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Hill Climbers: Another Recovering Lawyer

Despite getting her law degree at Ohio State University and coming from a family full of lawyers, it only took a yearlong stint as a public defender to drive Colleen Bell out of criminal law.

[IMGCAP(1)]“I come from a long line of lawyers. I’m a third-generation attorney,— Bell said. “I randomly got the job out of law school, but I actually hated it.— At the same time, however, “I got really great experience being a lawyer.— But Bell said she sometimes found her clients to be rather difficult. “It turns out that a lot of them really were sleazebags. You go into it thinking that they’d be happy to have your help, and that’s not really what it’s like,— she said.

A native of Ohio and a graduate of Notre Dame, the 27-year-old Bell is a recent Washington transplant brought here by the 2008 election cycle. She recently started a new position in Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper’s (D-Pa.) office as a legislative assistant, after working for Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy (D-Ohio) — first on the campaign trail as a field organizer and then in her D.C. office.

“The learning curve has been very steep, I’ll definitely say that much,— Bell said. In her year in D.C., she has worked for two freshman Members of Congress. “It’s been good for someone who is new to the Hill. Everyone is learning together. I think there’s a lot of excitement with freshman offices — everything is still new and fun and interesting.—

Policy work was not something that initially appealed to Bell. “I thought policy would be a little bit boring.— But in her first year on the Hill, many of the policy issue areas she covered for both Kilroy and Dahlkemper actually came before the House as part of President Barack Obama’s agenda. Policy “just turned out to be really interesting,— Bell said.

[IMGCAP(2)]When she was in Kilroy’s office, Bell covered energy and got to work on the Waxman-Markey energy bill. In Dahlkemper’s office, Bell is responsible for the Congresswoman’s small-business and health care portfolios. “Ninety-eight percent of Americans are employed by small businesses,— Bell said. “We have a pretty broad agenda.— As for the health care reform bill, Bell was “definitely looking forward to having the Senate deal with it for a couple of weeks.—

Her strangest moment on the Hill was running into zookeeper Jack Hanna on his way to an event sponsored by the Congressional Zoo and Aquarium Caucus. Hanna, who is also an Ohio native, invited Bell to hold a baby cheetah.

The zookeeper “said to me, ‘Hey, you’re from Columbus. You get to hold the baby cheetah,’— Bell said. “He was super cute — but had really long claws and was very bitey. He was biting my watch and trying to eat my hair.—

Outside the office, Bell is a music nerd, a sports fan and a dog owner.

“I will pretty much see any live music anywhere,— Bell said. “I totally love the 9:30 Club. I like that it’s small and it feels pretty intimate.— Recent shows that Bell attended at that venue include Brooklyn-based independent rock acts such as the National and the Dirty Projectors.

And perhaps Bell enjoys the rough-and-tumble world of professional politics because of her years playing ice hockey in high school and college.

Up until she was 14, she played on the men’s team. “That year, there was a guy who was 105 pounds more than me. My dad decided that he was no longer comfortable with me playing with someone who weighed over a hundred pounds more than me,— Bell said. She continued to play all through high school and college on both a women’s team and a co-ed intramural team.

“I was scrappy and got into lots of fights,— Bell said in an e-mail.

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