What started off as a small project between two other New England Law | Boston students and me turned into something greater than I could have ever expected. My first year in law school, I was a member of the Minority Students Association (MSA) and the Black Law Students Association (BLSA). As a conjunction project with both those organizations, the Legal Scholars Mentorship Program at Jeremiah E. Burke High School was developed. The program was first created as a way to help students in the inner city, who attend a school with zero extracurricular activities except sports, by providing them with an afterschool program.
Our first year, we were overly ambitious – we wanted the students to participate in the Boston Bar Association’s Regional Mock Trial. We started going the “The Burke” two or three times a week for two hours each time. However, we soon realized that this was not the most beneficial way to work with the students, as their needs did not coincide with the rigorous schedule that would be required to compete in the regional tournament. While we were unable to participate in the mock trial competition that year, we developed strong relationships with the high school students that remained into the following years of the program.
As my 2nd year of law school approached, I knew I wanted the program to be a success. I was now the co-president of MSA and I knew I could do more with the Legal Scholars Mentorship Program. My co-president and I revamped the program and really started honing in on the students’ needs. We had students whose only constant in their lives were us; it was important that we attacked the needs they had first and foremost.
We made sure that we had dedicated mentors who were willing to go to The Burke regularly and were also able to attack the students’ emotional needs. Some of the students were in between homes and persevered through some personal struggles, and having mentors who were willing to mentor them while also teaching them legal skills was important. We continued to go to The Burke twice every week for the third year, and can now say that this program has become very successful. It was our way to make sure New England Law was still connected to the community.
The program required a lot of hard work on our part, but needless to say, it paid off. I was able to combine my social worker skills with my legal skills and work with these students on a daily basis. I am proud to say that some of the students that have graduated from The Burke and our program continue to keep in touch and have entered college, concentrating part of their studies in pre-law. We were able to apply legal skills and knowledge while incorporating sensitivity and understanding to the needs of the students – these qualities are what make a successful lawyer. The hard work that was invested by other mentors and me led to recognition of our program at the Massachusetts Black Lawyers Association’s yearly gala. In addition, the volunteer work earned eight of us, including me, New England Law | Boston’s Public Service Transcript Notation.
Alongside my public interest volunteer work, during my second year of law school, I enrolled in the Public Interest Law Seminar and Clinic. For my clinic work, I was placed at Cambridge Legal Services and Counseling Center (CLSACC) in the family violence sector. I worked with an attorney whose clients were indigent and in need of help, as most of them were in abusive relationships. I was again able to apply my social worker background with my legal education and continue to hone in on the proper skills necessary to work with clients in the public service sector.
At the beginning of my third year, I was also able to participate in another clinic – the Administrative Clinic – where I worked alongside the legal counsel for the Cambridge Public Schools, focusing mainly on education policy in the special education sector. Having worked within education through the Legal Scholars Mentorship Program, I was able to understand a lot more of the rules that govern educational facilities. It made me that much more passionate about working harder with the Legal Scholars Mentorship Program.
I knew coming in that I wanted to pursue public interest work and was granted many avenues do so through New England Law | Boston. My experiences have allowed me to really understand the needs of the community. I encourage everyone to try getting their feet wet with public interest work – the people you work with will amaze you everyday and make the work worthwhile.