KU Law alumna Cathleen Carothers shares diverse experiences in foreign service

In October, the International Law Society (ILS) hosted Cathleen Carothers, L’99, a Foreign Service Officer for the U.S. Department of State. Carothers presented her observations and answered questions on her career in the Foreign Service. Carothers has served in the Caribbean, Greece, India and Egypt in various capacities, from policymaking to consular service. Her experiences have been diverse both substantively and geographically.
Carothers patiently and enthusiastically answered students’ questions. Several were curious about the Foreign Service Officer Test. Her test experience, she shared, was at the time a horrifying one that has now ripened into a funny story. After feeling unsure of how the exam went, she waited anxiously to receive her results, only to receive the letter she had not been hoping for. Shortly after this disappointment, she received another letter informing accepted applicants that a position was open and needed to be filled immediately. Confused, she called to inquire whether she would be able to serve this recently opened position. As it turns out, she was initially sent the wrong letter! She had passed and was accepted as a Foreign Service Officer, but due to a mix-up she had been sent a letter stating just the opposite. From that story, Carothers shared the piece of advice she found most helpful during this process: Live like you won’t be accepted into the Foreign Service. Because there is a large degree of uncertainty as to when a Foreign Service Officer will be leaving and exactly where they will be going, it is best to use those times of waiting to chase after opportunities as though you are unemployed and explore chances you might not have taken otherwise.

Perhaps most interestingly, Carothers prefers to refer to herself as someone who went to law school rather than referring to herself as a lawyer. This isn’t just because she is no longer a member of the Kansas Bar; it is because she is not practicing the law the way people commonly envision. She still reads through statutes and wades through agency regulations, much like a lawyer does. But she doesn’t appear in court before a judge, which is what most people think of when they think of lawyers. What her legal education has given her is not a career that people commonly envision. It has given her the ability and comfort level necessary to work through statutes, something that her colleagues who have not been to law school lack. Rather than reading a 15-page manual on how to adhere to a particular regulation, she can read the statue itself. This is how she incorporates her legal training into a career serving her country.

— Story by Kasey Considine, ILS President