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Vinieta Lawrence (Class of 2016)

Day Division
My commitment to social responsibility began long before I entered law school. I was trained as a nurse, and most recently had worked for almost 15 years as a director of nursing services. But the choices one makes through law school can be both professionally and personally fulfilling. Transitioning into the legal profession presented a whole new set of challenges and opportunities. What was difficult was how to apply my past skills and incorporate the new skills I would be learning in law school. I sought out opportunities that would enhance both objectives.

The first opportunity was participating in the CORI (Criminal Offender Record Information) initiative in conjunction with Greater Boston Legal Services and through the school’s Center for Law and Social Responsibility (CLSR). I began during the first semester of my 1L year. Not only did I participate in the phone interviews and completion of filing documents, I was able to participate in the volunteer clinics at the courthouse.

My next opportunity came by participating in the 1L summer fellowship program through the CLSR. I obtained my own placement and gained valuable skills and experience by working with a criminal defense attorney. The experience gave me confidence and an in-depth understanding of the subject matter I had been studying. Without this additional exposure it is quite possible I would not have continued in law school.

Even though the school requires only two skills-related courses to graduate, I have completed five such courses. I realized that my classes were training me to think like a lawyer, but I had no experience and to successfully compete against other new graduates I had to stand out from the rest. One such way is to gain as much experience as possible.

My intent was to continue with the CORI initiative even after attaining the necessary hours for a transcript notation; however, other opportunities arose. I took advantage of the courses offered during the summer and took Client Counseling. It had the double benefit of improving the interviewing skills required of a lawyer and it led to a self-examination of my beliefs and motivations.

In the spring of my second year I took my first clinic, The Lawyering Process. I had a hard choice to make when choosing a clinic placement. Despite my desire to work with the professors at the school clinic, I deeply wanted to work out in the community. I chose to work with DOVE, a community organization dedicated to assisting domestic violence victims.

The situation required good legal skills and provided an opportunity to litigate; yet more important was my role as advocate. In the short time I was there I felt I made a difference and the experience gave me more confidence that I was good at being a lawyer.

My desire to work in the community led me to seek out further opportunities in the Boston area. I was already a member of the Boston Chapter NAACP, and I took advantage of the free student memberships to the American Bar Association (ABA), Boston Bar Association (BBA), and the Massachusetts Bar Association (MBA). I have made networking connections with all of these associations to further legal work in the community and to promote equity through diversity.

I knew at this point I had reached a crossroads: I could focus on the Bar or my skills. I chose both. I enrolled in both the Massachusetts Practice and Procedure course and clinic, a priceless combination for students staying in Massachusetts after graduation. So many rookie mistakes can be avoided by putting oneself in this environment. I even felt confident and skilled enough to assist practicing attorneys through the system.

My newfound “swagger” led me to apply for the Honors Judicial Internship (HJI) program. I had debated the possibility of applying for a clerkship upon graduation, but since I hadn’t applied for law review I didn’t feel qualified, yet I did earn a position in the HJI program. And despite my initial apprehension, I took the full opportunity to work alongside a judge.

I was treated more like a colleague than a law student intern, as I felt that the judge respected my legal analysis and took my opinions seriously when making a determination in a case. Hallelujah!!! I have arrived. Oh yes, except for those pesky little things called graduation and the Bar exam.

Good luck in finding your way and I hope this tale assists you in having the courage to go outside of your comfort zone to achieve your dream.

(May 2016)