Fulbright Scholar Joins Cincinnati Law’s LLM Program
Natia Mezvrishvili wants to bring two things back to her native country of Georgia when she finishes the LL.M. program at UC Law in May 2017: a better understanding of the US criminal justice system, and new teaching methods for her own classroom.
Prior to being selected as a Fulbright Scholar (UC Law’s first), Mezvrishvili spent most of the last decade working for the Chief Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia. She also taught classes in criminal law at several universities, including as an assistant professor at East European University in Tbilisi, Georgia. She hopes that this year-long program in Cincinnati will give her new insights and skills to use back home—as a supervisor of prosecutorial work (“quality control”) and law professor.
“The US and Georgia criminal justice systems have a lot in common,” she says. Her country’s interrogation procedures, jury selection, plea bargaining, and more are based on the US system. “That’s why I’m here,” she adds.
While Cincinnati hadn’t been on her radar before, Mezvrishvili now considers her Fulbright placement a fortuitous one. “I’m glad to be here, because the school is so practical-oriented and focused on working with students individually,” she says.
Though getting a master’s degree in the US might seem like a nice break from her full-time job, this is no carefree “year off” for Mezvrishvili. “It’s difficult being the student again,” she says, after spending so many years working and teaching others. Add the complexity of English as a second language (she also speaks native Georgian, Russian, and French), to absorbing all the case law background needed for US legal practice, and she feels like she’s working harder than ever.
Living in the US takes some adjustment, though the people and programs at Fulbright and UC Law have helped prepare Mezvrishvili well, she says. Having visited and lived in various parts of the US previously, this time around she’s fairly acclimated to life in America. “Everyone here is so open and willing to help you,” she says, from the dean to her fellow students.
Cincinnati Law Bar Results Announced; Students Exceed State Average by 15%
Today the results of the July 2016 Ohio Bar Exam were released and the University of Cincinnati College of Law, recognized as a “Best Value Law School” by National Jurist and preLaw magazines, recorded an 86 percent passage rate for all Cincinnati Law exam takers, second among Ohio’s law schools and 15 percentage points higher than the state-wide average of 70.5 percent. These numbers put the law school two percentage points behind our nearest competitor in Ohio and 10 percentage points ahead of all other Ohio law schools.
The passage rate for Cincinnati Law first-time takers also was 86 percent, second in the state. This rate exceeds the state-wide average passing rate of 76 percent. Almost 1,000 aspiring attorneys from across the state and the country took the July exam.
In addition, for those out-of-state jurisdictions that have released their outcomes, Class of 2016 results are very strong, representing a 90% pass rate, including a 100% pass rate in Indiana, Montana and West Virginia.
“Passing the bar exam is one of the singular events in every lawyer’s professional life and I warmly congratulate our students and everyone else who passed the Ohio Bar examination,” said Cincinnati Law’s Dean Jennifer S. Bard.
“Although in the end passing the bar exam is a test of an individual student’s knowledge, stamina, and analytical ability, it starts with strong teaching and support that our Cincinnati Law students get from every faculty and staff member. We have had a great year here and it reflects a truly exceptional group of faculty, staff and students strongly supported by the faculty, staff, students, and trustees of the University of Cincinnati. Thank you to everyone who has worked so hard to help our students succeed. Go Bearcats!”
Applicants who successfully passed the examination and who satisfied all of the Supreme Court’s other requirements for admission will be admitted on November 7, 2016 at 10:30 a.m. during a special session of the Supreme Court at the historic Ohio Theatre in Columbus, OH. The session will be streamed live via the Supreme Court and Ohio Channel websites at www.supremecourt.ohio.gov and www.ohiochannel.org. It will also be available statewide on the Ohio Channel’s local public broadcasting stations.
Recognized as a Best Value Law School, College of Law Receives A- Grade
University of Cincinnati College of Law cited by two publications for affordability, employment outcomes, and other factors.
