Alumni Spotlight: Erin Argo '98, assistant US attorney, Brooklyn, NY
We recently talked with CLA alumna and Alabama native Erin Argo, ’98, who is an assistant United States attorney in Brooklyn, New York. She received her undergraduate degree in German and international trade from Auburn University and her law degree from the University of Mississippi. She graciously took time out of her hectic schedule to sit down with us and discuss her time at Auburn, her career path, and her best advice.
Tell us about your path to Auburn University.
I’m third generation. My parents both went to Auburn and one of my grandfathers went to AU as well. Thankfully, there was no other choice!
How did you decide on your double major?
I lived in Germany for five years from ages 10-15, so I was fluent in everyday German, but I did not have the business terminology at that point. I came to Auburn thinking maybe I’d attend law school and eventually practice international law, but I was open to other things. I ultimately decided that a double major – business and foreign language together – made sense for me. So I decided on international trade and German, a double major curriculum offered through the College of Liberal Arts.
What was your experience like at Auburn?
I was so fortunate that I had a great friend as my roommate my freshman year at Auburn. In my sophomore year, I also found a great group of women in my sorority, Gamma Phi Beta. I love that Auburn has so many opportunities to be involved on campus, and I took advantage of every one of them. I was heavily involved. The interview and campaign process for the various organizations I was interested in honed my interview skills and prepared me for job interviews down the road.
What was your favorite class or professor?
There were so many! Professor Joseph Kicklighter’s history classes were legendary. I also loved taking biology from Dr. Debbie Folkerts – I almost changed paths to become a doctor based on her class alone. I loved Dr. Thomas Nadar’s class about 100 years of German film. It was such an interesting way to learn more about German culture, which I didn’t really understand that well even though I’d lived there. Dr. Anne-Katrin Gramberg’s classes taught me so much about the European Union and Germany’s role in it. She is a wonderful person and we have kept in touch through the years.
After graduating from Auburn, you attended law school at the University of Mississippi. How did you make your way to where you are now?
It was a long and winding road! I started my legal career in Memphis, clerking for the Honorable Diane K. Vescovo, a federal Magistrate Judge. I then worked for a small firm in Memphis, and a relationship eventually brought me to Connecticut. I decided to work for a pharmaceutical company for a few years before returning to the law, this time as a law clerk for the Honorable Alan H. Nevas, a federal district court judge in Connecticut. In that role, I had the opportunity to observe and meet many assistant U.S. attorneys. One of them encouraged me to apply to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York. And now, thankfully, here I am.
Take us through a “typical” day in your office.
There is no such thing! Every day is different, which is part of what I love about this job. On any given day, I can be in court for an arraignment or sentencing, writing a brief at my desk, or meeting with special agents to discuss an investigation.
How do you balance your work and personal life?
I think any woman who works and has a family knows that there’s no such thing. You do the very best you can. I have tried to make conscious decisions in my career, however, that have allowed me to have more time with my son. It’s always something I think about and it’s always a challenge. But what’s life without a challenge?
What has been your most rewarding career experience? Your most challenging?
My nine years in this office has definitely been the most rewarding experience because I've come into contact with so many charismatic and interesting and influential people who have a lot of valuable insight, not just in how to be a good lawyer, but how to live your life the right way. I have many mentors in the office that molded me and shaped me into not only the lawyer I am but also the person I am. I love prosecuting cases. But the job is also the most challenging I’ve ever had, in that each day brings new challenges. Probably the hardest aspect of what I do is to advocate for a certain sentence range—how long a person should spend in jail for the crime they committed. That's a weighty responsibility we all take very seriously in this job. It takes a lot of thought and consideration.
What's the best thing you did at Auburn that prepared you for your career?
The interview process for the various positions that I pursued, including the positions I didn’t get. And never feeling intimidated about putting my name on that interview list and filling out the application. That served me well in the Northeast, where I was surrounded by Ivy League grads. You have to have confidence in your education, in your moral compass, in yourself. I knew that Auburn and Ole Miss had given me a strong foundation and had prepared me to be a good lawyer.
What is your favorite Auburn memory?
There are so many. Lying on the grass by the eagle’s cage between classes, or singing the alma mater, arm in arm with fellow students after a football game, no matter whether we won or lost. The night of War Eagle Girls and Plainsmen callouts still feels surreal.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
All the important mentors in my life have given me similar good advice: 1) Don't be afraid to challenge yourself and push yourself. That's how you learn. 2) It's okay to make a mistake. Just own it and do your best to fix it. 3) Give back to the institutions and people who help you along the way.
What advice do you have for students today?
Take advantage of the opportunities that are in front of you. Walk into the student center and sign up to interview to be a camp counselor at Camp War Eagle, or War Eagle Girls and Plainsmen, or AU Singers, whatever appeals to you. These are all great opportunities for you while you're in college, but they're also dress rehearsals for life. Putting yourself out there for something that scares you a little bit, that's challenging, and submitting yourself to some really probing questions, helps define who you are and helps you figure out what you want. It also gives you the tools to interview later in life for jobs that maybe scare you a bit or are challenging.
Many of our CLA students want to go to law school. What advice would you give them?
No one did this when I was graduating, but consider taking a year off before you start law school! It’s a great opportunity to work as a paralegal or in a law firm in some other capacity and decide if you actually like the work. Nothing is worse than getting thousands of dollars in debt and then realizing you don’t really like the law after all.
What’s next for you?
Right now, I love being a federal prosecutor. I still feel challenged every day. I love going to work. I know how fortunate I am and I don't take it for granted!