My first opportunity as a student attorney was through the Public Interest Law Seminar and Clinic, which I took in the fall of my second year. At this point in my life I had handled only clients facing criminal charges, and only as an intake interviewer. After the interview, the attorney would deal with the rest.
I was placed at the school’s in-house clinic and certified to practice as a student attorney under the student practice rule, SJC Rule 3:03. The Public Interest Law Clinic opened my eyes to other types of issues including Social Security Disability claims, employment, family law, domestic violence, and many more. I was tasked with handling my own case files, speaking with clients, and communicating with administrative agencies, and had the honor of assisting in a case involving a child support issue that went to trial.
The Public Interest Clinic offers students a very eye-opening experience. The clients I met were, in my opinion, very brave and courageous. I found that they were not in our office asking for help for themselves, but for their family. The mother who wanted support from the father for their young child; the father who worked for years and due to disability was asking for help to take care of his family; the mother who just wanted to protect her children from an abusive spouse. Each client had his or her own story and each needed help. My only problem was that I could not help everyone.
While I was in the clinic I also had the opportunity to be supervised by accomplished attorneys. My supervisor was a great advocate for her students and especially for her clients; she would fight to the moon and back for her clients and still have the energy to assist students, talk to new clients, and even go to another court to be a volunteer attorney!
My second opportunity was with the District Attorney’s Office for Suffolk County. I found my first position through the Massachusetts Law School Consortium "Symplicity" website, and the second through the Criminal Procedure II Clinic, which I took in the fall semester of my senior year. I was a student attorney prosecutor for East Boston and Dorchester District Court, and I was again certified under SJC Rule 3:03 as a student attorney. I stood before a judge and argued motions to dismiss and to suppress, argued bail, prepared for trial, negotiated plea bargains, spoke with victims and sometimes defendants, prepared discovery, and may have deported a number of defendants through Padilla motions. I also had the opportunity to meet and just sit and talk with judges after the cases were called.
As a student prosecutor, I initially thought my job was to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law and imprison every defendant who came before the court. It was not that simple. There were victims who did not want to testify, or who just wanted the defendant to “get help.” There were issues of immigration, family, or drugs, among others. This experience showed me what I always thought was merely a saying, i.e. that the law does not function in a vacuum.
Today I currently work with the Public Defender’s Office in Florida as an intake interviewer. This job was offered to me after I spent a summer volunteering for the office through the Equal Justice Fellowship offered by AmeriCorps.
I hope to continue my work in public interest law. I think that the opportunities that New England Law | Boston offers have already made me a better law student and an even better advocate for my future clients. New England Law’s various internships and clinics are some of the best ways for students to get ahead of the pack and gain those necessary skills that go beyond the classroom.