Feature Stories UMass Law: Emily Dillan, JD ’23: Pursuing justice for survivors of domestic violence

Emily Dillan, JD candidate '23, managing editor of UMass Law Review, enjoyed a range of practical legal experiences and will work as a judicial law clerk with the MA Probate and Family Courts.
Feature Stories UMass Law: Emily Dillan, JD ’23: Pursuing justice for survivors of domestic violence
Emily Dillan, JD ’23: Pursuing justice for survivors of domestic violence

Cause is a personal one for Dillan, who says “every survivor’s justice is my own”

Long before her upcoming UMass Law graduation, Emily Dillan, JD candidate ’23 of Sandwich, MA, was making a difference in an issue that is important and personal to her—helping survivors of domestic violence. 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 Probate & Family Court, 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 is currently the Law Student Division Liaison to the ABA Commission on Domestic & Sexual Violence and a Judicial Intern with the MA Supreme Judicial Court.

Emily chose to attend UMass Law after graduating summa cum laude from UMass Dartmouth in 2020 with a Business Administration major. After graduating from law school, where she is also a Public Interest Law Fellow, Emily will work as a Judicial Law Clerk with the MA Probate and Family Courts. She’ll work directly with judges as they decide cases, which aligns perfectly with her career goals to provide direct representation and ensure survivors’ access to justice.

UMass Law experience

Why did you decide to attend UMass Law?

“I chose UMass Law because I knew coming into law school that I wanted to work in the public sector, and UMass Law’s focus on public interest was very attractive to me. When I came to campus for the first time, I was struck by how comfortable I felt here, and I knew I wanted to become a part of this community.”

How would you describe your experience here? 

“Incredibly positive. I have learned and grown so much during my time here, and I am very grateful to have done so in such a supportive environment. Help was always available when I needed it, whether that was from the faculty, staff, fellow students, or alumni, and their available support inspired me to dream big, take risks, and push myself out of my comfort zone. As a result, I feel prepared to move into this next stage of my career with confidence.”

Do you have any experiences that are particularly memorable?

“I really loved my time on UMass Law Review and serving as a Legal Skills TA.  Writing is one of my passions, and it meant a lot to me to repay the same guidance and support I received from upper-level students to the newest cohort of 1Ls while also doing something I love. The law review staff is a hardworking and closely-knit group of students, and it was amazing to serve on the executive board with some of my closest friends. I am really proud of what we have accomplished together." 

Are there any faculty who were particularly helpful to you?

“With respect to the faculty, all of them were helpful and memorable. We’re blessed to have great faculty that are committed to seeing their students succeed. That said, a special shoutout to Professors Margaret Drew, James Freeley, and Amy Vaughan-Thomas, who have mentored and encouraged me since day one. I couldn’t have done this without their support!”

Is there an activity or project that you were involved in that has impacted you and your future career?

“Yes, working in the Human Rights at Home Clinic during my 2L year, where I had my first experiences representing survivors of domestic violence in Family Court proceedings. It really underscored my passion for this work and proved to me that working with this population is where I belong.”

Did you receive any honors or awards during your time at UMass Law in addition to the Rappaport Fellowship?

“Yes, I was selected to spend the summer of my 2L year as a Summer Law Fellow with the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, which is another highly competitive program.  I am also a recipient of the Charles Hoff Fellowship, a scholarship offered to upper-level students here at UMass Law.”

What advice would you give future UMass Law students?

“Remain open to growth and new experiences because that is what you came here for, so be brave!  Also, remember why you came to law school, because no matter what that reason is, it will keep you going when things inevitably get difficult.”

Marc Conforto and Emily Dillan '23 outside court
UMass Law students Emily Dillan and Marc Conforto successfully represented their client in a contested restraining order hearing before the Bristol County Family Court during their work in the Human Rights at Home clinic.

Helping survivors of domestic violence is a personal cause for Dillan

How do you plan to use your law degree to make a difference in this area?

“Honestly, in every way I can. My ultimate goal is to empower survivors to come forward and seek justice, and then support them as they rebuild their lives. As such, enhancing survivors’ statutory protections is a critical focus area for me because it’s one way that we can ensure survivors are comfortable engaging with our systems.

“I’m also passionate about trauma-informed practice, because one poor experience with the law or its agents is enough to discourage a survivor from any future involvement.”

Would you like to add any reflections about what drives you to pursue justice for survivors of domestic violence?

“Domestic violence takes everything from a person, and its effects ripple into the lives of others.  No one understands this better than someone who has lived it, and my perspective as a fellow survivor-turned-attorney is a privilege that enables me to deeply connect with this population and help them to reclaim all that they’ve lost. In this way, every survivor’s justice is my own.”

Future plans and goals

Do you have any future plans and goals beyond your upcoming position with the MA Probate and Family Courts?

“I plan on becoming involved with the UMass Law Alumni Association and continuing my involvement with various local bar associations during my clerkship. Afterwards, I know I’ll continue my advocacy efforts for survivors of domestic violence, and I hope to someday teach Legal Skills myself. Beyond that, I’m staying open, because my experiences have proven to me that sometimes life has bigger plans for us than we have for ourselves.”