Attorney at Law Magazine discussed life in the practice of law with Assistant General Counsel of the Federal Bureau of Prisons Tammy Allison Holloway who has spent more than 10 years in government practice.
AALM: What drew you to a career in the law?
TAH: I didn’t choose the thug life; the thug life chose me! Lol, just kidding … kind of. Honestly, I ran away from law from the time my mother became an attorney later in her life in 1995. I was in middle school and I didn’t want any part of law. I actually ended up with an undergraduate degree in exercise science and went to chiropractic school. It was there that I realized that my passion truly was law; plus dissecting cadavers ran me out of the heath field.
AALM: Why did you choose to work in government rather than private practice?
TAH: There was always something about public service that spoke to me. Initially, I didn’t quite understand what it was, but in retrospect, and after attending a couple of years of therapy, I realized that some of my childhood traumas had a huge impact on my decision. My goal was to be a voice for the voiceless in one capacity by being someone in a position of power to bring my culture and personal experiences to the table, to hopefully offer additional insight as to why some people who may also share my culture and personal experiences find themselves in certain predicaments, mainly the criminal justice system.
AALM: Any plans to transition into private practice?
TAH: Yes! Absolutely. I have been with the federal government for 10 years! I have done a little bit of everything, and I believe that it is time for me to take the huge leap of faith and launch my own law practice using the transferable skills that I have acquired over the past 10 years.
My practice will focus on business law. I have recently become an entrepreneur, I want to assist others in setting up their part time or full time business the correct and legal way. I plan to launch in Spring or Summer 2020. I’m super nervous, but confident that Attorney Tammy Allison, PLLC will be successful.
AALM: When attending law school, what kind of career did you imagine attaining?
TAH: I honestly had no idea what I wanted to do in law school; and that’s okay! I often share that with my mentees because there is always so much pressure to have everything figured out. I believe that law school is the time to focus on the required courses, have fun with electives, and intern in as many different areas as possible in order to determine what you do not like. Once you know for sure what you don’t want to do in a law school setting, it’s easier to transition into a rewarding career as an attorney. For example, I interned at the U.S. Department, and that is where I have practiced for the past 10 years. I did a judicial clerkship for a family law judge for a year, and that definitely assisted me in knowing that that area of law was one that I did not feel suited me.
AALM: Tell us about one of the most important lessons you learned from a personal or professional mentor.
TAH: My mentor is the former U.S. Pardon Attorney Ronald L. Rodgers. I joke and say he “raised me DOJ” and he’s my “Godfather.” He is one of the smartest, patient, supportive, and inspirational individuals that I have ever met in my life. He actually hired me on as an intern back in 2008, and he is always there for me until this day. He always reminded me of the importance of the work that we do, not only in my former role, as the second black woman to ever be hired (by him) at the Office of the Pardon Attorney, but as an attorney. He led by example and taught me that no matter who the client was, the goal was to provide the best quality services to the client. In our case—the President. Pretty much, put your head down, ignore the “noise,” and work as an apolitical representative of the U.S. Department of Justice.
AALM: What is the most important lesson your parents taught you?
TAH: Like many people, I do not have a close relationship with my parents. My mother; although an attorney with accomplishments in her own right, was not there for me in the ways that a child would expect a mother to be. The lesson in that for me was that “no one cares.” Like, yes, you can be cared for, but in the grand scheme of life; everyone has their own traumas, struggles, and stories, but it is up to me and me alone to overcome them to be the person I visualized myself as being.
AALM: Tell us about your years with the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and your time as a pardon attorney.
TAH: I was fresh out of law school when I was hired on as an attorney-advisor with the Office of the Pardon Attorney. I had interned and did a six-month assignment as a legal assistant before I passed the bar exam, and then I was hired on in 2010 as an attorney. For the first four years there it was awesome! I loved it. To be at a senior management office at the U.S. Department of Justice at such an early phase in my career taught me so much. I recommended executive clemency to the president of the United States of America—both commutations (those still in federal prison) and pardons (those seeking forgiveness after release or sentencing of fine or restitution).
Having my boss simultaneously serve as my mentor made for a challenging, but very rewarding experience. However, he left the office and for the first time in my career I realized that I needed more experience in order to be marketable as an attorney.
I then focused my sights on litigation. I was able to secure a two-year detail at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for D.C. I did both criminal and civil law. That was by far the hardest thing that I have ever done in my life. I worked hard. Very hard. However, it was so rewarding. For years I was used to my former boss and mentor telling me that I was great, but to hear it from several other superiors who did not know me brought a very different sense of validation to me. It made me feel like “yeah, I am pretty good at this, huh?” It’s good and bad because you almost get addicted to the instant validation of your performance that a high-paced working environment provides. You don’t slow down, you literally want to take on the biggest and hardest challenge for the reward of knowing you can do it and that you can do it well. I loved it and craved the work—I still do. At that time my son was still very young and I realized that it was time for a change of pace. That took me to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
AALM: What brought you to your current role as assistant general counsel of the Federal Bureau of Prisons?
TAH: At the U.S. Attorney’s Office for D.C. I had represented BOP before the Federal District Courts and knew some of the assistant general counsels who worked there. My former mentor and friend worked there as well. I asked questions about how they liked it and if they found the work rewarding. They all did. It seemed to provide more of a work-life balance that was important for me because I have a young son, but also litigate. It’s been a great experience and I’ve been there a little over two years now.
AALM: What are you most proud of professionally or personally?
TAH: I am proud of being a little black girl from Texas who overcame severe childhood abuse, pursued an education in law in Michigan, believed in myself not to return to Texas and secured a meaningful career in Washington, D.C., for 10 years, got married, became a mom, survived domestic violence and a divorce, relocated back to Texas, and I’m still standing strong.
Although I didn’t necessarily have the support system that I needed growing up, or even through law school, I was blessed to have one family member who believed in me, my Uncle G, so much so that he cosigned my student loans so that I could graduate. I was also blessed in my mentor, Ronald L. Rodgers. I honestly owe my career to my Uncle G and Ronald L. Rodgers. In life, things are not always perfect. However, if you believe in yourself and work hard, amazing individuals will enter your life and assist you in ways that make up for every bad thing that has ever happened to you.
AALM: Tell us about your life outside the law.
TAH: I am a mom of a 5 1/2 year old boy. He’s at this age where he believes that he can conquer the world. The excitement and innocence is priceless and my number one goal is to protect it. I spend a lot of time exposing him to his expressed interest in things, mostly sports—primarily hockey, and assisting him in honing those skills.
Besides that, I mentor and discuss my experiences often in an effort to inspire and motivate others. I recently started a motivational speaking, writing, and coaching business, Own Your Passion, LLC. It’s all things about my professional and personal life and I draw from what I’ve done to navigate certain areas of my life to assist others to do the same. I honestly believe that every person has trauma and dealing with it in a healthy way with professional help can expose an individual’s passion. That’s why I named my business Own Your Passion, LLC. It’s about figuratively owning it, but also literally owning your passion by figuring out ways to monetize it in the era of “multiple streams of income.”