By Sarah Boonin
My experience as a Skadden Fellow from 2005–2007 was life-changing.
While clerking at the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, I got the news that I had been chosen to receive a coveted two-year post-graduate public interest Skadden Fellowship. The Skadden Fellowship Foundation provided two years of financial support as I created – from the ground up – my dream job in public interest law.
I used the Skadden funding to develop a health-law collaboration between the Legal Services Center in Jamaica Plain (a clinical program of Harvard Law School) and the Brigham and Women’s Hospital – one of the early so-called “medical-legal partnerships.” Through that collaboration, I provided direct representation to low-income victims of domestic violence in a range of legal matters, mostly involving abuse prevention orders and family law. The most unique aspect of the practice was that I represented my clients in partnership with a team of incredibly knowledgeable and dedicated social workers on-site at the hospital and area health centers. The social workers played in integral role in supporting the clients through the emotional, social, and safety implications of their legal cases. I learned as much from them as from my clients – and far more than I had learned while in law school.
I could not have asked for a better professional development experience that my Skadden Fellowship. During those two intense years, I learned most of what I know today about lawyering, poverty law, professionalism, and the plight of the most marginalized in our community. Substantively, I found the work to be challenging and rewarding.
Not only did my Skadden Fellowship solidify my desire to dedicate my life to legal services, but also I discovered a new passion – clinical teaching. From my two-year fellowship, I joined the teaching staff at the Legal Services Center, where I had the privilege of converting my fellowship project into a clinical experience for law students at Harvard Law School. I honed my teaching skills over the next three and a half years while continuing to do the work I loved. In January of 2009, I joined the faculty at Suffolk Law School. In the years since, I have focused my clinical practice on mental health and disability, finding new ways to serve those most in need, discovering new areas of substantive interest, and sharing my passion with the diverse and talented emerging lawyers at Suffolk Law School.
I am incredibly honored to be the faculty Fellowship Advisor at Suffolk Law, where I have the privilege of working with students to conceptualize and structure fellowship applications that embody their professional “dream jobs.” In many ways, I consider my role advising public interest students as my small contribution to the vast network of public interest mentors that welcomed me when I became a Skadden Fellow.
Sarah Boonin is an Associate Clinical Professor at Suffolk University Law School. She founded and leads Suffolk’s Health Law Clinic and as Fellowship Advisor recently counseled a Suffolk Law graduate who was granted a Skadden Fellowship. You can learn more about Skadden Foundation Fellowships here.