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Monique Perkins (Class of 2014)

Day Division
Like many of my colleagues, I entered law school with a noble vision and desire to help people, and gain fairness and justice for those often misunderstood and misrepresented. I soon came to the harsh realization that the legal system was much more complicated than I had thought and my various goals were not so easily obtained, and possibly a little overzealous. Making any impact or getting involved in the community as a 1L seemed like a distant and impossible dream. I expressed my goals to some of the New England Law faculty, half expecting to get immediately shot down. Instead, they supported my aspirations and graciously offered assistance without hesitation.

During my 1L year, I worked with a few other students to establish the Legal Scholar Mentorship Program at Burke High School in Dorchester, exposing inner city students to various processes of the legal system. Many had a very negative and skewed view, often due to personal experience, and introducing more positive aspects was very rewarding. We took them on field trips to law school classes and ambitiously attempted to prepare them for the Massachusetts Bar Mock Trial competition. Although we were unsuccessful in entering the competition we identified some changes that would make the program more conducive to the complicated lifestyles that many faced.

In my 2L year, the other returning volunteers and I reworked the entire program by creating a course for students that combined mentoring, improving their analytical and public speaking skills, and continued exposure to the legal system. The students could represent either the prosecution or defense using a specific fact pattern, then do a final mock trial against one another before law professors or practicing community attorneys who served as judges. We also arranged more field trips to the law school and various courthouses.

By my 3L year, we put on eye-opening events for the high school students, including having Judge Lawton speak to a packed room about his time as a juvenile court judge. The program was also more established at New England Law, where volunteers received the school’s Public Service Transcript Notation for their work. Creating and maintaining the program was hard but the reward was even greater. Building lasting relationships with students was an honor and watching their growth and passion for the law was incredible.

Faculty support and encouragement allowed us make mistakes and learn from them. Professors provided insightful guidance and motivated us to be creative and take risks, and they believed in us even when we were in doubt. I am truly grateful for this support.

I participated in the Public Interest Law clinic during my 3L year and had a very unique experience that further fulfilled my desire to work in and with the community. I worked in the foreclosure unit at Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS), which worked in concert with City Life/Vida Urbana, a grassroots organization that assists those facing foreclosure and landlord/tenant issues. Most of my time was spent with the East Boston City Life/Vida Urbana meetings, where I built relationships with the members, heard their stories, and worked through the legal process in regard to their foreclosure and landlord issues.

City Life/Vida Urbana used this analogy: the GBLS legal team was a shield that protected people during the legal process, but the people were the sword that valiantly fought off banks that were attempting to foreclose and scare them into submission. I helped provide simple information sessions on the foreclosure process and the legal system for members who very frightened due to lack of knowledge and awareness. We believed that with knowledge came strength. Many times members became more hopeful as their participation and knowledge increased, and members taught and supported each other. I experienced my first protest in New York and often watched foreclosure proceedings in court locally.

One of my most memorable court experiences came when more than 20 members came to support one of their own during a foreclosure hearing. The judge was very impressed with the group’s support and preparedness, while the bank's representative was so flustered by those in the courtroom and his own lack of preparation that he asked for more time. We used the legal system to our advantage, and the City Life/Vida Urbana’s "work in solidarity" slogan truly resonated with me that day.

Beginning law students are often faced with immense new pressures and expectations, and focusing on anything other than ourselves becomes extremely difficult. However, the foundation of the legal profession is to serve the people, and the public interest realm never allows you to forget that. The most important lesson I learned through my public interest experiences is that through the process of helping others you learn about compassion, acceptance, and the resilience of the human spirit. Ultimately, you are forced to grow, not just professionally but as an individual as well. These are invaluable experiences that I will carry with me throughout my professional and personal life.

(May 2014)