Duquesne Law Alumni Judge Dwayne Woodruff, Gretchen Haggerty and Amber Vala

The Evening Division

Since the Beginning, A Proud Heritage • Part One

By Jessica Wrzosek, 2L

Hon. Dwayne D. Woodruff L'88

A graduate of the University of Duquesne night division Class of 1988, Judge Dwayne Woodruff is currently the Supervising Judge in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Family Division. He has held his position since winning his election in 1995. He oversees all juvenile matters within the family division and reports directly to the Family Court Administrative Judge. This has been Woodruff's only position within the court system.

Prior to becoming a judge, Woodruff played football for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was drafted from the University of Louisiana. While he was actively playing, he made the decision to further his career. In recounting his reasoning for choosing a career in the law, Woodruff remembered wanting to continue to pursue a path educationally that would not only require the same level of dedication that he had become accustomed to in his athletic training, but that would also ultimately result in a career in which he would be able to pit his skills and training against that of an opponent. In this way, he so elegantly described the parallels and similarities between the commitment required to perform well on game day and the discipline and training needed to represent a client to the best of our abilities.

Woodruff chose the night program because he was still playing football throughout his academic career, and he was able to manage both of those commitments by doing so. He praised the evening professors for their willingness to be cognizant that evening division students most likely were working full-time day jobs and were under a number of other stressors not as common to day division students. Woodruff was married with three children besides his position with the Steelers. He said, "My wife was unbelievable in caring for our home and me."

The advice Woodruff has for currently enrolled students is to stay on top of your classes. He says not to fall behind, as it is tough to catch up but very manageable if you go to class and study every night. And if you meet up for pizza, Woodruff's favorite toppings are sausage and pepperoni, but because his wife thinks he should eat healthier, he adds spinach.

Gretchen Haggerty L'80

Gretchen Haggerty retired in August 2013 after a 37-year career with United States Steel Corporation, a large, integrated global steel producer and its predecessor, USX Corporation, which also included Marathon Oil Corporation. From March 2003 until her retirement, she was Executive Vice President & Chief Financial Officer for U.S. Steel. She also served as Chairman of the U. S. Steel and Carnegie Pension Fund and its Investment Committee. Prior to that, she served in various financial executive positions at U.S. Steel and USX beginning in November 1991 when she became Vice President and Treasurer and the first woman executive in the history of U.S. Steel.

Haggerty earned a bachelor of science degree in accounting from Case Western Reserve University in 1976 and attended Duquesne's evening division while working full time at U.S. Steel. She was honored to be recognized in 1993 as a member of the Century Club of Distinguished Duquesne University Alumni. She is also a member of the Duquesne University School of Law Advisory Board.
Haggerty is currently a director of Johnson Controls International and Teleflex Incorporated as well as Laurel Valley Golf Club, the Strategic Investment Fund, and the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania. She also previously served on the boards of USG Corporation and Highmark, Inc., and a number of other nonprofit organizations.

Haggerty developed a strong interest in the field of taxation while she was at Case, in part because of the excellent professor she had for several tax and accounting courses. She worked for U.S. Steel Corporation as a typist in Billing and Invoicing for two summers while she attended college. She applied for a full-time position with U.S. Steel in its Tax Division and began a career there as a management trainee in July 1976.

Haggerty chose Duquesne because "I had to work full time to support myself, and Duquesne had the only full-time night program in Pittsburgh." The following is an excerpt from her speech as commencement speaker for the Duquesne University School of Law commencement on June 4, 2017 explaining a bit about why she chose a career in the law:

"Now you might wonder why I'm speaking rather than a practicing lawyer or respected jurist. But Duquesne has asked me to speak on several occasions because I have greatly benefited from my law degree without being in the field.

"At the time I began working at U.S. Steel, there were several senior executives who had law degrees including the Chief Financial Officer and one of my early bosses in tax who ultimately went on to become our Chairman and CEO. Some employees joked that you might really need to have a law degree to be an executive at U.S. Steel. So, after I received my degree in 1980, I was not at all reluctant to accept an opportunity in a non-legal position in our corporate finance organization. As the ‘business person' working very closely with our corporate attorneys, I learned a tremendous amount about how to get things done in this world and gained a great respect for the law and good corporate lawyers in the process. That turned out to be one of the best jobs I've ever had and really laid the groundwork for many of the opportunities that I had after that. I have continued to find a law degree to be a very useful asset in this complex world in which we live as I serve on several boards."

Did Haggerty have specific challenges during law school that she felt the evening program helped manage? "Working full time and attending a full-time night law school program is obviously very challenging in and of itself," she said. "I've always thought that by starting work right after my college graduation (with just a brief vacation) and starting law school the following September before I had a chance to get used to having a lot of free time was a good strategy. I was still motivated to study, and I enjoyed my job and my co-workers who were all very supportive of my law school studies and really wanted me to succeed at both school and my job.

