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Kristen Graves (Class of 2007)

Day Division
Kristen Graves

It would be an understatement to say how important the clinic program at the school has been in helping me explore public interest options, focus my coursework, and pursue real opportunities in this field. I came to law school after having worked for 10 years as a marketing consultant; I already had a pretty good idea about what I wanted to do. I knew that I enjoyed working with clients, helping them solve their business problems. I also knew that I wanted to help people in a different way. Like many students who come to law school, I wanted my intellect to be challenged and my ideals to be put to good use. I've pursued public interest because I have a desire to serve the public and to advocate for those who are poor, underserved, and undervalued.

This desire started back in college, when I was sent away to a large, conservative, religious university by parents who also insisted that I pay my own way. My college experience was atypical for someone of my background not only in terms of the early financial responsibilities I had to take on, but also in terms of dealing with the usual academic demands under the particular pressures of this religious institution. As a feminist woman with career ambitions, I was a minority, for the university and its dominant culture had already defined my future for me and it had little to do with my course of study.

While in law school, I interned at the Youth Advocacy Project (YAP) at the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS), which is the public defender office in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I started as a research associate in the fall of my second year and continued working at YAP the following summer, representing young people in juvenile court at arraignments, bail hearings, and assisting YAP staff attorneys in discovery and on writing evidentiary motions. I saw firsthand the consequences of poverty, lack of access, despair, and desire, and what it means to live with the few options poverty can afford. I remembered, from my college days, that it is difficult to believe in yourself when no one else does, and that it is impossible to advocate for yourself when those in power do not value you, what you believe, and what you strive to do with your life.

In my final year of law school, I was a student intern at the Appeals Unit at CPCS, receiving credit through the school's Criminal Procedure II Clinic, and also worked as the Interim Director of the Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice. I have pursued public interest because the field interests me. In that sense, it has been easy to stay true to the worthy aspirations that brought me to the law in the first place. I do not fear or resent power, even government power, but I am suspicious of those who have it because it is so easy to abuse it. I remember what it was like to be poor and without options, and then what it was like to try to make a life for myself under those conditions. Public interest lawyers work to keep the fight fair, protect those who do not have power from those who do, and ensure that at least one person is there for those who need advocacy the most. I hope to pursue a career as a public interest lawyer long after I have graduated. My experience at New England School of Law has been invaluable in helping me define these goals and pursue this career path.

(April 2007)