Cincinnati, OH—The University of Cincinnati College of Law stands out as a consistent leader providing quality affordable legal education. Cincinnati Law has earned an A- level recognition and listing as a “Best Value Law School” by National Jurist magazine for the fourth consecutive year and preLaw magazine for the third consecutive year.
Ranked #60 by U.S. News & World Report—positioning it among the top 50 public law schools in the nation—Cincinnati Law’s “Best Value” accomplishment is indicative of the exciting changes happening at the law school. Notably, this fall first year enrollment saw a 26% increase over 2015, which had a 38% increase in enrollment. The college’s Ohio Innocence Project/Lois and Richard Rosenthal Institute for Justice recently received a $15 million gift from benefactor Richard Rosenthal, the largest for the college and any innocence program in the country, which will provide for the program in perpetuity. And the University of Cincinnati Board of Trustees approved monies to fund a concept design for a new building, development of a probable cost for new construction and a relocation study while construction is underway.
“Our consistent recognition as a top 40 “Best Value” law school reflects a Cincinnati Law degree’s high return on investment,” says College of Law Dean Jennifer S. Bard, Nippert Professor of Law. “Our students succeed at the highest level in passing the bar and in getting good jobs while at the same time enjoying low debt levels that reflect our affordable tuition and the low cost of living in our region. We are honored to be recognized and proud of our students, faculty, staff, and alumni. We are also fortunate to be part of such a successful research university which enhances the value of our students’ education.”
How the ranking is determined:
Each year, the magazines release rankings of law schools across the nation, identifying those schools where graduates have excellent chances of passing the bar and getting a legal job without taking on a significant debt. Rankings are based on several determining factors:
- bar passage
- employment success
- cost of living in the surrounding communities
Looking at Cincinnati Law’s numbers, 80.7% of 2015 graduates obtained full-time, JD-required jobs within 10 months of graduation. The law school beat the state’s average, ranking second in Ohio as 88% of first-time takers passed the July 2015 Ohio Bar Exam; and ranking first in the state in the state as 76% of takers passed the February 2016 Bar Exam. And, the school has actively worked to reduce student debt by introducing a low tuition rate program ($24K), reciprocity programs with surrounding counties, and low non-resident tuition fees.
Several Cincinnati Law programs have been recognized for excellence:
- Public Interest/Criminal Law. The law school is ranked an A- school for students interested in public interest law or criminal law, based on the depth of our curricular offerings.
- Business/Corporate Law. The law school is ranked an A- school for students interested in business or corporate law, based on the depth of our curricular offerings.
- Prosecutorial/Public Defender Work. Cincinnati Law was named among the top 20 schools for law students interested in prosecutorial/public defender work.
- Prosecutor/Public Defender Careers. The law school was ranked third in the nation for prosecutor and public defender careers, based on the percentage of graduates who landed jobs in public interest and government positions combined.
- Learning By Doing. For the third consecutive year we have been named a top school for practical training, a testament to the work and impact of the Entrepreneurship and Community Development Clinic.
New School Year Begins as Cincinnati Law’s Enrollment Continues to Grow
Cincinnati, OH— Cincinnati Law launched the 2016-2017 academic year with one of its largest classes in recent years — 127 JD students enrolled as of August 22, 2016. This represents a 26% increase in class size over 2015; Not only is this group the biggest class entering the law school since 2010, it is also representative of a six percent increase in applications over the past year.
The LLM (master’s degree) program for internationally-trained attorneys and law graduates also continues to grow. Now in its fifth year, the LLM program boasts 18 attorney students, including several individuals who have returned for additional training and certificates.
Significantly, this year’s class includes a record number of students with degrees from the University of Cincinnati. In fact, the number of students matriculating from the university has doubled, compared to last year. Twenty-five are double Bearcats and three are triple Bearcats! In total, the first-year students represent 62 undergraduate institutions.
A Look at their Backgrounds
Several are citizens of foreign countries: Canada, Colombia, and the United Kingdom. And, the class includes native speakers of Russian, Kurdish, Spanish, Telugu (language native to India) and Akan (language native to Ghana).
