Public Interest Law Fellow strives to Pursue Justice
From advocating for victims to helping migrants through UMass Law’s Immigration Law Clinic, Grace St. Urbain, JD candidate '24 is a strong advocate for access to justice.
"I take a service approach to the legal work I do," said St. Urbain of Marietta, GA. "I’m all about expanding access to legal services, especially for those who don't speak English. Not being able to speak English should not impede getting the legal help you need."
Born in Long Island, NY, to Haitian parents, St. Urbain speaks English, French, and Creole at home and has learned Spanish. Her language fluency proved very helpful last fall when she joined a group of UMass Law students who served as interpreters and helped to pre-screen migrants from Haiti and Latin America to determine their needs for legal assistance and resources.
While St. Urbain holds a strong interest in immigration law, a Trial Advocacy class has sparked an interest in litigation. Whatever field she chooses, St. Urbain's desire to Pursue Justice and serve her community—combined with the legal education and practical and leadership experiences she gained at UMass Law—will help launch her success.
UMass Law experience
What made you decide to become a lawyer?
"I have always been passionate about service and advocacy. Prior to attending law school, I took a year off and worked at the Cobb County District Attorney's office as a victim advocate. That year of work allowed me to see what it was like to be in court.
"After working there, I knew I wanted to acquire the tools to become a more effective advocate and decided to fully pursue law school. Additionally, I wanted to go to law school to do immigration work, as I feel strongly about increasing access to legal services for immigrants. I felt that a legal career would give me direct access to that community."
Why did you choose to attend UMass Law?
"In deciding between law schools, I was very attracted to the Public Interest Law Fellowship (PILF) Program at UMass Law since my legal aspirations are rooted in service. Aside from PILF, I connected deeply with UMass Law's mission to "Pursue Justice." This mission can take many forms and is something that I strive to incorporate into not just my career, but daily life.
"I was lucky enough to tour UMass Law before moving to Massachusetts and experienced a very warm welcome! Having seen the school and interacted with members of the community was comforting as I left my community in Georgia."
How has your law school experience been?
"It has been as fruitful as it has been challenging. Coming to law school has taught me an intense discipline and has completely changed how I think. Between the doctrinal courses, simulation courses, electives, and clinics I have taken, I've been able to explore a wide array of areas of the law and been challenged in each of those facets."
UMass Law faculty
“The faculty is super dedicated. I’m especially grateful for the time and investment of faculty who make all this possible. Coming from out-of-state, I am so grateful to be welcomed by not just my fellow students but the faculty as well.
“UMass Law's clinical programs and simulation courses give you an opportunity to experience what it’s like to be an attorney in the field. In class, I have learned how to advocate for my clients; outside of class, I have formed lasting and authentic relationships with faculty. It is the conversations in office hours that have helped me improve both as a student and a future attorney.”
St. Urbain credits Professor Roni Amit, who leads the Immigration Law Clinic, for the hands-on experiences she’s had in immigration law. “We learned the cases and history that have impacted immigration law, but she gave a lot more beyond the textbook. Getting the real technical ins and outs of immigration law was great.
“Taking Trial Practice with Associate Justice (Serge) Georges, Jr. of the MA Supreme Judicial Court was the best. Learning trial techniques from him and how decisions are made from someone who makes those decisions is such valuable insight.
“Professor (Kevin) Connelly, a career criminal prosecutor, taught criminal procedure and criminal law. His legal expertise and experience were the most helpful in learning the law.”
Student organizations boost professional development and build community
You are president of the Student Bar Association and are involved in many other student organizations. How do you manage it all with your studies?
"I am a member of the Black Law Students Association (BLSA) and will be representing UMass Law as a competing member of our mock trial team at the Northeast Black Law Students Association (NEBLSA) Convention and Mock Trial Competition this February. I am also a member of Delta Theta Phi, Latin American Law Students Association (LALSA), International Law Students Association (ILSA), and the First Generation Law Students Association (FGLSA).
