Help During the Hardest Times Mallory Kostroff ‘23L discusses her year as a student attorney in the Criminal Justice Clinic.
Mallory Kostroff ‘23L is from Westchester, New York. She attended Lafayette College where she received a B.A. in International Affairs with a minor in Religious Studies. She was also an active member in the theater community during her time at Lafayette. At W&L Law, she is the Executive Editor of the Journal of Civil Rights and Social Justice as well as a student attorney in the Criminal Justice Clinic.
Why did you choose to participate in this clinic for your 3L year?
I chose to participate in this clinic because I wanted to serve my community through direct representation of clients in criminal district courts. I really loved the idea of the clinic because it gives students the opportunity to have actual cases and clients before becoming barred attorneys.
What classes have prepared you to work in the Criminal Justice Clinic (CJC)?
During my 2L year I took Evidence, Professional Responsibility, and Criminal Procedure Adjudication and Investigation which all helped me learn how to approach every aspect of a criminal case. One of my favorite classes I have taken, Trial Advocacy with Judge Carson, provided me the confidence to appear in court and advocate for my clients effectively and zealously. Additionally, I have taken Family Law and the Advanced Family Law Practicum. I am currently in Immigration Law to learn about the different issues that affect our clients outside the criminal legal system itself. In addition, this semester I am playing one of the defendants in the Criminal Practice Practicum, which has allowed me to learn about the federal criminal legal system and return to my theater roots.
Describe your schedule with the CJC.
My schedule really depends on how close I am to my trial date. I usually get to the school around 7 am and do most of my work in the clinic because I am big fan of the conference room table we have in there. Every week we have to do 5 hours of office hours and we also have a 2 hour class on Wednesday afternoons where we have case rounds or discuss different aspects of being a criminal defense lawyer. What I will say is that every week in CJC is different. Sometimes we are traveling to see discovery, doing investigation on our cases, meeting with clients, conducting legal research for our cases, or preparing for trial by crafting our examinations and legal theories.
What are some skills you have developed this year?
One skill I have developed this year is my client counseling. Often in CJC, we are helping our clients through one of the hardest and scariest times of their lives. I have learned how to be an empathetic ear for my clients while effectively working with my client through every step of their criminal case. I have also developed my courtroom presence and how to be a zealous advocate for my clients both inside and outside of the courtroom.
What surprised you about the work you have done for the Clinic?
One thing that has surprised me is how much trust Professor King and Professor Shapiro have put in me and the other CJC student attorneys. They provide excellent guidance and support to us but at the same time let us have complete control over our cases. All our clients are really our own clients, and we have complete autonomy over how to approach our case from start to finish. While this approach terrified me at first, it has allowed me to become a more confident version of myself. I like to describe their style as they let us swim on our own, but they have a life raft that they can use to pick us up in at any moment. They have shown us that not only can we swim on our own, but that we can swim successfully on our own.
What was your favorite aspect of your work with the Clinic?
My favorite aspect of my work in this clinic is the community that we have built. I look forward to going to the clinic every day because I love working with the other student attorneys. Sometimes criminal defense work can be heavy, but knowing I have the other student attorneys to talk with about my cases or roadblocks I am having in my trial prep has been so nice. We all support each other both in clinic and non-clinic things, and I know I will keep in touch with everyone post-graduation.
What was your biggest challenge working in the Clinic?
The biggest challenge working in the clinic was learning Virginia criminal law. Most of our clients are charged with misdemeanors, which are outlined in the Virginia Code. I think the code can be incredible confusing, and often statutes lead you to other statutes which usually do not provide the clarity that you are hoping for. However, I have learned that something I really love is legal research, and I have enjoyed trying to decipher these statutes.
Has this experience helped you figure out your post graduate plans, and if so how?
This experience has reignited my love for research and writing as every single case in the clinic is a puzzle that we are trying to figure out how to put together, and we never know what the picture of the puzzle is. I plan on applying all of the skills that I have learned from the CJC and the confidence I have gained post law school.