Though many are recent graduates from undergraduate institutions, some come to law school after careers in other impressive fields. One is a medical doctor, a farm manager, an NFL cheerleader, an environmental research engineer with the EPA, a (former) women’s pro basketball player in Europe, and a criminal justice professor. One is a former UC mascot, and another is an American Idol pre-show finalist!
They are veterans of the Armed Forces, including a Marine Corps Sergeant and a Corporal, and an Air Force Lieutenant Colonel. Some are college athletes, excelling in women’s soccer, women’s and men’s basketball, rugby, volleyball, dance and golf. And, they enjoy giving back to the community through service with Teach for America, International Justice Mission, the Ronald McDonald House, the March of Dimes, Relay for Life, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, among many other philanthropic organizations.
Most (59%) are Ohio residents; 41% are non-Ohio residents and come from 21 states. The Class of 2019 has spent significant time studying abroad and/or has international experiences in places like Vietnam, France, England, Tanzania, Spain, Portugal, New Zealand, Ireland, India, Nicaragua, and Belize.
Law School Welcomes 18 LLM Students
The LLM program, Cincinnati Law’s master degree program for foreign-trained attorneys, continues to expand. This year’s participants come from 10 countries: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, India, Uganda, Estonia, France, the Republic of Georgia, Ghana, the Philippines, and China. The professional careers of the attorney students include positions as a lecturer in Saudi Arabia; an intern for the Supreme Court in Amman, Jordan; the president/CEO of Global One, Inc., an organization with links entrepreneurs in Africa with investors in the US; and judicial clerk for a senior judge at the Delhi High Court in New Delhi. And, this year’s class also includes the school’s first Fulbright Scholar.
Their areas of interest are varied and include criminal law, human rights, international arbitration, intellectual property law, and environmental and immigration law.
A Champion for Housing Equality in Cincinnati
Second year student Tim Lynch's summer experience involved fighting against unfair housing practices in Cincinnati.
“[The work] is interesting and sometimes it’s really sad. If we solve one issue, another one comes to light,” Lynch said about his summer externship with Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME).
While he initially thought not a lot would be going on at a small nonprofit, Lynch has been proved wrong.
He was hard at work promoting HOME’s mission, which is to “eliminate unlawful discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, national origin, gender/sex, family status, physical disability, and/or mental disability.”
The mission is wide-reaching, and can sound nearly impossible, but Lynch worked with the rest of the HOME staff to realize it, one person at a time.
With a wide assortment of day-to-day duties, Lynch oftentimes saw himself pulled into various projects at the office. He worked at HOME’s call-line, which tenants use to ask questions about their rights as well as what their landlords can do. HOME also gives presentations - including an upcoming continuing legal education course - to landlords and real-estate companies, explaining owners’ and tenants’ rights, and new laws that may affect business.
“It was great for me because I could get up and speak publicly to people who actually care about the subject,” he said about presentations, one of his favorite parts of the job.
While he has loved his time at HOME, fair housing is not a path he first imagined himself going down.
Attending the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Lynch studied criminology, intending to pursue law enforcement after graduation. His mindset gradually changed over those four years due to a combination of world events and the influence of his uncle, who works as a detective. Lynch often turned to his uncle for advice about law enforcement careers, and eventually was advised that becoming involved with the legal system could be a good move; it would allow interaction with the criminal justice system while still opening more doors.
Ultimately, Lynch saw himself in law school. During his first year, he was surprised to find that he enjoyed his contracts and property law classes even more than his criminal law course. He became involved with the Tenant Information Project (TIP) and Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA), which provide legal information to callers concerning landlord/tenant laws and assist low- and middle-income and elderly persons prepare tax returns. These organizations allowed Lynch to be hands-on for the first time, something he relished.
His time spent at TIP, and a negative experience with a landlord while in undergrad, pushed him towards working at HOME. Since he began his work there, he has learned a lot.
