With a PhD in Electrical Engineering, What Could Be Better than Elder Law?
Second year George Mason University Law School student and Baltimore native Laura Ruppalt splits her time between law school, working as a research engineer at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC, and interning as a law clerk at the Commission on Law and Aging. It’s part of a somewhat unlikely career transition from a decade of professional work in the field of technology and applied physics to the field of law.
It wouldn’t be a surprising transition for someone wanting to practice patent or intellectual property law, but that’s not Laura’s goal. She wants to practice in the field of law and aging. When asked why, Laura says, “Two or three years ago, just as I was again reassessing where I was, the idea of using the law in a way that impacts older Americans really was attractive to me. I’ve always had an attraction to older persons. I had a very strong relationship with my grandparents growing up, and I have a lot of compassion and sympathy for the struggles that I see.” Opportunities fell into place for Laura with a scholarship to law school and her employer’s willingness to let her work part-time. Fortunately, the Commission was one of the opportunities that came along at the right time.
Laura’s work at the Commission has focused heavily on statutory and regulatory analysis in health decisions law, guardianship, and emeritus attorney bar status. One of the more interesting projects has been her research on a possible state report card on health care advance directive laws. While state laws don’t necessarily reflect actual practice, they do create a legal framework that can either help or hinder the ability of individuals to have their health care wishes known and honored. Beyond law school, Laura hopes to find a role for herself in either the practice of elder law or related policy work in the DC area. She adds, “My goal now is to find a way support myself where I really enjoy and feel a little bit more meaning in the way I spend my days.” Newly emerging advocates like Laura Ruppalt brighten the prospects for making old age a time to thrive.