Astrid Claessens (Class of 2008)
I came to law school knowing that I wanted to use my degree to help those most in need. But prior to law school, the only lines on my resume that were indicative of this were the few volunteer projects I was involved with during my undergraduate years. Now, a short three years of law school later, my resume is filled with public interest experiences, thanks to the opportunities I had through New England School of Law and the clinic program.
My first year, I immediately got involved with the Public Interest Law Association (PILA). Through PILA, I learned about Shelter Legal Services (SLS) a local non-profit organization for low-income and homeless clients. I was a student attorney for SLS throughout my first year, a one-evening-per-week commitment, and on a more regular basis the summer after my first year. Through SLS, I conducted many client intakes which taught me issue-spotting and which questions to ask the client. And as soon as I was certified under S.J.C. Rule 3:03, the student practice rule, I had the opportunity, with the help of an attorney, to represent my very first client in court in an uncontested divorce and child custody matter. It was just wonderful to see the client’s appreciation and it was a great experience and confidence builder to represent this client from the beginning until the very end.
As soon as I was able to sign up for a clinic my second year of law school, I enrolled in the Mental Health Law Clinic and worked in the legal office at the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health. Meanwhile, I also obtained the position of ‘Secretary’ on the PILA Executive Board and got the opportunity to help organize the Public Interest Lawyer Panel in the fall and the PILA Auction in the spring. [The Panel is a yearly event we organize where we invite local public interest attorneys (from a variety of positions, including public interest organizations, the DA’s office and the public defender’s office) to speak to students about their work, and to give students an opportunity to network and ask questions. The PILA Auction is a very popular annual event where we (or more specifically, two of our professors) auction off all kinds of donations to students in an effort to raise money for PILA Grants; these grants go to support students who work in low-paying or unpaid public interest positions during the summer.]
All of these experiences helped me to obtain student attorney position with the Elder Unit at Greater Boston Legal Services the summer after my second year, which was the perfect position for me since I was very interested in working in Elder Law and loved working with low income clients. I had about fifteen of my own cases, meaning that I was responsible for the legal research, drafting the necessary documents, filing appeals, all with supervision, of course. I enjoyed my work at GBLS so much that I stayed on as an intern through the clinic program in the fall of my third year.
Looking back on my law school experience now, I am very thankful to the school and our clinic program for all of the wonderful opportunities I have had. And as President of the Public Interest Law Association this past year, I am excited to say that many students at New England School of Law share this passion for public interest… If you take advantage of the opportunities that are presented to you, you will not be disappointed with what New England School of Law and the clinic program have to offer.