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"I'm not the law student who knew she wanted to be a lawyer from a young age, but I always knew I wanted a career where I could help people and make a difference," says Jessica Persaud '16. "As cliché as that might sound, that train of thought is ultimately what led me to pursue a legal career in public service."
Before accepting admission to Albany Law School, Persaud did her homework to ensure that Albany Law fulfilled her long list of requirements. "I had an extensive vetting process. I knew I was investing in this school as much as it was investing in me, so I needed to make sure we were the right fit." Now, in her final semester at Albany Law, the 3L does not hesitate when she answers that she made the right decision.
Determined to pursue a career helping the underserved, Persaud began volunteering with
Albany Law School Pro Bono Society's Prisoners' Rights Project during the spring semester of her 1L year. This led to her first summer internship at Prisoners' Legal Services, where she assisted with the representation of indigent prisoners facing due process violations and other issues, including guard brutality, LBGT rights, mental health, and immigration status. "I helped draft an appeal addressing the detrimental effects of prolonged solitary confinement for a client that had been held in solitary for over thirty years. Since then, I've become very passionate about combating the excessive use of solitary confinement, which is why I am so proud of the recent decisions made in New York to reduce the use of such punishments." Persaud's work with Prisoners' Legal Services did not end there. After her summer internship, she took over as project director of the Prisoners' Rights Project, and in October 2015 she received the Prisoners' Legal Service Robert S. Bensing Award for Pro Bono for her outstanding dedication and service.
“I wanted to learn everything and anything about law. I wanted to immerse myself in all areas of it — even the ones I never thought I would have an interest in. I wanted to find what really suited me and where I could make the largest difference.”
During the fall semester of her 2L year, Persaud says she found herself in what would come to be "one of the best experiences" of her law school career. That semester, Persaud participated in the Domestic Violence Prosecution Hybrid Clinic taught by Professor Mary Lynch. "Taking a clinic is one of the most difficult and time-consuming experiences a law student will have, but it is by far the most beneficial and fulfilling as well." Through her participation in the clinic, Persaud was placed in the field at the Albany County District Attorney's office in city court. "Learning about domestic violence through the lens of a prosecutor gave me a newfound respect for the District Attorney's office and the responsibilities of a prosecutor."
Persaud spent the class component of the clinic performing multiple simulations from both the prosecution and defense's point of view, and learned about the development of domestic violence as a crime over time. She regularly spent — at minimum — 10 hours a week in court observing proceedings, drafting discovery motions, and representing the People on the record for arraignments. "I'm fascinated by trial practice. There's something about getting up in front of a judge and forcing yourself to articulate the law and facts in such a way that you are able to convince someone to reach a certain conclusion — all while your heart is beating out of your chest and all the blood in your body is rushing to your head. Litigators have my utmost respect for what they do every day."
Persaud maintains a close relationship with Professor Lynch and currently serves as an assistant for her blog,
Best Practices for Legal Education, as well as her TA for the spring 2016 Domestic Violence Prosecution Hybrid clinic. "Her belief in my abilities and goals has meant everything to me. Professor Lynch is so much more than a professor. Not only is she one of the most experienced and knowledgeable attorneys I've ever met, but she plays many other roles — mentor, advisor, cheerleader, but most importantly, friend."
"I didn’t come to law school to just get a job. I came to law school to find a career, and that’s exactly what I did. When I graduate in May, I’ll be able to walk across the stage knowing, one way or another, I’m going to be working in a field that I truly love and that’s more than enough for me.”
Persaud participated in two other field placements — one at the Federal Public Defender's office of the Northern District of New York, exploring criminal law from the other side of the coin, and the other at the New York Civil Liberties Union's legislative office, learning about policy work. "I wanted to learn everything and anything about law. I wanted to immerse myself in all areas of it — even the ones I never thought I would have an interest in. I wanted to find what really suited me and where I could make the largest difference."
Persaud's final summer internship at Empire Justice Center during her 2L summer was ultimately what narrowed her career path and defined her job search. Persaud spent the majority of the summer working on a kinship foster care diversion case, where she assisted with the representation of a grandmother who needed her foster care benefits reinstated. "It was the most fulfilling case I have worked on. I spent weeks organizing hundreds of subpoenaed documents in order to create a complete and detailed document inventory. That inventory is eventually what helped us find a very important missing piece of the puzzle. I will never forget meeting with my supervisor and hearing her say, 'This might be our smoking gun.' I'm pretty sure I feigned a cough to stop myself from smiling." Persaud continued to explain that her experience working on this case helped solidify her decision to apply to jobs where she could assist families with their legal problems.
"I've always felt slightly uncomfortable when people list off everything I've achieved over the past three years. It makes it seem like I breezed through law school — and that is not the case at all. Everyone's afraid to say it, but law school is hard — really hard. I've struggled and stumbled many times, but it has transformed me into the toughest version of myself. I know everyone wants to hear about the job that will validate the past three years of my life, but the truth is I didn't come to law school to just get a job. I came to law school to find a career, and that's exactly what I did. When I graduate in May, I'll be able to walk across the stage knowing, one way or another, I'm going to be working in a field that I truly love and that's more than enough for me."