By Janet Sully, Class of 2014
Janet is a 2L at William & Mary Law School. She has a B.A. in Education from St. Olaf College in Minnesota, and has previously worked as an educator with Reaching Our Goals, Upward Bound, and Covenant House. After law school, Janet hopes to provide legal representation for youth in foster care.
As an educator, when searching for the right law school, I hoped to find a place where I could develop the ability to use my current skills and knowledge in a legal capacity to better serve my clients. Although I expected my classes and volunteer work to provide me with appropriate experiences, I have been pleasantly surprised by the unique opportunities provided through my Graduate Research Fellowship (GRF) at William & Mary Law School.
One of the most exciting research projects in which I have participated through my GRF involved the design of teleconferencing rooms for remote Social Security Administration (SSA) hearings. Throughout the project, I worked with classmates whose backgrounds included everything from statistics to filmmaking, and teleconferencing to room design. My background as a teacher allowed me to effectively contribute to the research project by focusing on the disability accommodations required by the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as teleconferencing logistics that can impact various aspects of communication between the appellant and the administrative law judge at SSA hearings.
Through my work on this research project, I also had the opportunity to work closely with faculty, benefitting from their knowledge and guidance in completing the research and in writing up the final proposal. In fact, one professor with whom I worked on the project has continued to act as a mentor throughout my law school experience, and I have recently begun a separate research project in collaboration with him regarding accessible language and the legal code of Virginia.
Although I enjoyed the larger process of completing my GRF research on teleconferencing, the project truly came full circle for me during the summer of my 1L year during my internship at Bay Area Legal Aid. There, I spent part of my summer successfully representing one of my clients at an SSA appellate hearing. When the administrative law judge issued a bench decision in favor of my client, the client grabbed my hand and began to cry. As a summer law clerk, I was incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to work successfully with such an amazing client. As a Graduate Research Fellow at William & Mary, I was similarly fortunate to have had the chance to participate in the conversation to make SSA hearings like this more accessible to individuals all over the country.