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Marissa Penn (Class of 2012)

Day Division
From a very young age I knew I wanted to help the less fortunate. I explored psychology during my undergraduate years and worked at a psychiatric hospital. For me, the work was a bit too emotionally draining. While I worked at the hospital, however, one of our clients took us (the hospital) to court for false imprisonment. I accompanied the client to court and found the courtroom setting riveting. I decided to go to law school.

At New England Law | Boston I was able to get some great experience. The summer after my first year I interned with the Disabled Protection Persons Commission, where I saw firsthand how a government agency is run. What they do is really important work that helps those who may not be able to protect their rights on their own to do so. The attorneys, investigators, and other staff there give people a voice when they have none. I got to see part of a trial, for which I helped to prepare pleadings. It was very exciting.

My second year I enrolled in the Public Interest Law Seminar and Clinic, which was amazing because I gained so much practical experience for class credit. I was placed at the school’s Clinical Law Office where I worked as a student attorney certified under the student practice rule, SJC Rule 3:03. I would say this was my most enjoyable law school experience. I had my own clients and a supervisor (a full-time faculty member) who really showed me the ropes, but also let me take the lead on many things. I went to court with a client, which was the highlight of my clinical experience. I even spoke in front of the judge and represented my client in mediation to help her to come to an agreement. It was incredibly rewarding to be more or less responsible for all matters in their cases and deal with clients almost daily, and I loved this about the clinic. I felt that I really did something worthwhile for clients who otherwise could not afford representation.

During my last year of law school I took the Health Law Clinic where again I was able to hone my skills even further. I worked for the Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee and focused primarily on intake advocacy. I was responsible for dealing with approximately 50 clients in one semester there. Most of the clients had psychiatric disorders and were homeless and/or substance abusers, which was fascinating for me because of my background in psychology. Unfortunately, the work I did here also showed me a really sad side of public interest law: the people who really need help the most are the ones who do not usually get it. They fall through the cracks without being taken seriously since they do not have the money for representation. We are in dire need of more public interest lawyers to tend to the rapidly growing homeless/"mentally ill" population.

New England Law | Boston is a great place to learn the ropes and take advantage of the numerous clinical programs and offerings. I suggest doing as many clinical programs as you can while in law school because the skills are invaluable and it is a great way to get out of the classroom, but still get credits towards your degree. In addition, the work is really appreciated–I cannot tell you how many clients told me that I was the only person to ever listen to them and that meant more than anything to me.

(May 2012)