PUBLISHED:June 03, 2009

Susan Pourciau '09

After twelve years of teaching accounting at Florida State University and five years working with nonprofit agencies serving homeless individuals, Susan Pourciau ’09 decided that she needed a change.

“I felt like I had gone as far as I wanted to go or could go with either of those jobs,” she says. “So I came to law school to experiment and see what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.”

And though she had always expected that law school would lead to a public interest career, Pourciau never imagined that her journey might lead her right back to where she started. “Even in my third year, I really didn’t know where my path was going to take me,” she says.

“In a surprise twist of fate, folks I used to work with before I came to law school called me to say that there was a job open at the major nonprofit agency in that area that provides services to people experiencing homelessness,” she continues. “And my initial response was, ‘Well, no. See, I’m just graduating from law school and I really need to be a lawyer.’”

After further thought, Pourciau called back and began the process that eventually led to an offer to become the executive director of the Big Bend Homeless Coalition in Tallahassee, Fla. The agency serves homeless individuals in an eight-county area in northern Florida, providing direct services and coordinating the efforts of other organizations to ensure a continuum of care for the homeless population. “It was really quite incredible,” she says. “I had not even looked outside of law for jobs. And, as life frequently does, it just handed me the perfect thing that I wasn’t expecting.” Pourciau began her new job June 1.

“Sometimes the other students would say, ‘Life is short, you should do what you want to do,’” she says. “But I would tell them, ‘Life is also long. So you can do one thing for awhile and then there is plenty of time to do other things, too.’”

Coming back to law school “kept me feeling young,” says Pourciau, who also holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree from the University of South Florida and a doctorate degree in accounting from Arizona State University. While here, she served on the editorial board of the Duke Law Journal, on the Moot Court board, as managing director of the Duke Law Innocence Project her 2L year, and as co-chair of the Public Interest Law Foundation her 3L year, among many other extracurricular activities. She participated in the Children’s Law Clinic and did an externship with the Orange County Public Defender’s Office, as well.

Pourciau says that she was in awe of her classmates, whose ages were close to those of her own 26 year-old daughter and 23 year-old son. “They were all pretty remarkable,” she says. “I don’t think I was ready to go to law school when I was 24. It took me another couple of decades.”

Having spent many years behind the podium, Pourciau says she was also very impressed with the Duke Law faculty. “One of the things I found so amazing about the professors is that they excel in their own individual fields, in terms of competence, writing, publishing, and expertise, but they also were genuinely friendly, supportive, and enthusiastic people,” she says. “It’s easy for a professor to do either of those well, but it’s hard to find a professor that can do both of those things well. That makes it a much better environment for the students.”

For Pourciau, that environment fostered a great deal of personal development. “I was working in that same general area — with homeless populations — before I came to law school, but I felt like I was not doing the best possible job,” she says. “There seemed to be something lacking, but I didn’t know what it was. And now, having had three years at Duke Law, I have many more skills than I had before.”

Creativity in problem solving, persuasive speaking, and a new level of analytical reasoning are all examples she cites. Perhaps most important, though, is newfound confidence in herself and her abilities. “A few years ago, others might have thought I could take this job, but I felt like I could not,” she says. “Now I know I can because of the metamorphosis that occurred during these three years.”