Name: Julia Hillel
Title: Assistant Hennepin County Attorney, Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, Child Protection Division
Education: B.A., political science and French, University of Wisconsin-Madison; J.D., State University of New York Law School, Buffalo
Working and volunteering with organizations advocating for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault fueled Julia Hillel’s interest in becoming a lawyer.
“Those experiences left me wanting to do more, to have more tools to help people who had violence in their lives,” Hillel, an assistant attorney in the Hennepin County Attorney’s Child Protection Division since 2015. “Law seemed like the natural progression.”
Hillel’s work includes children in need of protection and services (CHIPS) and termination of parental rights trials. Her recent focus is on “legacy” cases for children under the guardianship of the Commissioner of Human Services where the goal is to find an adoptive resource for the children, preferably with relatives.
Hillel began her legal career at the New York City Law Department’s juvenile delinquency division prosecuting cases involving young sex abuse victims. She was deputy borough chief in the Manhattan Family Court Division before moving to Minnesota in 2009 and then serving as an attorney at the Children’s Law Center of Minnesota from 2010 to 2015.
Q: What’s the best way to start a conversation with you?
A: I was a New Yorker for over 15 years, so the best way is to be direct, come up to me and start talking.
Q: What prompted you to study law and pursue it professionally?
A: I did a lot of public interest work before law school, and those experiences made me want to have more tools to help people who have domestic violence in their lives. I always wanted to be more impactful, and law seemed like the way to do it.
Q: What books are on your bedside table or e-reader?
A: I get a heavy dose of traumatic facts at work, so I often read lighter books. Recently I’ve read, “Cutting for Stone” by Abraham Verghese, and reread “Franny and Zooey,” by J.D. Salinger. And “I Capture the Castle” by Dodie Smith.
Q: What is a pet peeve of yours?
A: When people are not direct.
Q: What are your favorite aspects of being an attorney?
A: Seeing children thrive after traumatic experiences and having the tools to help or try to make a difference.
Q: Least favorite?
A: Pointless arguing with opposing counsel about things that can be worked out calmly.
Q: What’s a favorite activity outside your job?
A: I love being with my children, laughing with them, seeing the world with them. I love swimming in the ocean and scuba diving.
Q: If someone visits you in your hometown, what would you take them to see or do?
A: I live near Lake Harriet and love taking people around that lake and all of the lakes in the city. In New York I would take them to Shanghai Joe’s restaurant in Chinatown and Central Park and the East Village and the West Village, my favorite parts of Manhattan.
Q: Is there an attorney or judge, past or present, whom you admire most?
A: Nina Jody at New York City Law Department. She taught me something that I’ve always carried with me because she was the division chief of a stressful division and always remained transparent and calm. She said, “Smart people admit when they don’t know things and they figure out ways to get answers instead of pretending that they have all of the answers.” When I was stumped she’d say, “I don’t know the answer, but I’ll help you figure it out.” She was one smartest people I’ve ever met.
Q: What’s a misconception people have about working as an attorney?
A: That lawyers just work to get money. I work with so many dedicated lawyers who are public servants and care deeply about the people they serve.
Q: What is your favorite depiction of the legal professional in popular culture (books, films, TV)?
A: I like “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” because I worked with detectives in NYC in the unit that the show is based on.