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Colleen Decker (Class of 2016)

Day Division
In eleventh grade, I took a criminal justice course and little did I know that it would shape the rest of my life. Our final assignment was to pick a job in the criminal justice field and write a paper about it. I wrote about being a public defender. At the ripe age of 16, I knew this would be the job I dedicated my life to. This paper lit a passion in me. I wanted to ensure that no person would be disadvantaged, and no person would be unfairly treated under the law because they didn’t have money.

I started at New England Law | Boston the same way most 1L’s do: terrified and wary of what was in store for me over the course of the next three years. Once I got into the swing of things I realized that I loved what I was learning and that I really did make the right choice by going to law school.

During the summer prior to my second year I participated in the study abroad program at the National University of Ireland, Galway, studying under Justice Antonin Scalia at the Irish Centre for Human Rights. I was at first apprehensive about studying abroad instead of getting a traditional summer internship, but the experiences and knowledge I gained in this program are truly irreplaceable.

Once I returned to school in the fall of my second year, I was ready to begin working and getting into court. I enrolled in the school’s Public Interest Law Seminar and Clinic and was accepted into the in-house clinical law office, where I worked on family law cases. This was truly an eye-opening experience. You spend your entire first year reading about plaintiffs and defendants, but it is not until you are sitting with a client and working with her to determine your strategy for a case that you really learn what it means to be an advocate. Because I was certified under the state’s student practice rule, SJC Rule 3:03, I was able to appear in front of a judge on more than one occasion, and this experience confirmed my aspirations of becoming a litigator.

In the summer following my second year, I was lucky enough to intern with the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS), the public defender organization for Massachusetts. I worked full-time in the Quincy office, where I fell even more in love with public defense work. Aside from genuinely enjoying the substantive work I was doing, I was surrounded by attorneys who were happy to teach and willing to answer any questions. Practicing under SJC rule 3:03, I was able to appear in court on behalf of clients for bail hearings and various motions. Working in an office and advocating on behalf of clients teaches you more than any book ever could.

As I began my third year, I knew I wanted to continue working for CPCS. On the advice of many of my supervisors in Quincy, I interned at the CPCS office in Boston. Working at two different offices within the organization gave me the unique experience of seeing the great contrast in the types of crimes handled by each. I was again able to appear in front of a judge on several occasions, and received credit for this work by participating in the Criminal Procedure II clinic.

In the final semester of my third year, I have returned to the Quincy CPCS office. Participating in the Advanced Clinic program, I am again able to receive credit for the work I am doing. While I do sincerely enjoy being a student, and I often joke that if student loans did not exist I would be a professional student, I love being in an office doing public defense work. I can honestly say that the experiences that I have had while working through the various clinic programs have been a cornerstone of my legal education.

(March 2016)