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Albany Law School student Krystal Macharie ’21 is a storyteller at heart.
At first, her volunteer opportunity with Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York seemed like a good way to gain some experience. It’s turned into more of a formal work-study role—and has given her a chance to tell the story of thousands of hardworking people who are waiting on pension funds.
Her first task was to organize a cluttered collection of documents related to the St. Clare’s pension case, an ongoing situation involving a shuttered local hospital shorting longtime employees tens of millions of dollars in pension funds.
The Catholic hospital fell on financial hardship and joined a larger hospital in 2008, but because of a loophole, it was able to avoid paying out the pensions—leaving many without money they were planning on for retirement.
“They were like every person I had ever met. Every grandma, every grandpa, every aunt, every uncle. I think the thing that stood out to me the most was how a church could do this to somebody when they put faith in their beliefs,” Macharie said. “Imagine working your whole life for something you believe in. A lot of these people stayed with this hospital … because they genuinely believed in what they were doing and in the cause. The one thing that was supposed to be there for them, wasn’t there for them.”
She tapped into her strong organizational skills and cataloged the documents, created a timeline of the entire situation, and became the go-to person to find information related to the case.
“There was never a limitation put on my ability,” she said.
Many of the clients worked together for decades and welcomed her like family—for good reason.
“I always took the moment, even if I didn’t have the time,” Macharie said. “There were times I’d be running out of the clinic to class, but at that moment I was expected to be there for this client. It became easy for me to help them.”
Before coming to law school, she worked as a teaching assistant at her hometown school district in East Ramapo, New York. She met a lot of students who didn’t have the strong family support she does.
“A lot of my students just needed a chance. A lot of times many of their problems happened because they couldn’t express what was going on—so I started a creative writing club,” she said.
Macharie’s work had an impact on both the students and her, personally. One student was nervous about applying to college because of his behavioral history. Meanwhile, Macharie kept making excuses to put off law school. So, they struck a deal. He’d do the work to get into college if she pursued her dream.
“What I started to realize very early on is that I connect,” she said. “It’s funny because there are certain clients that are more responsive to someone like me. I tell them it’s because I exist in the middle of the legal field and the everyday life of a regular person.”
For someone who puts most of her energy into helping others, she couldn’t do it without a support system of her own.
“Growing up in a very big Caribbean community, we toe the hard lines of family. My entire church family was my family—every time I go home I have them,” Macharie said. “But also, on the other end of it, something wonderful happened in law school.”
She met friends—who she calls her law school family—in class and through her leadership roles as president of the Albany Law School chapter of the Latin American Law Students Association (LALSA) and ABA representative for the Student Bar Association.
“Among the minority students here, we try to find a way to replicate that [family]. You don’t think your community is necessary until you try to live without them. It became so easy to have this law school family,” she said.
She was inspired to pursue a legal career by her uncle, an attorney she calls her “real life superhero.” His main advice to her was to work in customer service to learn how to collaborate with people and become nimble, adapting to whatever is thrown your way.
She’s also making an impact in her work with The Justice Center at Albany Law School’s Family Violence Litigation Clinic. She represented survivors with such commitment and skill that it earned her Albany Law School’s nomination for the 2020
National Jurist Law Student of the Year.
“The clinic teaches patience, it teaches you resilience, and it teaches you how to get through to people,” she said. “The clinic teaches you that you’re not supposed to have all of the answers, and that’s OK. But you have to present them with all of the options available to them.”