Since its inception in 1959, HOME has been fighting against racial discrimination in housing. While that hasn’t gone away, Lynch said, it’s not the most prevalent issue in Cincinnati housing anymore. Now, the organization has turned its focus to discrimination against families, those with disabilities, and sexual orientation.
Initially, Lynch believed the majority of disability discrimination would stem from landlords not wanting to knock down the old, narrow buildings that are so prevalent in Cincinnati. But that was just the tip of the iceberg.
One of HOME’s main priorities is working toward reasonable accommodation and reasonable modification requests, which involve a change of policy in order to help the tenant. For example, if a tenant has PTSD and wants to get a therapy dog for emotional support, but the landlord has a no-pets policy, the tenant has the right to file a request.
HOME is engaged in such a battle right now with a family in Blue Ash.
The Anderson family obtained a miniature horse to help their sixteen-year-old daughter move more easily. She is nonverbal and cannot easily move, along with several other disabilities, and requires someone to be with her 24/7. This miniature horse was providing a small bit of independence for her.
The City of Blue Ash, however, views the horse as livestock, and requires the family to pay a livestock fee, something HOME has filed a reasonable accommodation request against. The legal battle has spanned three years now; while HOME lost at the district court level, they were able to get a date for their appeal to be heard. Unfortunately, that’s not until early 2017.
“Her mother just broke down at one point, saying, ‘I’m just so sick of going through all these legal battles. I don’t understand why the city can’t just let us have this miniature horse,’” remembered Lynch. “They’re just such a great family, and it’s a shame because you wanted to give them the world and help them out. All they want is for this legal battle to be over.”
While working at HOME has opened Lynch’s eyes to sometimes difficult perspectives and situations, he plans to continue this work in his future career. Whether he continues work with fair housing authorities from an office or pro-bono, he is looking forward to committing himself to the mission of fair housing.
Author: Michelle Flanagan, ‘18, Communication Intern
The Path from Information Technology to Researching Unanswerable Questions
Third-year student Jerad Whitt came to law after realizing he was craving something more than his undergraduate education could give him. Now, he’s spending the summer working with the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).
Whitt grew up in Lexington and attended the University of Kentucky, studying sociology. When he entered the workforce, it was in project management and information technology (IT). His first job at Contingent Network Services centered around coordinating schedules and hiring contractors for short-term projects. Next, he moved on to Christ Hospital Health Network, where he was in charge of doing large-scale IT roll-outs.
After three years of working in that vein, Whitt realized he needed more. He began talking to friends and family, those who were attorneys as well as those who had decided against it, to figure out what he wanted to do next.
Law school, Whitt determined, would fit his skill set while still providing an intellectual challenge. Law required more precision, and the generality of project management was something he wanted to get away from.
“I like the act of creating something like you do in law school,” said Whitt of his decision.
When Whitt interviewed with TTB, he had already developed an interest in working for the federal government. His first externship was at the state level in the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, so he was looking to gain a fresh perspective.
TTB’s responsibilities include “enforcing the provisions of the Federal Alcohol Administration Act (FAA Act) to ensure that only qualified persons engage in the alcohol beverage industry. We are responsible for enforcing the laws regulating alcohol production, importation, and wholesale businesses; tobacco manufacturing and importing businesses; and alcohol labeling and advertising.”
An additional draw to the TTB was that it is an executive agency, and deals with an aspect of the law that many people aren’t knowledgeable about.
So far, Whitt has thoroughly enjoyed his work. His main responsibility is researching the interpretation of statutes and regulations. Because the TTB is an executive agency, it typically does not deal with cases once they reach the litigation point, meaning that Whitt has not written any motions or other court documents.
“I’ve enjoyed the complex issues I’ve been asked to research. I usually get questions about issues that don’t have a lot of precedent, so you sometimes have to stretch what you can find to apply to your argument,” said Whitt.
These issues have included things such as how the interpretation of statutes dealing with tobacco producers and export warehouses governs a company’s trade practices. Whitt is tasked with determining what positions are supportable and what may open the company up to an arbitrary and capricious ruling.
