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Melissa S. Norden on the Dog-Eat-Dog World of a Nonprofit [by Teresa Talerico] Melissa S. Norden’s clients bark at her all day long. But she doesn’t mind. In fact, she loves it. Norden is Senior Vice President and Chief of Staff at the New York-based American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. She was recently promoted to the position after four years as staff counsel.

A 1999 Brooklyn Law School graduate, Ms.

organization that protects our nation’s crit-

law firms in the world. She also had done

Norden demonstrated her dedication to


some pro bono work for me in the past. The thing I liked about her was she had a stellar

social causes by volunteer work and internships for nonprofits and charitable organiza-

A: We do amazing work. We have a TV show,

legal resume, but she also had a dog that

tions while in college and law school. As one

“Animal Precinct,” that airs on Animal

was a rescue. She is someone who took on

of 10 ASPCA in-house counsels, Ms. Norden

Planet. It’s been running for four years. It

pro bono work in the past, not just for my

primarily handled corporate contracts and

really showcases the amazing work we do.

organization but for other organizations.

license agreements. But, as she quickly

If you were to trace an animal from our first

She obviously cares about animals and has

learned, working for a nonprofit often means

interaction with it to the last, it’s amazing

a strong legal background. You don’t have to

pinch-hitting as needed. At the ASPCA, that

what you find. We often seize animals from

have a love of animals to work here, but it

might include helping track down stray

abusive situations, and they have absolutely

really helps.

animals or fostering a dog in your office. Ms.

no reason to ever trust another human being.

Norden even adopted her cat, Birdie, from

After we bring them in, clean them up, and

Q: What’s one thing they don’t teach in law

the ASPCA.

they get their evaluations, they still are often

school that they should?

very fearful of people or not interacting well Q: What attracted you to this type of work?

enough with people yet. We encourage the

A: Law school teaches you maybe two per-

staff to foster animals in their offices. Every

cent of what you need to know to practice

A: I always wanted to work for a nonprofit,

staff member from adoptions to marketing

law in the real world. My clients are everyone

and I did a lot of charity stuff as a kid. When

to the president can have an animal in their

from the kennel worker to the ASPCA presi-

I graduated from law school, I said that I

office. That’s a great part of working here.

dent and everybody in between. They don’t

wanted to work in-house at a nonprofit.

It really sets a different tone when you walk

teach you in law school how to deal with

Everybody said there’s no way you can do

into a meeting and there’s a dog lying on

people who are not lawyers. Law school does

that until you’re several years out of school. I

the floor (vs.) walking into a sterile office

not teach you how to write a contract, how to

said, “OK, we’ll see.”


do business transactions. Probably the most

Q: What advice do you have for students?

Q: What are the challenges?

A: I sought out all the different areas you

A: You never have enough money to do every-

could work in as a lawyer. I worked in-house

thing you’d like to do. That obviously includes

at HBO one summer as a contract adminis-

salaries and programs that don’t get funded.

trator in their legal department. I interned

It’s very frustrating from that standpoint. But

with a judge. I did some research projects.

to me, the pros far outweigh the cons.

important thing, no matter what kind of law you practice, is learning how to write. And as much as law school likes to think they teach you how to do that, they really don’t. Q: Any other advice? A: If you really want to work in a nonprofit, it’s best to get a wide range of experience.

I worked in a law firm as a paralegal. I interned at the American Red Cross. I scoped

Q: What does the ASPCA look for when hiring

Because there are limited resources, you’re

out all the environments and tried to com-

associate counsels?

frequently asked to do more things than a person in the same position at a corporation

bine my penchant for charitable work with my legal interests. Q: What are the rewards of working for an


A: I hired someone three weeks ago to re-

would do. You’re called upon to do a lot more.

place me in the counsel role. She’s actually

I started out doing just license agreements,

someone who worked at three of the largest

and I ended up doing contracts for every

continued on back


department of the organization. We don’t have a support staff. We don’t have paralegals. We don’t have a lot of administrative help. It’s a question of resources. You also have to be willing to pitch in and help with things a lawyer might not normally be doing. We were active in rescuing animals in buildings around Ground Zero after 9-11. I pitched in, and I was on the phone and making calls to residents, asking if they were able to get their pets out of their apartments. I’m a roll-up-your-sleeves kind of person...and it certainly helps around here if you like getting your hands dirty! Q: Are you a cat or a dog person? A: Even though I have a cat, I’m a dog person. To be honest, I never liked cats. I like my cat because he’s more like a dog than a cat. If you open the front door, cats go diving under the bed and you don’t see them for a day. My cat, when I open the front door at night, comes running to the door at warp speed and licks my entire face for a solid 10 minutes! He’s a total companion.


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Melissa S. Norden on the Dog-Eat-Dog World of a Nonprofit  

Melissa Norden is Senior Vice President at the New York-based American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.A 1999 Brooklyn Law...