By Lori Atherton
September 8, 2015
Mary Soo Anderson, '15, entered Michigan Law with an interest in pursuing asylum and refugee law, but a legal-volunteer trip to New Orleans during her 1L year exposed her to the injustices within the criminal justice system. She decided to focus on a career as a public defender and, with the aid of a 2015 Gideon's Promise Fellowship, is now working as a staff attorney at Orleans Public Defenders in New Orleans.
Anderson, who started her job September 8, has been placed at Orleans Public Defenders as part of the Gideon's Promise Law School Partnership Program, which is co-sponsored by the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Assistance; participating law schools across the country; and underserved public defender offices located in the Southeast.
This is the first year that Michigan Law is sponsoring a fellow in the Law School Partnership Program, which requires that participating law schools pay the fellows' salaries for one year. In return, fellows are guaranteed a permanent job within a year of being placed at their public defenders' offices, and they receive valuable training for three years on how to provide quality representation to the underserved clients they'll be representing.
"My experience so far has been really positive," said Anderson, who completed her first training session—an intensive two-week program at the University of Mississippi Law School—in August. "I would really like to see more Michigan students have the opportunity to experience that training and to be part of the Gideon's Promise community."
Anderson's first week of training involved storytelling and role-playing exercises, which she found to be especially useful. "We learned how to effectively convey our clients' stories through each stage of the process by telling our own stories and each other's stories. The storytelling exercises compelled us to dig deep within our own emotional well to learn how to connect with our audience in the courtroom," she said. "When it comes to telling someone else's story, we need to learn about the circumstances that shaped that person, and so much of our training during the first week was also dedicated to learning how to earn our clients' trust. The trust is key to fostering relationships in which such personal stories can be shared." During the second week of training, the fellows worked on crafting effective opening and closing statements, cross-examinations, and motions.
Anderson said she is eager to put her newfound skills to use at Orleans Public Defenders, particularly since the need for quality legal representation in New Orleans is great. Each year, Orleans Public Defenders represents nearly 20,000 children and adults facing misdemeanors and fellow and capital offenses, according to its website. "I've met amazing people who have been practicing as public defenders for decades and are still so passionate about standing up for people who are not able to stand up for themselves in the courtroom," Anderson said. "Hearing from them and learning these new skills, I want to start helping people and doing the work myself. That's what I'm really looking forward to—just getting started."
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