Jennifer Cassell (JD ’08), assistant regional counsel for the Office of the General Counsel at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, reflects upon how her DePaul experiences, including hands-on efforts to help residents of New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina, influenced her career.
Professor Len Cavise, director of the Center for Public Interest Law (CPIL), and Professor Andrea Lyon, associate dean for clinical programs, were two of my favorite professors. They had a passion for the law and for justice, and a genuine interest in the success of their students. They are both amazing criminal defense lawyers, and I was inspired by their dedication to help people who oftentimes don’t have someone to advocate on their behalf. They made me feel I had a greater duty to serve the community.
Along those lines, the death penalty clinic with Professor Lyon was one of the most useful experiences I had at the College of Law. It’s not just theoretical—you’re actually drafting motions, dealing with clients and interviewing witnesses, which is a more hands-on way to learn.
In addition, a group of CPIL students went to New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina. Local attorneys were so busy doing disaster-related work that there was a backlog of people who needed assistance in other civil-litigation areas not related to the disaster. So I provided domestic-law assistance. I had an expectation that you would go to an area that had been devastated and work in something related to the disaster, but there are other ways to give back that you don’t even think about. That was probably the biggest eye opener for me.
One of the best pieces of advice I received while at DePaul was from Professor Cavise. He made it clear that if you are interested in public interest law, you should do it. You shouldn’t let law school debt or the pressure to work in a law firm deter you from your goal. To me, that meant a lot. It’s easy once you get into law school to get detoured from that mission, but the public interest community offers a different way.
This article, along with the remarks of Ms. Cassell, are not intended to represent or reflect the official position of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or the Office of General Counsel.