Ask Katharine Tinucci what she learned at the School of Law, and she will say that she learned how to be a strong advocate. As press secretary to Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, Tinucci puts that training to good, if atypical, use. “It’s one of the reasons I chose lawschool, and specifically UST Law; I wanted to be the best advocate I could be for people who need someone on their side,” she said. “I don’t have clients now, but I am part of an administration that advocates every day for Minnesotans.”
Tinucci ’09 is the first point of contact for reporters who call Gov. Dayton’s office. She builds relationships with the Capitol press corps and with the national media on issues such as the state government shutdown last summer. She helps to answer questions, offers advice on the governor’s schedule, and writes and sends press releases, all with an eye toward advancing the governor’s goals.
“If you’d told me two years ago that this is what I’d be doing, I wouldn’t have known what it meant,” she said. “But I enjoy it and have learned a lot.”
A Different Path
Tinucci grew up in the Twin Cities suburb of Woodbury, and graduated from Cretin-Durham Hall in 2002.
She went to Loyola University Chicago, where she double majored in theology and theater with a minor in women’s studies.
Then came the question every college student hates: what should she do with a major in theology and theater? “The only logical next step was law school,” she smiled, “even though friends teased me that I didn’t really want to be a lawyer, that I just wanted to play one on TV.”
Tinucci’s overarching goal was to “bring a little justice into a small corner of the world,” she said. Theater and art can be transformational – and so can law. “I realized my skills might be better put to use as a lawyer than an actor,” she said. “They are just different ways to do the good work we’re called to do.”
A Different Law School
Tinucci applied to only one law school – St. Thomas. “St. Thomas appealed to me because of its unique mission and vision,” she said. “I wanted to be a part of that.”
She entered law school in the fall of 2006, and found the experience both challenging and engaging. “You spend your whole day with really smart, passionate people, reflecting on big-picture stuff,” she said. “I was constantly impressed with the work going on around me. I’m grateful for the opportunity – the people I met and the places I could go.”
One of those places was Rome. Tinucci studied there as an undergraduate, and participated in the School of Law’s first study-abroad program in Rome, a partnership with Villanova University School of Law. “I took two mission-based classes, studying things I care about deeply while living within walking distance of the Colosseum and the Vatican,” she said. “It was the best time ever.”
Professors Rob Vischer and Greg Sisk taught in Rome that first year, and had a strong influence on Tinucci. “I was so impressed with them that I took two additional courses from each,” she said.
Another source of inspiration was just across the street from the School of Law at the Interprofessional Center for Counseling and Legal Services, where Tinucci participated in its Community Justice Project. “I’d do law school all over if I could be a part of the CJP again,” she said. Through this project, Tinucci had the opportunity to enter family court and the juvenile detention center to meet with people who truly needed her help. That experience taught her volumes about the Minnesota criminal justice system, she said.
Associate Professor Nekima Levy-Pounds and Artika Tyner, then a clinical law fellow and now a clinical faculty member, impressed Tinucci. She now considers them colleagues and allies in the work they all are doing.
A Different Trajectory
After passing the bar exam in 2009, Tinucci looked around for her next step. “In August 2009, 11 Democrats were running for governor,” she said. After examining the field, she started working for Mark Dayton that month. “I drove the candidate around and staffed events,” she said. “It was a unique experience.”
After nine months on the campaign trail, Tinucci started doing communications and media work. “I thought I’d be legal counsel, but I found that working with reporters was my favorite thing about the job,” she said. After Dayton was elected in 2010, she became part of the transition team, and started work as his press secretary on day one of his administration.
Tinucci enjoys the mission aspect of her work. “It’s all about advancing this administration’s goals,” she said. “I’m a part of the conversation about setting goals and how to talk about and achieve them.”
The most challenging part of the job is the schedule. It simply never stops. “I’ve been busy for over two years. It’s both exciting and challenging,” she said. “Things happen every day to which we have to respond – everything from flooding in western Minnesota to fire fighting in northern Minnesota to the Vikings stadium to the government shutdown. It’s been incredible.” As someone with no experience in state government, Tinucci has had to learn fast. That’s a skill she developed in law school. “I learned to digest cases at night so I could answer questions about them the next day,” she said. “Being able to read and write quickly is a huge advantage.”
Tinucci thinks having a law degree prepares one for anything. “I learned how the governmental, political and justice systems work,” she said. More importantly, “I learned how to work in the world.”
And in the end, it comes down to the ability to make a case – to be an advocate – for a mission she takes to heart. “The role of government is to create a better state and to improve the situation for all Minnesotans,” she said. “The Dayton campaign slogan was ‘For a better Minnesota.’ That mission still guides our work. While not religious, the governor’s mission and vision are not unrelated to the vision of social justice at UST law. That’s this administration’s case, and it’s my job to make that case,” she said.
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