“When I talk about it out loud it sounds dry, but it’s not! It’s fun!” laughed Whitt.
To him, the most challenging aspect of the job is the flip side of the same coin.
Because many of the cases have no precedent, determining where to take the argument next can be complicated. In those cases, Whitt works until he hits a wall, and then turns to his coworkers for help.
“Sometimes you get questions that there’s not an answer to,” said Whitt, “and that can be frustrating.”
Viewing this experience as a whole, Whitt has no regrets. Rather than working in the typically-portrayed courtroom and trial setting, he has been exposed to the practical application of the law in a government setting.
“I’ve gotten to see the thought process behind statutory enforcement,” said Whitt. “Whether I end up working in government or in-house, I have exposure to how people who are responsible for statutes read and interpret them, and that’s going to be beneficial.”
Author: Michelle Flanagan, ‘18, Communication Intern
Gaining Experience at the National Labor Relations Board
Cincinnati Law student Jackie Miller’s commute may have been to downtown Cincinnati this summer, but she was working on a national scale as part of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The NLRB is an independent federal agency which holds the power to protect employees’ rights to organize and have unions as a bargaining representative, and works to prevent unfair labor practices.
This opportunity allowed Miller to get her feet wet and use her “skills and desires for order and logic to affect positive change”, a major reason she decided to go to law school. Although she has a year before graduation, this summer will help her discover if she wants to continue pursuing work in labor law and government.
“I was looking forward to seeing what working for the government was like, to see what other people thought of it, and I’m always interested in real life experiences,” she said about this job. “You hear a lot of stories about workers, their employers, and their unions, and then you get to see how a government agency handles those cases according to its own statute and case law.”
Miller did more than simply watching from the sidelines. She investigated her own cases regarding unfair labor practices under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). At work day-to-day, she learned about the NLRA, took affidavits, wrote letters to attorneys and representatives, and researched issues that come up in the office that noone was quite sure how to handle.
The NLRB is housed in the John Weld Peck Federal Building, giving her opportunities to learn about other agencies as well, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Department of Homeland Security’s Citizenship and Immigration Services. Although the knowledge she gained about the NLRA may be considered niche, it is absolutely useful for labor attorneys.
She noted the parallels to the classroom as well. “Real life experience is usually pretty great for putting schoolwork into perspective as well. You understand better why your professor emphasized what he or she did, and you become aware of new issues.”
For Miller, the most rewarding part of law school has been the challenges both in and out of the classroom, forcing her out of her comfort zone. “It’s not easy for everyone to be assertive, somewhat outspoken, manage time and work, maintain confidence, be resilient, and become smarter,” she said, pointing to growth she has seen in herself both personally and professionally.
Author: Michelle Flanagan, ‘18, Communication Intern
Going Home to Hometown to Fight for the Environment
3L Stephen Kelly returned to Pittsburgh, Pa. to fight against environmental violations in his own backyard.
“Being away for two years, there’s something about coming back to my roots that was appealing to me,” said Stephen Kelly about his work this summer with the Center for Coalfield Justice.
Kelly returned to his hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania this summer as an intern with the Center for Coalfield Justice, whose mission is “to improve policy and regulations for the oversight of fossil fuel extraction and use; to educate, empower, and organize coalfield citizens; and to protect public and environmental health.” Southwest Pennsylvania has been a hotbed for environmental issues in recent years, a result of coal pollution, oil and gas companies, and fracking, creating vast opportunities for environmental workers.
Although he earned his undergraduate degree from Duquesne University in economics, law school was tugging at the back of Kelly’s mind since his second year, when he enrolled in a business law course. Drawn in by the professor, and the material, which provided a change-of-pace from his typical courses, he determined to begin law school after his graduation.
Kelly rather stumbled into his love for environmental law during his 2L year when he took environmental law classes with Professor Brad Mank. Knowing that he wanted to return to Pennsylvania after graduation, Kelly conducted personal research to find markets that were accepting applications in the area.
