Maria Peppas (Class of 2008)
I would highly recommend New England School of Law (NESL) to anyone with a desire to dedicate his or her career to serving the public interest and/or trial advocacy. When I first considered applying for law schools in the area, I recall speaking with a New England School of Law graduate who told me “look, any law school here in Mass, will teach you ‘the law’…New England School of Law will teach you to be a lawyer.” At the time I didn’t quite understand what that statement meant. After additional research I realized that he was referring to the heavy emphasis New England School of Law puts on not only learning the law, but learning to practice it, specifically through its clinical programs.
While the academics we learned in our first year of law school were essential, it was my participation in the clinical programs that helped me realize my passion for the law and how to direct the remainder of my studies and my career. Upon beginning law school I knew I had an interest in public service and criminal law, but was not sure quite where that would lead me in my career or what my options were.
I began the first semester of my second year with the Public Interest Seminar and Clinic by working with NESL’s Clinical Law Office. While the seminar explored all the various areas of the law dedicated to public service, the clinic itself gave me the opportunity as a second-year law student to practice as a student attorney under S.J.C. Rule 3:03. I was essentially able to represent fully indigent clients facing divorce, custody and employment battles, with the guidance and supervision of professional attorneys who were faculty members and always there to help. I had the opportunity not only to meet with clients, and draft motions and other court documents, but actually serve as counsel in family court and conduct depositions. I cannot stress how rewarding it was to step away from the classroom, meet with real clients, who have real problems, and realize that we, even as law students, can truly offer a service to the public and help.
During my second year of law school I began an internship with a criminal defense attorney, primarily assisting in the representation of indigent defendants in murder trials, funded by the Committee for Public Counsel Services. I was able to continue my exploration of the criminal justice system by taking the Criminal Procedure II Clinic in the fall of my third year, where I acted as a student prosecutor with the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office. Within the first few weeks of my clinic, I was arguing bails, arraignments and motion hearings, negotiating plea agreements and working closely with private investigators and victim witness advocates. Essentially, this clinic allowed me, one year before ever graduating law school, the opportunity actually to practice the law. Based in part on my experience, I was able to land a position as a public defender in New Hampshire for after graduation.
To any prospective law student considering the practice of public interest, criminal law and/or trial advocacy I strongly recommend NESL’s clinical programs. Graduating law school is an amazing accomplishment but having the opportunity to enter the field already having “practiced” is absolutely amazing. I can say with confidence that my time at New England School of Law, especially after my participation in the clinical programs, taught me how to be a lawyer.