Jeff Sessions (’73) was confirmed by the United States Senate on February 8 to serve as the 84th Attorney General of the United States.
Born in Selma, Alabama, Sessions received his Juris Doctor from The University of Alabama School of Law after completing his undergraduate education at Huntingdon College in Montgomery. He has represented Alabama in the United States Senate for the past 20 years. In that time, he gave numerous Alabama Law graduates the opportunity to serve as clerks for him on the Committee on the Judiciary.
Modeled like a judicial clerkship, The Clerkship Program allowed law school graduates to work for Sessions for a year as he served as a member of the committee that provides oversight of the Department of Justice and the agencies under its jurisdiction, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security. This provided many Alabama Law alumni a front-row seat at hearings on executive nominations for federal judges and positions in several agencies, including the Department of Justice, the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the United States Parole Commission.
“He had a purposeful program where he valued hiring from the University of Alabama, and he wanted to give graduates of the University of Alabama School of Law a chance to come and serve the state,” said Cynthia Hayden (‘02 ), Director of Government Affairs for Altria Group who clerked for Sessions in 2002-2003. “Because he had the desire to do that, he has given dozens of new lawyers who wanted to come to Washington, D.C. to make a difference for the people living in Alabama a chance to do that.”
Sessions’s Senate office also operated a Summer Clerkship Program for law students. Several alumni, including Brooke Bacak (‘05), clerked for Sessions in the summer of their second year of law school and returned after graduation for a one-year clerkship.
It would have been difficult for Bacak to secure future positions in Washington, D.C. had she not clerked for Sessions. Soon after she arrived in 2005, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor announced her retirement, and Chief Justice William Rehnquist passed away. This provided her with the opportunity to be involved in confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justices.
“For me it was the door, the window, the opportunity not to just get started in the lowest ranks, but to be a part of one of the most influential and significant committees in the entire Senate,” said Bacak, former Assistant Dean for Advancement at the Law School. “As soon as we got up there, he wanted us to be in meetings, observing, learning, speaking for ourselves. That kind of training alone, it is just impossible to measure the value of that.”
Working for Sessions required long hours and a strong worth ethic. Even during recess, there was no such thing as a casual Friday. Those who have worked for Sessions are incredibly loyal to him and describe him as a teacher, mentor and friend.
“When we would give him material, he would always make it better,” said Phil Zimmerly (‘08), an associate at Bose McKinney & Evans in Indianapolis, who clerked for Sessions in 2008-2009. “He was certainly a great teacher in terms of watching what he would practice as a Senator.”
While most UA Law graduates worked for Sessions while in law school or after graduation, Prim Formby Escalona (‘08), an associate at Maynard Cooper and Gale in Birmingham, worked for Sessions before attending the University of Alabama School of Law.
An Alabama native and a graduate of Birmingham-Southern College, Escalona went to work for Sessions in 2001, first as a Legislative Correspondent and later as a Legislative Assistant.
After she decided to attend law school, Escalona applied to two schools: Georgetown and Alabama. Sessions wrote a letter of recommendation for her to attend Alabama Law, and she fell in love with the school and its faculty during a campus visit. Sessions later wrote a letter of recommendation on Escalona’s behalf to Judge William H. Pryor, Jr. of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, where she clerked before serving as the Deputy Solicitor General in the Office of the Attorney General of the State of Alabama.
“People are loyal to (Sessions) because he’s loyal to them,” she said. “That says a lot about him. It’s the mark of a good person.”