“It’s a very niche market; it’s not huge in Pittsburgh, so it was kind of tough to find a job,” said Kelly of environmental work, noting that he was lucky to get the job he has. “I think I got my application in the last week,” he laughed.
Kelly has gained a unique perspective to two sides of environmental law. The Center, a 501c3 nonprofit, operates as a half environmental litigation and half community organizing/ education/outreach organization. Currently, the Center is involved in litigation against an energy company, which kept the office busy all summer. While the summer was hectic, it was great for Kelly to gain experience working directly under a staff attorney, allowing him to learn what that position entails.
Additionally, Kelly has gotten to work with lobbying efforts in places such as Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and climate action rallies as well as network with various organizations, both big and small. The most rewarding part of the job, however, has been seeing his own work filed in comments and getting down to the “nitty gritty” of regulations.
“Part of what we do is go in the Pennsylvania bulletin of notices and permits and make comments; we get to do our own research on environmental regulation which eventually get edited and go to the Pennsylvania Environmental Protection Agency,” Kelly explained. “Getting to do my own research, seeing part of my work submitted to a governmental organization, and seeing them address some of our concerns, has been something I’ve really enjoyed.”
Like many jobs, Kelly said it is easy to become frustrated with people. Because of his independent research, he has dealt with many departments of environmental protection. In theory, these departments should be enraged upon learning about a plethora of violations, but it can seem like they don’t take it seriously enough. Usually, it’s simply a fact of being stretched too thin, either with money or time, something Kelly has been working to wrap his head around.
The people in the office, however, have only reaffirmed to Kelly that he is on the right path. He has become even more interested in a future working in environmental policy, and feels he could do a lot of good in the Southwest Pennsylvania area after graduation. The work, Kelly said, is something he deeply cares about, proving that being drawn back to your roots can help you grow.
Author: Michelle Flanagan, ‘18, Communication Intern
Small Organization. Big Goals. Kalisa's Experience with the NHLA
Kalisa Mora spent her summer with the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda.
“It’s possible for a small army to make a big impact,” said Kalisa Mora about what she’s learned at her summer fellowship with the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA).
Mora, a second-generation Mexican-American immigrant, grew up in a small town in Oklahoma’s panhandle, surrounded by a Hispanic community. A first-hand witness of various hardships - financial or otherwise -, Mora said she became accustomed to individual struggling. Her decision to pursue law school was borne from her passion to help others, and a desire to become a credible resource for those in need.
While looking for summer experiences that would align with her future goals, Mora focused on policy work in the Washington, D.C. area. She stumbled into the NHLA, an organization she had never heard of, along the way.
“I started looking at their mission and I realized it was kind of perfect for what I want to do, because I want to work with immigration policy and their agenda is to look at all policy areas,” said Mora, who describes the NHLA as a big community.
NHLA’s mission “calls for unity among Latinos across the country to provide the Hispanic community with greater visibility and a clearer, stronger influence in our country’s affairs.” NHLA also works to bring Hispanic leaders together to help establish policies regarding major issues affecting the Latino community and the nation.
Mora’s responsibilities as a fellow were wide-ranging, and she learned a lot about time management and flexibility while on the job. She conducted interviews for an initiative that addresses the lack of Latinos in public service;wrote press releases and blog entries about recent Supreme Court case rulings, and how they specifically impact Latinos.
Because NHLA is a non-partisan organization, the writing that Mora did must be non-partisan as well, something she had to work at.
“I’m definitely not 'non-partisan' myself, so learning how to write press releases and blogs staying neutral has been challenging,” she said.
Separating personal views from professional ones can be hard at any time, but particularly so during a charged election year. Although the political fighting has not been as bad in D.C. as Mora expected - she suspects that’s because candidates don’t go to D.C. while campaigning - it has given her a unique perspective, and the chance to learn things she doesn’t believe she would have if it were not an election year.
Mora spent time at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland and the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. At both conventions, the NHLA hosted several events and partnered with several other organizations as well.
