Amanda Shoffel is an attorney with the City of Philadelphia Law Department in the Civil Rights Unit. She wrote this reflection while still a student at the law school.
"When I decided to go to law school, an undergraduate professor jokingly told me the oft quoted Shakespearean dialogue, “You know what they say, the first thing we do is kill all the lawyers.” At the time I had no answer, and laughed along because I was unable to respond.
"Six months later, on the first day of orientation at New England Law | Boston, Dean O’Brien welcomed our class and told us not to be discouraged by anyone who heckled us with the proverbial adage from Shakespeare’s Henry VI. He explained that if you read the entire play, it was clear the reason the characters wanted to do away with lawyers was because they wanted to plot the overthrow of the government, and the last line of defense in any civilized democracy, the true soldiers of intellect and honor, were the lawyers. The only way ignorance could triumph would be to remove passion, civility, education, and the law.
"It became immediately clear to me then that I had been acutely unprepared to banter with my professor half a year earlier. I had just received my first lesson from Dean O’Brien that the most important skills in life and in the legal profession are knowledge and preparedness. No school could have taught and reinforced this message better than New England Law | Boston.
"My interest in law originated as an undergraduate when I read Actual Innocence by Barry Schenk and Peter Neufeld, founders of the Innocence Project. I was profoundly impacted by the organization and its mission. The Innocence Project re-opened cases of convicts who were on death row and serving life sentences, and used DNA evidence not available at the time of trial to establish their innocence. After learning that New England Law offered internships with the project, I immediately e-mailed Professor Siegel of the Center for Law and Social Responsibility to learn how I could become involved. He responded that he appreciated my enthusiasm, but politely suggested that I wait until I was a student before I started working for him.
"My second year of law school, I did. I was assigned the case of a client serving a life sentence for a brutal double homicide. I could not believe that my first case as a student would deal with such serious and complex legal issues. It pushed me to work even harder to understand the intricate details of the applicable criminal statutes in ways simply writing a paper never could. Knowing that my work would make an enormous difference in someone’s life gave me a sense of pride and purpose.
"Professor Siegel and the Center’s fellow, Sidra Vitale, were unparalleled resources, encouraging and challenging me to find creative solutions while using practical methods. During the course of my internship, I did everything from interviewing the attorney and the judge who worked on the original case, to digging through boxes of evidence in a courthouse basement to find the murder weapon. It was an experience I could not have found anywhere else, and one I still talk about enthusiastically with employers and colleagues.
"After my rewarding experience with the Innocence Project, I decided to take advantage of every other opportunity I could at New England Law. I joined the New England Journal on Criminal and Civil Confinement and taught law classes at Nashua Street Jail as part of the journal’s community outreach component. I competed in the National Moot Court Competition for Child Welfare and Adoption Law, and held the position of executive director of New England Law’s ACLU Chapter. I was involved in all of these activities while maintaining a part time job as a clerk in a civil litigation firm. I also began taking advantage of New England Law’s open door policy and meeting with my professors on a regular basis to listen to their experiences and suggestions. I strongly believe that New England Law’s greatest asset is its accessibility. I cannot possibly count how many times (at odd hours) I would knock on a professor’s door with questions ranging from class discussions to filling out applications, to be greeted and welcomed with a mutual respect.
"In October of my third year I was offered a judicial clerkship in criminal court for after graduation. I know that my work and academic experiences played a huge role in the decision of the judge to hire me out of dozens of qualified applicants. At the conclusion of our interview, he jokingly told me that it wasn’t too late to turn back, the legal profession could be quite taxing, and as Shakespeare said, the social order wants to kill all the lawyers. I had to laugh in spite of myself, as I explained to him why a democratic society could not function without them."