By Ashley Lewis, J.D. ’15
The most memorable moments of law school have been walking out of a courtroom with my client after a favorable decision. In that moment I am smiling, my client is smiling, and we both are ecstatic to have obtained a victory. After weeks or months of preparation the issue is resolved. My client can put the issue behind them and move on.
These are my most memorable moments, because it’s a privilege to be able to help someone successfully navigate the legal system. Fortunately I have had the opportunity to do such work since the first semester of my 1L year.
The moments I described above have all come from victories in criminal proceedings. Since fall of my 1L year I have been a member of Harvard Defenders, advocating for individuals accused of committing a criminal offense in show cause hearings. At this stage of the criminal process an offense is not on the client’s record and the clerk-magistrate is only determining whether probable cause exists. The hearing provides the unique opportunity to help clients avoid a criminal charge and collateral consequences completely.
This year, I had the opportunity to represent clients who have been officially charged with a crime through the Criminal Justice Institute (CJI). To have the opportunity to stand in court beside an individual, to make sure their voice is heard, that their rights are protected, and ensure that they aren’t lost in the criminal justice system is an experience beyond rewarding.
However, all of my cherished moments in law school haven’t come in a courtroom. Through the Veterans Law and Disability Benefits Clinic, I was able to help veterans obtain the benefits owed to them from Massachusetts and the federal government. In the Crimmigraiton Clinic, I answered letters of immigration detainees seeking legal assistance. In both clinics, I had the opportunity to help individuals that didn’t have a right to counsel navigate a complicated system.
These experiences, in conjunction with my experiences in CJI and Defenders, are the memories I will cherish the most after graduation. I came to law school to prepare for a career in public service. These experiences not only helped me prepare for a career, they were also a constant reminder of my goals and motivator for accomplishing them.