduate coursework.
Mercer, who earned her law degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2005, recently transitioned from owning a small law firm to being the assistant juvenile defender for the state of North Carolina. In addition to addressing policy issues impacting juveniles involved in the delinquency system, Mercer provides technical assistance, oversight, and training to juvenile defenders across the state.
“As I have matured as an attorney, I have been able to deepen my knowledge into the areas of law I most enjoy,” Mercer said. “I believe that my path will continue to narrow and become more specialized as my career progresses over the next few years. By focusing on one area of the law, I hope to be able not only to improve the quality of representation that my clients receive, but also to help shape the laws under which we practice.”
Being an attorney in private practice for eight years, Mercer had full autonomy to set her schedule and manage support staff. One of the unique skills she developed since then, she said, is prioritizing her work and adapting organizational methods to conform to the accountability structure of state government. Mercer said working with a government agency has been an adjustment, but this new skill set has enhanced her professional development.
Mercer related much of this insight, as well as broader thoughts on leadership, to a captive group of approximately 200 parents who attended an informational session during Park Finalist Weekend in February 2014. While Finalists interviewed with members of the Park Scholarships Selection Committee, their parents and families had the opportunity to ask questions of Mercer and several other Park Scholars and alumni about their NC State careers and life after graduation.
“Get some real world experience,” Mercer said, when asked what advice she would offer students considering a career in law. “Take your career for a test drive before you commit. Law school isn’t a default career path like it used to be. Jobs are scarce, and the time and financial commitment to law school is huge. Before you make that decision, make sure that it fits your expectations and other life goals.
Story by Laura Turner