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Claire Stratton ‘23 is an extrovert who thrives on building friendships and wants to give a voice to marginalized groups that face oppression, discrimination, and violence.
“I have seen people I care about, my friends, affected in ways that turn my stomach. Back in high school, I found myself studying history, social change, and demographics to educate myself. I wanted to help change things. I saw voices not being heard as loudly as mine. I want to help make noise,” she said.
Her high school guidance counselor suggested law school and after getting her undergraduate degree Stratton committed to the journey to become an attorney.
There was one catch though…Stratton’s high school is in Tyler, Texas (near Houston) and she had just graduated from the University of Texas in Austin. With the COVID-19 pandemic flaring up in early 2020, and only a single drive-thru visit to New York’s capital city years before, Albany Law School didn’t really seem like a logical next step for Stratton.
“I knew I wanted to become a lawyer, but it was going to be a stretch, to say the least,” Stratton joked about making the 1,800-mile leap from the Lone Star State to the Empire one.
As law school acceptance letter began arriving in her email inbox in early 2020, Stratton was ecstatic and stuck. The pandemic was wreaking havoc throughout the country and creating a swath of travel restrictions. She had to decide where to go to law school based on virtual seminars, video tours, and Zoom meetings. While she had many options, a virtual Albany Law School accepted students event with admissions staff, students, and faculty sealed the deal for her.
“When I finished that seminar, I walked out to my parents and said ‘I love Albany,’” she said.“I felt like I was already part of the community. It was great to see how there were so many interactions with the dean and students, the dean and professors, and professors and students. They had this genuine love for Albany.”
The decision was made. But getting here? That took a little more planning, hours upon hours of driving, days of quarantine, and navigating state guidelines.
“It was incredible. The school was so accommodating. As I was making the 16-hour drive people from the law school were checking up on me,” Stratton remembered. “I knew what I had to do, I knew what I needed to safely start, but it was stressful. I’m thankful Albany Law School was there for me. They even helped me find a living situation.”
Once settled in New York, Stratton joined the Albany Law Literary Circle and started a GroupMe chat with other incoming 1Ls in the summer before her first semester. Her passion for student involvement shone through immediately when the semester started as she was elected as a class senator for the Student Bar Association, joined the Gaelic Law Society, participated in Moot Court, and joined the Phi Alpha Delta professional law fraternity.
“I feel like I know so many people already. Everyone here so eager to meet and get to know you,” she said. “There are so many ways to get involved here at the law school. If you have a passion there is definitely a group with that passion as well. All you have to do is ask around.”
Academically, most of Stratton’s first-year classes have been in a hybrid in-person/online format. However, even behind a mask or screen there is still no protection from a 1L’s biggest fear—the cold call.
“Professors still cold call and make everyone feel like they are in the classroom even if they are at home. Each professor I have had is great with multitasking—checking in if people online have hands raised— and you can’t hide, in-person or online,” she said. “Albany Law has done a great job of integrating both the hybrid model.”
In some ways, remote learning has been a good way to ease into law school, she said.
“The breakout rooms on Zoom are very effective. You don’t have the distraction of another group nearby or moving around in the classroom,” she said. “I think our generation is also very comfortable communicating through a screen or online. It was easy to engage and participate.”
Even with her journey to Albany and her involvement in a variety of things, Stratton is keeping an open mind for which area of law she’ll focus on. For now, she’s taking it all in both in the classroom and in the Capital Region.
“People have so much pride for their city and their community up here. It’s been fun to get into that. I’m also really liking the seasons. In Texas, we have fall for maybe a week. Experiencing fall in Albany was awesome from picking apples to going to farmer’s markets it was so fun,” she said.
“[Coming to Albany Law School is] the best decision I have made,” she added. “The highs and the rewards for coming here have been life-changing. I think it’s the perfect atmosphere for a law school.”