Heather Daniel Ready to Leave Police Work for Legal Profession

The stereotype of the cop going to law school and advancing his career in the justice system is alive and well. And although Heather Daniel is a Chicago police officer who just graduated from The John Marshall Law School, she’s definitely no stereotype.

This sergeant on the Chicago Police Department (CPD) also holds a degree in English Language and Literature from the prestigious University of Chicago, once took computer programming courses for fun and demonstrated against nuclear weapons during high school. Oh, and she’s the January 2013 John Marshall graduating class valedictorian.

Stereotype? Definitely not.

More like a person who’s interested in justice, whether it’s through keeping the streets safe for law-abiding citizens, exercising her free speech rights on a moral issue or stepping up to fight the good fight.

“We, as a society, have chosen the rule of law to be the foundation of our social interactions.” Daniel said in her January commencement address. “The law serves us by helping us frame our everyday conduct—it tells us what we can and cannot do. But the law also protects. The law protects the powerless, it protects our social structures, it protects our form of government; the law protects our rights as human beings.”

It took Daniel more than four years of part-time law school to get through John Marshall. She worked the overnight shift at the Chicago Police Department. Her usual schedule was to head to the police district station after her evening class, work all night, sleep for a few hours, get something to eat, do homework and head back to class.

Some class periods she would have her police weapon with her, but she never wore her uniform to class and doesn’t believe her weapon was visible to the other students.

“I was afraid it would be distracting to wear the uniform to class so I just changed into my work clothes after class,” she said.

So by night, she’d be dealing with shootings, rapes and robberies. By day, or early evening, that is, it was torts, contracts and partnerships.

“Sometimes the police work is very dull but it can change in a second and you have to be prepared for it,” Daniel said.

“I love the police work, the running around like you see on TV,” she said of being on patrol. “But it also was an advantage in being able to put that field knowledge to work in law school.”

During her 13 years on the force, Daniel has been an analyst at the CPD’s organized crime division, providing real-time support for Chicago’s response to a sudden nationwide spike in heroin overdoses. She also served as a detective, and has earned a number of department awards.

Despite the full-time job, Daniel was able to take advantage of John Marshall’s strong externship program. “I didn’t expect to have time for anything outside of class. But John Marshall offers so many ways to get real legal experience. And they work hard to find options that are a good fit.”

Daniel spent six weeks as a legal intern in Washington, D.C., working for Terrence Gainer, former Illinois State Police chief and currently the U.S. Senate Sergeant at Arms. She researched constitutional limits on government conduct, among other things. In her final semester, Daniel found herself moved off nights and onto a day shift which allowed her to extern on her day off. She spent one day a week externing in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, preparing two draft opinions.

Daniel isn’t alone in her pursuit of a law degree combined with police work. Nearly a dozen of her John Marshall classmates are also working as police officers.

“We work strange hours that can change unexpectedly. John Marshall is so flexible—they were always willing to work with me so I could keep moving forward.”

Daniel is studying for the bar and would like to find a legal position in the public sector involving public policy development or litigation.