Judicial scholarship and fellowship named for former Chief Justice Ralph Gants and Chancellor Emerita Jean MacCormack
Leaders of Massachusetts' legal and education systems have been honored with a judicial scholarship and fellowship to celebrate their commitment to justice, equity, and an accessible legal education. Two UMass Law students who received these opportunities found their up-close experiences in the legal system to be invaluable— whether it was through working with clients or in the courtroom.
Chancellor Emerita Jean MacCormack, who led UMass Dartmouth from 1999-2012, spearheaded the effort to establish a public law school in Massachusetts as the Board of Higher Education voted to approve the merger with Southern New England School of Law in 2010. Delaney Gagnon, JD candidate '24 of Danvers, MA, is the first recipient of the Chancellor Jean MacCormack Public Service Fellowship.
In honor of the late Chief Justice Ralph Gants of the MA Supreme Judicial Court, a champion of access to justice and equity in the Massachusetts legal system, a judicial scholarship program was created in his memory. The Chief Justice Ralph Gants Judicial Scholarship Program is designed to provide Massachusetts law students the opportunity to gain valuable experience in the judicial system and increase equity and pathways to successful legal, public service, and judicial careers. Among the first cohort of 18 Gants Scholars is Daniel Martinez, JD candidate January '24 of Brockton, MA. A part-time law and MBA student who also works in UMass Dartmouth's Office of Student Affairs, Martinez interned at the MA Housing Court.
The scholarship and fellowship both provide funds for students to accept unpaid internships.
Chancellor Jean MacCormack Public Service Fellowship
A social work major and graduate of Simmons University in Boston, Gagnon spent her 12-week fellowship with the Mental Health Legal Advisor's Committee (MHLAC) in Quincy, MA, working with clients facing discrimination because of their mental health status. While working at MHLAC, which represents low-income clients with mental health issues, she worked on special education, family law, and involuntary commitment cases.
"Clients were losing time in their communities, at school, or with their children due to their mental health status. I would conduct intakes, identify legal issues, and help clients through the process of meeting with attorneys. I got to work on an employment discrimination case with experienced attorneys and conducted policy research."
After taking a special education law class with Associate Professor Rebecca Flanagan and criminal procedure and criminal law with Professor Hillary Farber, Gagnon’s internship built on her classroom experience. "It's interesting to see these things in lectures, but when you see them play out in real life, you appreciate this amazing skill you have to offer others."
Gagnon plans to use her law degree and background in social work to advance the rights of people living with mental illness. She'd like to be a public defender as she saw a lot of intersection between social work and law. Law school has reinforced her desire "to be an advocate with the perspective of social work."
"I grew up with the kind of opportunities and support that a lot of people don't have. Law school has given me the ability to navigate this complex system of laws, which is a skill I want to use to help others. It’s a humbling experience to be there for someone when they really need you."
At UMass Law, Gagnon participates in the Public Interest Law Fellowship (PILF) Program and is gaining experience in the Human Rights at Home Clinic.
She chose UMass Law for its focus on public service and the PILF program as well as its diversity. "At most law schools, people want to do just one thing. What’s special here is the variety of interests and backgrounds."
She is grateful for the opportunity to work in public service. "Working in public interest law is an honor. Sometimes the organizations that need the most support have the least resources to pay legal interns. This fellowship gives law students the support they need to accept public interest positions and make the organization’s resources more accessible to the clients they serve."
The annual fellowship will be offered to a UMass Law student in good academic standing. The work must be conducted in a public service position approved by the dean of the law school.
Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants Judicial Scholarship Program
Daniel Martinez is enrolled in the joint JD/MBA Program and serves as assistant director of community standards in the Office of Student Affairs at UMass Dartmouth. A part-time UMass Law student, he plans to finish law school this semester and complete his MBA next summer. He graduated from Bridgewater State University with a major in political science.
In his Housing Court internship, Martinez worked with First Justice Neil Sherring and Justice Maria Theophilis in the Metro South Housing Courts in Brockton and Canton, MA, doing legal research, observing trials, reviewing dockets, writing drafts of judicial orders, and outlining cases. The experience, he said, provided a holistic view of the Housing Court experience.
"I was genuinely impressed by everything we were exposed to," Martinez said. "While you can learn the law in a classroom, it's another thing altogether watching it be implemented. Seeing the difference between the classroom and practice was great, especially observing cases from the point of view of the judge, clients, and lawyers.
"I saw landlord-tenant issues, evictions, homeowners' code violations, ongoing construction issues, civil complaints. You see a large cross-section of issues in society. We saw actual trial procedure, rules of evidence, rules of civil procedure, courtroom management, how they manage the docket and courtroom. You see lawyers having conversations, you see mediation. That's something you can’t learn in a textbook, and it will make me a better lawyer in the long run," said Martinez.
He appreciated the opportunity to observe the judiciary up-close. "I enjoyed getting feedback and insights and seeing how they approach questions."
The internship will help academically, Martinez added. "I got to review an incredible number of cases and focus on issues. I saw how they reach decisions and why rules are the way they are. This experience will make me better at legal thinking, legal arguing, and analyzing cases."
Martinez has enjoyed his UMass Law experience as a part-time student. "It's a great place to be. The staff at every level are wonderful. They make you feel at home, teach you the material, and make themselves available. It’s a melding of a family environment and an educational environment."
He has experienced a close bond with the part-time evening/weekend students. "It’s like a family of part-time professionals. Everyone connects on a deeper level. We’re making a sacrifice to be here, and we take that seriously. We check up on each other. We’ve overcome struggles that inevitably come. Having that support is great."
A member of the Black Law Students Association (BLSA) and the Latin American Students Association, Martinez participated on the BLSA Mock Trial team, which he now coaches. He is also a teaching assistant for evidence and trial advocacy classes.
His joint JD/MBA degree, "sets me apart from other law students and will help me in the future as well. It's a great program," he said.
Martinez is considering different opportunities for his law career, including higher education and litigation. "I love being in a courtroom and I definitely see myself in a courtroom in one way or another," he said.
Being one of the first Gants Scholars "was a surprise and an honor," Martinez said. "Looking into the life and legacy of Justice Gants, the roles he played in the community, and his long-lasting impact, hopefully this scholarship furthers that legacy."
By providing funding for judicial internships, the Gants Judicial Scholarship Program seeks to provide equity in the professional development of aspiring attorneys.