Two students from UB School of Law earned the opportunity to work as Walter Sondheim Public Service Law Fellows this past summer. The program, administered by the Shriver Center at University of Maryland Baltimore County, provides $3,000 grants for students to do public interest work during their summer break. Students with GPAs of 3.0 and above are eligible to apply in the spring.
Autumn Lee, a 2L, worked with the American Bar Association’s Death Penalty Project. Isabelle Ferraro, a 3L, worked with the Maryland Attorney General’s Office. Here are first-person accounts of their experiences.
Autumn Lee: The ABA’s Death Penalty Project is dedicated to improving the quality and availability of effective legal representation for individuals facing the death penalty. I enjoyed being able to learn about these issues since I have been interested in capital punishment for some years now — in fact, I wrote a paper on the death penalty in the tenth grade!
It took me until this summer to realize that criminal appeals are actually civil proceedings, so defendants do not have the right to counsel — which to me sounds ridiculous when many defendants lack the knowledge and resources to effectively represent themselves. Researching current death penalty case law and public opinion about the death penalty, as well as reading how the U.S. Supreme Court dances around issues facing death-row prisoners, has influenced me to focus on post-conviction matters after I graduate from law school.
The Sondheim Public Service Law Fellowship is a program that every law student considering public interest law should explore. The fellowship provides a network for students who share common interests and goals, as well as opportunities to meet professionals within the field. While the grant money is a nice bonus, the prestige of being a law fellow carries much greater value. The program builds a sense of confidence in students who take pride in giving voices to others or granting opportunities to those who are less fortunate.
I am passionate about public interest law because I want to give others a positive ending to their story. I have worked in a juvenile detention center and a facility for individuals incompetent to stand trial, and seen firsthand what not having a solid foundation at home looks like. But just because life started rough doesn’t mean it has to continue being rough, and that is why I am pursuing public interest law. I want to give disadvantaged individuals in the criminal justice system the knowledge, tools and opportunities to create better futures for themselves.
Isabelle Ferraro: The Sondheim Fellows program allowed me to continue working as a law clerk at the Office of the Attorney General in Maryland with the Organized Crime Unit. I had one of the most phenomenal experiences, largely because of the attorneys I worked for. Each attorney believes strongly in the idea of mentorship and giving student workers meaningful projects and responsibilities, and encouraging us to fully engage in dialogue during trial preparation or strategy meetings.
This was so valuable, for it allowed me to develop valuable skills, such as examining evidence and seeing how it helps prove an element of a crime; doing legal research, such as finding relevant case law that assists in proving arguments, and drafting memos that are persuasive and effective in conveying information.
I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity, for I am passionate about prosecuting ethically and progressively, and this summer I was able to witness ethical and progressive prosecutions. Through past internships, I learned that prosecutors have an interesting role to play in the criminal justice system, for they must not only fight for the victim and the state, but they must also remember that they have a duty to the defendant as well. That duty is to make sure that the defendant is not victimized by the criminal justice system and that all appropriate measures must be taken to ensure the legal rights of the defendant are not infringed upon. This program provided me with additional role models to look up to in this field and the opportunity to closely observe the behavior and best practices that I want to emulate in my career.