Their presidential engagement campaign allows the NHLA to sit down with both candidates and highlight what is important to the Latino community. This information benefits both parties; Latino communities can have their voices heard, and candidates learn what policies they need to implement to gain Hispanic voters.
Working at a non-partisan organization has reinforced the importance of working across the table for Mora. Having attended the conventions, and seeing the divisiveness that some people thrive off of, has been an eye-opening experience.
“I’ve learned how to look at a situation from any and all sides, and evaluate any possibility, which will help me when I return to school,” said Mora. Outside of the classroom, this fellowship has given her a clearer idea of what she wants to do. Working at the intersection between policy and law, Mora hopes to evaluate the impact on everyday Americans and their communities, and advocate for policy change to benefit citizens.
Mora credits her parents with first setting her on this determined path; growing up watching them work diligently in the community, and going above and beyond on the call of service, made her aspire to work that hard as well.
“A quote from Nelson Mandela states, ‘There is no passion to be found in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living’ has been a guiding path for my career,” said Mora. “It’s important to me to use my life and knowledge of policy and law to speak for those who don’t have a voice at the table.”
Author: Michelle Flanagan, ‘18, Communication Intern
Advocacy and the Sentencing Project
The war on drugs has been a hot topic in America for about as long as most people can remember. Whatever the stance, everyone has heard about it.
3L Zack Eckles is one of the people trying to address those failed policies, and spent his summer in Washington, D.C. working with the Sentencing Project.
The Sentencing Project is an organization that works toward a fair criminal system, promotes reforms in sentencing policy, and fights racial disparities in the carceral system.
Eckles has always been interested in social justice issues. In fact, he worked as a field canvasser for groups such as Working American and Ohio Citizen Action in the year between the end of his undergraduate education and the start of law school. During that time, he realized he would be able to make more of an impact if he attended law school. But his interest in the "war on drugs," and drug policies in America, started long before his enrollment at Cincinnati Law.
Every summer during his undergraduate years, Eckles would return home to Morrow, Ohio, and help a family friend do hay baling and sacking.
“One summer when I came home I found out he had developed a crack cocaine addiction, and he was really struggling,” Eckles remembered. “I spent a lot of time with him that summer, and it really opened my eyes to the failure of the war on drugs, and how those policies can make a situation worse rather than better.”
Although he initially felt upset with what he perceived were unfair policies concerning the “war on drugs,” after conducting his own research he realized the entire criminal justice system has issues that need to be addressed. After his first year of law school, he interned with the Ohio Justice and Policy Center, an organization that does similar work to the Sentencing Project.
During his internship at the Sentencing Project, Eckles researched state statutes regarding life sentencing and life without parole, discovering when states passed those statutes - not every state has one - and what the motivation behind it was.
In addition to his research, he wrote for the Rights and Justice News Center and attended meetings and conference calls with staff members who did more of the advocacy work, a side he has enjoyed seeing.
He was able to sit on conference calls with state policy advocate Nicole Porter. Porter works to bring multiple groups across state lines together to pass criminal justice reform bills. Eckles has also observed Jeremy Hale, a federal policy advocate, who does similar work. Hale’s meetings have consisted of several federal organizations who devise a plan on how to get policy reforms completed. The time spent with Porter and Hale has given him the opportunity to see reform work at two different levels, a unique experience.
“It’s interesting to talk about how politics of the coalition work, and how a lot of these organizations are allies but they also compete for funding,” said Eckles. “It was great to see them work together and get a better understanding of the dynamics at work when they work together.”
Although there have been fewer differences between his work experience in DC and Cincinnati than he expected, this externship provided Eckels with a clearer image of the path he’d like to take after law school. Eventually, he would like to be in a position similar to Porter or Hale’s: being an advocate. Until then, this experience has helped refocus him for the school year.
“I don’t like the fact that in school you’re not really working for something other than yourself,” said Eckles. “But actually my experiences have served as a reminder of why I’m going to school.”
Author: Michelle Flanagan, ‘18, Communication Intern