November 20, 2015

Profile of a Prosecutor: Alum Drew Henning ’14

Drew Henning works for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office in Chicago.

Drew Henning, an assistant state’s attorney with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office in Chicago, graduated from Lewis & Clark Law School in 2014 and passed the July 2014 Illinois Bar Examination. He was a Sidney Lezak Fellowship recipient at the law school. Before law school he served with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, Criminal Section in Washington, DC, for three years. In law school, he clerked for a federal judge in Iowa, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Portland, and the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office. He shares his interest in law and experience at L&C in this interview conducted by Elizabeth O’Connell-Thompson.

In looking at your resume—internships focused on civil rights and human trafficking cases—it seems like you entered law school with a clear path for yourself. What made you want to be a career prosecutor?

DH:  It started for me in middle school. I grew up in Knoxville, Iowa, in an area fraught with domestic violence and drug abuse. I was lucky, though. My best friend’s dad, Terry, was the elected county attorney. He and his wife, a nurse, became mentors to me. I went to court with them, met other attorneys, and watched trials. The cases were often violent crime cases. As I watched, I thought being a prosecutor was my calling – something I could and would love to do.”

            I remember getting goose bumps when Terry would give closing arguments, weaving all of the evidence together into a cohesive, compelling narrative for the jury. I knew that going forward, it was the career for me. From there, I structured everything in my studies toward representing victims’ rights in court. I saw being a prosecutor as the most impactful role I could play as a lawyer.

Did you know other lawyers growing up?

DH: Not really. The area I grew up in is a mostly rural community, about twenty-five minutes from Des Moines. There are a lot of factory workers—my mother worked in a factory, my father was a welder, and my stepfather was in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a park ranger. Terry was the only attorney I knew well. He then introduced me to David Schrader, who was the Iowa House of Representatives minority leader at the time, and I quickly became addicted to Iowa politics and public service. From there, I met former U.S. Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa. Senator Harkin became a role model for me – as he was a prosecutor from a small Iowa town who championed civil rights issues.

You spent your first year at a law school in Chicago and then transferred to Lewis & Clark. Why did you decide to transfer?

DH: I transferred because I was looking for a law school that was immensely public service focused, had a collegial environment, and in a medium sized city.  A good friend told me about L&C Law. He was really impressed with the law school and Portland and thought I would thrive there. So, on a perfect summer-like day in May, I flew out to Portland to give it a look. For me, Portland and Lewis & Clark fit the bill to the tee. I fell in love with the city and school within a few hours of visiting. It was the right mix: great people, great school, fabulous city. And, as a gay individual, I was looking for a law school that really valued diversity. I’m beyond happy with the choice I made.

Did you know you wanted to return to Chicago when you graduated?

DH: I went to L&C thinking I would make Portland my long-term home. In fact, I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else until it came time to apply for jobs. I went to law school to be a prosecutor and I decided to apply to national offices that hired people who hadn’t yet taken the bar exam but were still in law school.

            I also attended Lavender Law, which is an LGBT bar association career fair and conference, in San Francisco one summer. While there, I met tons of prosecutors from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. I hung out with them, and the more I got to know them the more I liked the idea of working in Cook County—in this office in particular because they honor and value diversity in significant ways.

            After interviewing in several major cities, I was fortunate to get an offer from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office on the last day of law school. With a job in hand (and my law degree two weeks later), I accepted the offer. But, Portland will always be my second home.

How do you feel about your work now that you’ve been doing it for roughly a year?

DH: I feel great. Everyday presents new and exciting challenges; I love my job, and I work with great prosecutors and individuals. Before I started with the office, scores of people told me,  “Your colleagues will be your family. You’ll go to their weddings and their kids’ bat mitzvahs,” and it’s true. They are truly stellar people who are great at what they do. I see myself here for a long time and I am excited to grow with this team.

Where do you see yourself going from here?

DH: I eventually see myself prosecuting police misconduct, hate crime, and human trafficking cases here in Chicago. Building the groundwork for that is taking shape. And, my partner and I really like the city and all it has to offer, so Chicago is home for the foreseeable future.  

What advice would you give prospective law students who are considering law as a career?

DH: I think that if you’re going to go to law school, you need to ask, “What do I really want to do with this degree? What kind of lawyer do I want to be?” Research it. Do the legwork. If you know what path you want, you can pick your classes and apply for internships or externships around it, or participate in clinics. From there, it is a lot of networking. Send emails, make phone calls, ask for coffee meetings. When you think you’ve done enough, keep networking. The worst someone can say is no.

            I actually connected with a federal judge through social media and secured my clerkship for his office that way. When I was at my final interview for my job now, one of the prosecutors was someone I emailed before I started law school. At the time, the prosecutor was too busy to meet, but they had that email printed out at my interview, and it was one of the pieces that got me the job.

Finally, what was your favorite part of law school?

DH: Without a doubt, I love the friends I made at L&C. I feel so lucky to have met some of my best friends at L&C. Being a Sidney Lezak fellowship recipient was also a tremendous honor. My mentors, all respected attorneys (Kris Olson, Les Swanson, and Frank Noonan) were vital pieces of my law school experience – they provided feedback and advice as I laid the path for my career. They continue to be good friends and mentors.