"I was fortunate to meet my husband in May 1978 at Duquesne. He worked full-time for a rival steel company and attended night law school at Duquesne in the class ahead of me. We did face a big challenge together later that year when he was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma-bone cancer in his leg. To save his life, he had surgery to remove his leg and then embarked on a year's worth of very high dose chemotherapy every other weekend at a time when there were no drugs available to quell the severe nausea brought on by the treatment. Nevertheless, he continued working full time and attending law school at night full time, graduating with his class in May 1979, and passing the bar exam all while undergoing these debilitating treatments. We were married in September 1979, and 42 years later, live happily in Upper St. Clair. We have two beautiful, successful daughters-Kate, a Senior Manager of Space and Advanced Manufacturing Products for BWX Technologies in Lynchburg, Va., where she lives with her husband, Patrick Kelly, and Meg, a Senior Associate in Investment Banking at PNC in Pittsburgh."

And finally, her favorite pizza toppings are mushrooms, green peppers and pepperoni.

Amber Vala L'21

Amber Vala graduated from Duquesne Law's evening division in the spring of 2021. She is currently an Allegheny County Assistant District Attorney and has held her role since May of 2021. This is her first official post grad law job. When asked if this was her ideal position, she stated that she wanted to be a trial attorney and that she loves being in a courtroom. She said that she was planning to go into federal criminal defense prior to the pandemic, but that the pandemic threw a lot of things, including that position, into flux. Vala was fortunate enough to know some people in the DA's office from her time working in the courthouse full time while attending law school and was able to get into the office.

When she was an evening student, Vala worked full time at the courthouse as a motions clerk. She said she was fortunate that her office and her supervisor really pushed her and allowed her to talk to and meet a lot of people. Consequently, Vala said that she "grew up" in the courthouse professionally. She praised the learning environment of the DA's office. In having so much professional exposure to the various other professionals at the courthouse, such as such as defense attorneys, judges, clerks and staff, she has gained a bit more confidence going into a courtroom, and "not being as nervous in a trial setting, which is nice, and which is unique to Allegheny County." She also spoke about how much she has come to appreciate the role the prosecutors play in ensuring that a defendant is charged correctly by being able to amend charges, or in some cases not charged.

Vala grew up in Scranton, Pa. Her father is from Laos, and she is a first-generation American who identifies as a Hmong American. Vala stressed the importance of remaining connected to her identity especially in the field of law in which minorities and women are still not as common. She graduated from Duquesne University with a degree in English literature and has a brother who is focused on engineering. She is a first-generation law student.

Vala began attending Duquesne Law in the day division but decided to transfer into the evening division in order to allow herself the ability to work full time. In so doing, she was able to stay focused completely. She is more of a hands-on learner so in her experience, she was able to learn through her work and then gain knowledge in her classes.

When discussing what her legal education has meant to her, Vala spoke about the gratitude she feels and that her family has felt as Hmong people coming from Laos, which she described as "not the most conducive to receiving an education," and how gaining an education has imparted a sense of not only pride but of belonging within the country and an ability to give back. She stressed the ability to give back, particularly as a part of her culture and community. "Knowledge is power," she said, "and an education in the law brings a specific type of power in knowing what our rights are and how to survive situations and how to help other people survive and how to fight for what we believe in. If we don't know the rules for the game, we can't change the game. We can't fix something."

Vala's advice for current students? "School is tough and it's going to be tough, but stick with it." And her favorite pizza toppings are mushrooms and sausage.

110 Years of Excellence in Legal Education

In June 1911, Duquesne University announced it would establish a law school that began as an evening program:

The reference to "those engaged in business" was notable. Classes in Duquesne's Law School initially began in the late afternoon, making legal education available to many who held jobs. Over the first few years, it became apparent that this was still not late enough. In 1914, the Duquesne Monthly reported that classes would be held from 6-8 p.m. Monday through Friday:
"We have reason to believe that there is a large number of young men in Pittsburgh and its vicinity who have passed their preliminary examinations or who have college degrees entitling them to enter upon the study of Law, and who, because they have become engaged temporarily in other professions, find it practically impossible to attend classes that are held in the late afternoon, and would regard evening classes as a distinct and welcome convenience.
"We feel confident that this arrangement will appeal strongly, not only to a large number of prospective practitioners, but also to many business men who appreciate at its just value a knowledge of Law as a safe guide in business transactions."

One Hundred Years of Excellence, p. 10.

Graphic of a timeline of DU Law's 110 year history