Career Paths: Ember Eyster ’15L
Ember Eyster ’15L, from Bonita Springs, FL, is a graduate of the University of Florida. She is a student attorney in the Criminal Justice Clinic. After graduation, she will join the Metropolitan Public Defender’s Office in Nashville.
Why are you interested in a career in criminal law?
One of my many wise professors, Judy Clarke, said, “None of us, including those accused of a crime, wants to be defined by the worst moment, or worst day of our lives.” I believe she is absolutely right. Everyone has a story to tell. I want to tell the stories of those who are made small and voiceless by an intimidating and defective criminal justice system.
What/who were you most influential classes/professors related to that interest?
I found Professor Jon Shapiro to be the most influential professor during my law school experience. I remember one of the first times I heard Professor Shapiro speak at any length. It was during my 1L summer; he was recounting his first death penalty case. Professor Shapiro’s client had been executed almost 22 years earlier. While telling the story of his efforts to save the life of Mr. Wilbert Evans, it was strikingly apparent that after 40-some years practicing criminal defense, Professor Shapiro maintained his fervor. When Professor Shapiro reached the point in the story where Mr. Evans was executed, he hesitated, visibly choked up. I have heard the story of Mr. Evans two more times since that day. Each time I am struck by the passion and raw emotion of Professor Shapiro. For anyone considering a career in criminal defense, burnout is a concern. Professor Shapiro seems, amazingly, to pour his heart into his work even after decades. His passion and dedication are contagious. Professor Shapiro has supported my development as an aspiring criminal defense attorney by educating me on the ins and outs of criminal law and procedure, and sharing stories and words of wisdom.
Where will you be working following graduation?
After graduation, I’m moving to Nashville and joining the Metropolitan Public Defender’s Office. I could not be more excited! As an assistant public defender, I’ll be appointed to represent clients who are indigent and facing criminal charges.
In what ways did the school help with your job search and success?
W&L has undoubtedly helped me in both big and small ways in my job search. The school began helping me before I even committed to attend. While in the midst of the grueling decision-making process, I was put in contact with a W&L Law alumnus in my field of interest, criminal law. As someone who didn’t know any attorneys, let alone any criminal defense attorneys, that was the beginning of what would ultimately become a very helpful network. And when that alumnus came to town, he tracked me down via post-it notes and postponed his return trip home to take me to lunch.
Once enrolled, I relied on the Office of Career Strategy (OCS). When I needed a cover letter or thank you note proofread, one of the fabulous people in OCS managed to provide me feedback within days, sometimes hours. When the scheduled time for my phone interview passed with no call, OCS helped ease my mind and advised me of proper protocol. I popped in and out of OCS for quick advice more times than I can count.
All of the components of the job search are vital and complementary, but perhaps most importantly, the school has prepared me for my career. Through the third-year program, I have spent my 3L year representing individuals charged with misdemeanor offenses. I have interviewed witnesses, met with clients, drafted agreements, and tried cases from beginning to end. I was able to do this with feedback and support from both my peers and professor. This practical experience was a major selling point during the interview process for my post-grad job. In fact, I interviewed just days after representing a client charged with assault and battery. The interviewers were eager to talk about the experience and what I learned from it. They were also impressed with the freedom I had to develop the strategy in my case and conduct all portions of the trial.