Feature Stories UMass Law: Emily Dillan '20, JD '23 receives national recognition for essay on domestic violence

Female student standing in front of law books
During law school, Emily Dillan advocated for survivors of domestic violence and hopes to continue that work as a judicial law clerk at the MA Probate and Family Courts.
Feature Stories UMass Law: Emily Dillan '20, JD '23 receives national recognition for essay on domestic violence
Emily Dillan '20, JD '23 receives national recognition for essay on domestic violence

Places third in ABA competition for essay on workplace protections for survivors of domestic violence, their employers, and coworkers

Emily Dillan '20, JD '23 of  Sandwich, MA has placed third in the 2023 Howard C. Schwab Memorial Essay Contest sponsored by the American Bar Association Section on Family Law. The contest, established in 1969, is intended to promote interest and scholarship in family law. Students attending ABA­-approved law schools are eligible to enter.

Dillan's essay entitled "You Got Dreams He'll Never Take Away: The Role of Protective Employment Legislation in Liberating Survivors of Domestic Violence" was selected by a panel of four judges on the basis of (1) originality, (2) quality of analysis, (3) quality of research, (4) style and organization, and (5) practicality and timeliness of subject matter.

During her years at UMass Law, Dillan advocated for survivors of domestic violence, an issue that is important and personal to her. As a 1L, she served on the MA Womens' Bar Association Domestic Violence Anti-Discrimination Task Force. She was selected for the prestigious Rappaport Fellowship, where she interned with MA State Rep. Natalie Higgins and worked on two national-level domestic and sexual violence policy initiatives. 

She served as a Summer Law Fellow with the Manhattan District Attorney, a Judicial Intern with the MA Probate & Family Courts in Barnstable County, and as a Rule 3.03 Student Attorney at the UMass Law Human Rights at Home Clinic, where she represented survivors of domestic violence. She was the Law Student Division Liaison to the ABA Commission on Domestic & Sexual Violence and a Judicial Intern with the MA Supreme Judicial Court. She was also a Public Interest Law Fellow and Managing Editor of UMass Law Review.

A 2020 summa cum laude graduate of UMass Dartmouth, Dillan majored in business administration. Next week, she will begin working as a Judicial Law Clerk with the MA Probate and Family Courts.

Below Dillan discusses her essay and why she considers it the capstone to her UMass Law experience.

Did you enter the contest as a 3L? Why did you decide to enter?

"I did! I've always loved to write, and during my time at UMass Law I wrote three different pieces on domestic violence policy—this one was written during my 2L year for Professor Margaret Drew's Domestic Violence Law class and satisfied my upper-level writing requirement. 

"During my 1L year, I was fortunate to do some research for the Massachusetts Womens' Bar Association's Domestic Violence Anti-Discrimination Task Force, which was then drafting a bill expanding employment protections for survivors. Through this experience, I not only learned about the nationwide legislative trend towards expanding such protections, but also amassed a fair amount of statutory research on the topic. I was also introduced to a recent Massachusetts "Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) decision, Osborne-Trussell v. Childrens' Hospital Corp. (2021), in which the SJC broadly interpreted MA's existing statute that the bill sought to expand.

"I decided to enter because the contest combined my passions for writing and domestic violence advocacy, and I chose this piece because I hoped to encourage further momentum towards enacting these protections, both in Massachusetts and across the country."

How would you summarize the essay?

"The essay first provides the reader with context as to the importance of these protections to the survivor, their employer, and others in the workplace and describes the absence of workplace remedies under federal statutes. The essay then discusses the issue from a national perspective by introducing the three main 'categories' of employment protections for survivors of abuse and compares/contrasts both existing and pending legislation among the 50 states.  Finally, the essay shifts to Massachusetts and discusses our existing statute, Mass. Gen. Law ch. 149 § 52E, the significance of the Osborne-Trussell decision, and how the task force's proposed bill seeks to build on this momentum and why the bill's provisions are so important to survivors."

What was your reaction when you found out you placed 3rd nationally?

"I was floored and grateful. This is such a personal and important topic to me, and this essay was a culmination of what was essentially three years of work: my first with the task force to learn about the issue, the second to write the paper for Professor Drew's class, and the third to update the essay's research and edit for submission. As a result, it feels like the capstone to my law school experience."

Did UMass Law help you develop the writing and research skills you used in the essay?

"Absolutely. Professor James Freeley's Legal Skills classes developed my skills in legal research and writing during my 1L year. When I learned that Domestic Violence Law required the writing of a final paper in lieu of a final exam, I was thrilled given my love of writing, but I had no idea how to write for legal academia; the Legal Skills curriculum is designed for practical writing.

"However, as an associate editor on the UMass Law Review during my 2L year, I was required to take a note-writing seminar, and Professor Jeremiah Ho's guidance through the scholarly writing process in that class was invaluable as was the template I used when writing this essay."

The title of your essay is so appropriate—were you inspired by the Dolly Parton song or did the title just fit?

"A little bit of both.  I knew I wanted a snappy title, and who doesn't love Dolly?  Everyone knows '9 to 5,' and it just so happens that one of the song's lyrics was a perfect fit."