"I am also interning for a judge at the Supreme Judicial Court in Boston this semester and I work in the law library.
"Studies always come first, but after your 1L year, you become more comfortable with the subjects and workload and can branch out. I gradually became more involved as law school progressed and I felt more confident and comfortable in my bandwidth to handle more activities. Also, taking summer classes was a great help in lightening my courseload throughout the semesters."
How has this involvement enhanced your law school experience—the benefits and the challenges?
"Involvement in student organizations gives me the opportunity to interact with students across all years. I believe this element to be essential in building community. Being a member of several student organizations allows me to see my classmates in a different setting. I have received wisdom and help from upper-level students, and hopefully have done the same for others.
"However, it can be challenging because I am constantly prioritizing several moving parts while balancing taking care of myself. Through all of this, I am certain I will be well prepared for my life moving forward!"
Have these experiences shaped you in any way as a future lawyer?
"My responsibilities as SBA president contribute heavily to how I will work as a future lawyer. I am constantly communicating with my Executive Board, the Student Bar Association Senate, faculty, and staff. It has helped me become a more effective communicator and problem solver and to appreciate the value of having difficult but necessary conversations. I am very grateful for my team as they are not only my support, but that of the entire school."
Internship at the SJC, a social service agency, and a private law firm
Just two weeks ago, St. Urbain began an internship at the MA Supreme Judicial Court, where she'll research and review cases. "I expect that working for a judge at the SJC will be a great way for me to improve my legal research and writing. Since this court hears a wide variety of cases, I will be exposed to a variety of legal subject matter and cannot wait to dive deeper into these topics."
St. Urbain was an immigration intern at Catholic Social Services and clerked at Cohen Cleary P.C., a law firm in Taunton, MA, where she explored civil litigation, family, and criminal defense. She also was a student representative in the Immigration Law Clinic.
Have you received any honors or awards at UMass Law?
"I served as the Master of Ceremonies to welcome our new Dean Sam Panarella, and I successfully processed a family's Parole in Place Application in the Immigration Law Clinic, granting them status to live and work in the U.S.!
Additionally, on behalf of the immigration clinic, Ben Alpert, another clinic student, and I accepted an award from Centro Communitario de Trabajadores (CCT) for helping members of the community gain work authorization."
Current reflections and future plans
What is one of your most memorable experiences at UMass Law?
"In my 2L summer, I took Trial Advocacy with Justice Georges. We were working with a very interesting and intricate fact pattern throughout the course, and our final exam was a simulated trial from beginning to end. Justice Georges' insight, experience, and encouragement made this course both engaging and challenging. It was a such a gift to take that course and take ownership of the material to advocate for my 'client.'"
What has been most rewarding?
"The community-based immigration clinics have been wonderfully rewarding. Since Professor Amit began coordinating with community needs, we have been able to get work authorization for members of the immigrant community. I am grateful to have served at those clinics providing immigration and Spanish translation services.
"Last fall, a group of law students helped to prescreen migrants who were living in a shelter nearby. It was wonderful to translate Spanish, French, and Haitian Creole while helping my classmates fill out the screening paperwork. It was such a gift to be able to connect with them in their native language. They had some questions at first, but as we met with them, they became more comfortable about sharing their dreams and aspirations about a life in the U.S. It was lovely to be a part of one of their first stages in the American immigration process."
Do you have any advice for future law students?
"Try as many new things as you can in law school. It is a safe place to fail and try again, and you learn more this way. Also, don't lose sight of your hobbies and what brought you joy before starting law school. These are what will keep you grounded on your stressful days. Invest in yourself outside of law school."
Do you feel prepared for your future legal career?
"I do! The practical, hands-on experience at UMass Law has given me the tools to understand what kind of lawyer I want to be, and how to seek out opportunities that make this possible."
What would you like to do when you graduate from UMass Law?
"I initially entered law school to become an immigration attorney, however, after taking the Trial Advocacy course, I am now hoping to be a trial attorney. At this point in my life I would be happy to pursue opportunities anywhere, as long as I am able to serve my community."