Closing Thoughts: I Came to Dickinson to be a Lawyer

Last word illustration

Michael Artman

by Amy Shelley Impellizzeri ’92

In 1988, I came to Dickinson to be a lawyer. I wasn’t equivocal about this. I was on a straight-line path toward exactly what I wanted to do with my future. My articulated plan was to devour a liberal-arts education and translate it into the ability to think like a lawyer and, even more important, to write like a lawyer.

Although, if I’m being honest with you, more than 25 years later, I still have no idea what that means.

And I am a lawyer.

Sort of.

After graduating from Dickinson with a double major in English and philosophy, I went straight to law school and then headed off to a prestigious federal clerkship in Washington, D.C., before practicing corporate litigation for 13 years, including a decade at one of the top law firms in the country. I worked on high-profile cases and negotiated multimillion-dollar settlements. I tried my first case before I was 30 and argued in state and federal courts across the country.

I loved every minute of it. I embraced the fact that this straight-line path of mine had led me to exactly where I was meant to be.

Sort of.

Frankly, there were some detours, even during my career at Dickinson. Seemingly small detours at the time but huge in hindsight.

For example, there was a conversation during my sophomore year with a friend who already had started law school. He explained, in his well-meaning but misguided way, that any creative ideas floating around in my brain should extinguish themselves immediately, as law school requires suppressing creativity as much as possible. I pinned points on my destination-law-school-map as I quietly heeded his advice and suppressed my own voice. I carefully molded my transcript to look like a law-school applicant. And it worked.

Sort of.

The last week of my senior year, Professor of English Ashton Nichols called me on the telephone. I was shocked to receive a call from a professor at that time, convinced that I had said something to offend him in my paper for my independent study, a comprehensive look at Mary Shelley’s 19th century, for which I had registered as a pass / fail.

“Amy, is this right?” he asked. “Did you really mean to take the class pass / fail? I am about to give you an A, and I want to make sure there isn’t some mistake.”

“Yes, that’s right,” I responded. I was almost sheepish, lacking the words to explain to him that I didn’t want to risk anything less than an A, which would mar my law-school application transcript, but that I never would have strived for anything less. I also lacked the words to explain that my path was starting to look a little less straight.

I lacked the words because I had very nearly lost my voice. Intentionally.

Now, more than 20 years later, as I open a box with the galley proofs of my first novel, Lemongrass Hope, I’m overwhelmed reflecting on the path that had led me there. My publisher and I had a long list of media contacts, reviewers and authors to whom the first advance review copies (ARCs) were to be sent. But suddenly, holding my novel for the first time, it was quite obvious to me just who should receive the first two ARCs.

My husband, Paul Impellizzeri ’92, and I took the day off to make a road trip to Carlisle to deliver the very first two ARCs — to my former Dickinson advisors and first mentors, English professors Wendy Moffat and Ashton Nichols. The trip was a symbolic and meaningful act, as I realized that my path to becoming a writer had been anything but straight.

Standing in East College, nervously gripping my ARCs in the same halls that I had walked all those years ago, evolving into the writer I would later become, the road looked so much more curved than it had 20-odd years earlier. In fact, it almost resembled a circle.

Amy Shelley Impellizzeri ’92 is a reformed corporate litigator and author. After 13 years practicing law, including a decade at top Manhattan law firm Skadden Arps, she now helps run an investor-backed start-up company as vice president of community & designer relations of ShopFunder LLC. Her first novel, Lemongrass Hope, will be released in October (Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing), and her first nonfiction book, Lawyer Interrupted (ABA Publishing), is due out 2015.  Her essays and articles have appeared in The Huffington Post, The Glass Hammer, Divine Caroline and ABA’s Law Practice Today. Her blog, My Cup Runneth Over, can be found at She lives in Pennsylvania — not too far from Carlisle — with her husband and three kids.

Read more from the summer 2014 issue of Dickinson Magazine.

Published July 22, 2014