Saints who took part in this summer’s Summer Legal Fellows Program got an education not only in law, but in life.
The program offers Siena students the opportunity to work under the direct supervision of a law school professor while undertaking original legal research with second- and third-year law students. This summer, 12 rising seniors worked at six law schools affiliated with the program, where they provided legal assistance to the underserved while building on their early education in law.
Kyle Bissell ’24 worked at the Center for Social Justice at Western New England University School of Law. He expunged and sealed designated criminal records and helped clients navigate the debt collection process. He also researched restorative justice topics to help inform plans to offer alternative corrections programs for school districts in Hampden County, Massachusetts.
“It’s about lifting people up who have been punched down by institutional practice,” he said.
His passions for the law and for helping those who have been dealt a difficult hand of cards in life were enhanced by the summer experience. He’ll be applying for law school in the coming year, where he hopes to also earn an accompanying master’s degree in social work or criminal justice.
“If you pursue law, you need to use your heart as well as your head, and Siena supports that approach in educating its students,” said Bissell.
Melina Ortiz ’24 had her fellowship at the Civil Legal Advice and Resource Office (CLARO) of Fordham University’s School of Law. She said being in New York City was exciting, but having the opportunity to assist with legal advice for low-income, primarily immigrant clients was the most rewarding part of her experience.
“The most important thing I learned is that there is a person at the end of every legal case who is depending on our work,” said Ortiz. “I have the privilege of closing my laptop and stepping away at the end of the day, but our client is a real person with real struggles. This case is their life. It reminded me to always be sympathetic and diligent.”
Leonard Cutler, Ph.D., is Siena’s pre-law advisor coordinator of the Summer Legal Fellowship Program. He praised Bissell and Ortiz – and all the participating students – for their dedicated work.
“In their efforts to provide legal assistance to low-income clients who cannot afford to pay for legal services, our Summer Legal Fellows are living Siena’s mission to serve the poor and marginalized,” he said. “They work with their law advisors and their clients in a spirit of friendship and respect, and my gratitude goes out to each of them.”
Karla Joseph ’24 worked at Pace University’s Environmental Litigation Clinic, which she called “the experience of a lifetime.”
“The program is particularly helpful if someone is interested in pursuing a legal career,” she said. “I wouldn’t have traded this experience for the world. From the interesting topics to the amazing people, it was all around a great time and an eye-opening experience.”
Nathan Mattison ’24 called his work at Albany Law School’s Government Law Center the most valuable experience of his undergraduate career so far, praising the program’s skill building opportunities and its intensity. Liz Byrnes ’24 was at Touro Law School to explore whether a career in law was the right fit for her.
“After my first week, I was signed up for the LSAT,” she said. “Summer Legal Fellows changed my life.”
Other 2023 Summer Legal Fellows (all Class of ’24):
Melanie Aracena, Fordham; Michael Lennon and Amanda Devlin, Albany Law; Breanna Steifvater and Parker Taft, American Law School; Julia Czermerys, WNEU; Brenna Knibbs, Pace.