After spending her first year of law school remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Janay Davidson, JD candidate ’23 made sure to take advantage of the many opportunities offered at UMass Law as soon as she arrived on campus as a 2L. She serves as a Public Interest Law Fellow (PILF), participated in the Immigration Law Clinic, and interned at the Rhode Island Public Defender’s Office. Recently, Davidson and her UMass Law team advanced to the final round of the ABA’s client counseling competition.
She credits UMass Law for preparing her for her new position at the Legal Aid Society in New York City, where she’ll begin work after graduation as a public defender in one of the city’s boroughs.
"I feel I’m ready, I’m prepared to step out into the real world,” said Davidson, a native of East Orange, NJ. "I have connected with the right people and gained the experience I need for my Legal Aid job. I can speak in a courtroom, and I acquired the right experience in my classes, clinic, and internship.”
Daughter of immigrants aspired to make her parents proud
"I’ve wanted to go to law school since I was 11 or 12 years old,” said Davidson, who majored in Law and Society at Ramapo College of New Jersey. "My parents are immigrants from Guyana. There's a pressure in many underprivileged foreign households to aim for some sort of elite career. And while my parents would have supported me regardless of the route I chose, I always felt that pressure to make them proud. When I was younger, my parents would tell me I should become a lawyer because I loved to argue with my brothers and I was constantly watching ‘Law and Order’ for the scenes in court. I knew I had found my passion when I had the opportunity to participate in a mock trial in middle school, which turned out to be such a determining factor for me.
"Becoming a lawyer is a combination of making my parents proud and enjoying the thrill of being in court and the thrill of arguing. I’m finally going to be a lawyer.”
As a Public Interest Law Fellow, Davidson received a 50% scholarship to attend UMass Law in exchange for four years of employment in public interest law after graduation.
"I’ve always been interested in public service and serving underrepresented communities. The PILF program helped to make UMass Law a good financial decision and a good choice for what I want to do.”
UMass Law offered many opportunities
"UMass Law opened a lot of doors for me. I’ve had opportunities to work with professors and network. I got experience in classes, my clinic, and internship,” said Davidson.
"It was hard for me to ask for help at first. I got better at talking to people and getting advice in person. It’s been a great help on my law school journey.”
Davidson had the opportunity to spend part of her semester working on her own legal research supervised by Professor Kevin Connelly. Her topic focuses on prejudice in the jury selection process. "It's a topic I'm interested in and really ties in with my own passion in the law. I like to analyze the components of our justice system and jury selection plays a huge part in the outcomes of criminal cases.
"Professor Connelly really encourages me to dive in with my research and I've been grateful for the opportunity to work with him."
Davidson credits her advisor, Prof. Hillary Farber, for helping her through law school. "She’s my guardian angel. Anytime I needed someone to talk to, I went to her. She gave me raw, uncut advice. She’s definitely the person who had the greatest impact on me.”
Real-world public defender experience
One of Davidson’s most formative experiences was as a Rule 9 student attorney at the RI Public Defender’s Office, where she was immersed in the work of an office attorney in District Court while supervised by an experienced lawyer.
“I met with clients, negotiated with prosecutors, litigated trials, and presented cases to judges,” said Davidson. “The Public Defender’s Office deals with the whole state so we were very busy.”
The majority of her caseload involved domestic violence, theft, and driving violations. “It was an eye-opening experience with domestic violence. You think you know what happens in a situation, but that’s not the case all the time. There are so many reasons why someone gets arrested for domestic violence.”
Davidson believes that experience helped her land her position as a public defender. “They were very impressed with my experience litigating trials,” she said. “Having that job prepared me to feel confident in the courtroom and to interact with people who are not having their best day. I will take that experience and confidence with me to New York.”
UMass Law involvement helped to build legal skills
Davidson is involved in student organizations as the historian for the Black Law Students Association and as the student representative on the search committee for a new criminal law professor.
She also participated in the Immigration Law Clinic, one of five law clinics available to UMass Law students to gain hands-on experience working with underserved clients in the community. “It’s really impactful work. I’m very glad I chose to do that clinic. I ended up doing immigration work for a pro bono organization. I worked on a heartbreaking case and the client was so thankful. I’m really glad that the clinic put me in a position to meet her and help her with her asylum case.”
Davidson and her team advanced to the finals of the ABA’s client counseling competition this semester, where a team of students advises their “client” on a mock case. “I really enjoyed the experience; it was a great skill-building competition. Negotiating and meeting with clients as well as analysis and being able to solve problems efficiently are skills lawyers will have to know in practice,” Davidson said.
“I loved working with our team. We had a really great group that included Katherine McCormick, Kevin Lefrancois, and our alternate Anna Harvey. It forces you to think on your feet. It forces you to try to reach a peaceful resolution. You can take those skills into your job wherever you go.”
Favorite UMass Law memory was made in her hardest class
Davidson’s favorite UMass Law memory occurred during her Secured Transactions class with Professor Michael Hillinger. "It felt like I was always on call in that class, which had me in a constant state of paranoia! However, this class has been one of my favorites here at UMass Law due to the camaraderie emitted by my fellow classmates. Whenever anyone answered a tough question, everyone would clap or stand up. One time, I answered a question about inventory and the class gave me a standing ovation. We liked Professor Hillinger so much that we gave him a standing ovation at the last class.
“I really appreciate a good professor. It makes the class enjoyable when they’re easy to talk to.”
Advice for future law students: “Don’t be afraid to take risks”
Davidson offers practical advice for future law students. “Don’t be afraid to take risks and dive in,” she said. “Make connections with faculty and others in the law school. It’s important to access opportunities that are here for you. It will open a whole new world. Take advantage of everything the school has to offer. Once you take that step, it makes your UMass Law experience all the better.
“Dean (of Students) Julie Cahill helps with everything you might need. Get help, join organizations, participate in a clinic. Reach out to faculty who are working in a field you are interested in.”
After graduation, Davidson will study for the New York bar exam. Before beginning her job in September, she’s taking time for some fun; her friends from home and UMass Law are joining her on a trip to Bali.