This year, we launched our first-ever scholarship for law students who grew up in the Hudson Valley. We’re proud to announce that Danielle Schmalz Fullam, a UConn Law student expected to graduate in 2021, won the essay contest:
My name is Danielle Schmalz Fullam, and I attended New Paltz Central Schools throughout my childhood. I am proud to call the Hudson Valley my home and my community. When I was 13 years old, I felt called to advocate for others, so I decided that one day I would be an attorney. In high school, I was the captain of the mock trial team, which I joined freshman year. I loved it! In meeting and working with many local attorneys and judges, I was inspired to further pursue my interest in law. As an undergraduate student at SUNY Geneseo, I double majored in International Relations and French, and I continued to participate in mock trial.
Through my studies, I discovered that I have a passion for human rights, and that I want to advocate for people that have experienced human rights abuses.
After graduation, I spent a year working as a legal secretary at a small criminal defense firm in Newburgh. During this time, I also volunteered as a Court Appointed Special Advocate in Ulster County. CASA is a national nonprofit organization whose mission is to help judges make informed decisions about the placements of children in foster care, since it can be intimidating, and sometimes impossible, for children to speak up in court. After 30 hours of intensive training regarding the foster care system, family court, and working with children who have experienced trauma, I was assigned a child to represent. I visited Denise* every month at her foster home, where I was careful to observe how she was bonding with her caretakers and to assess her comfort, health, and safety within the home. As Denise’s permanency hearings approached, I created reports for the judge to review. When it was discovered that Denise had some health complications, it became even more crucial that I update the family court judge with current information and provide resources to the foster family. Visiting Denise every month and having the opportunity to advocate for her brought me great joy.
Presently, I am a second year student at the University of Connecticut School of Law. I am involved with the school’s chapter of the International Refugee Assistance Project. It is an honor to work alongside my peers to serve people in need of legal assistance in the United States. After completing training throughout the fall and winter, my team and I were officially assigned a case in March 2019. We are helping our client, a Rohingya refugee residing in the United States, file a petition to bring his family to the US. Our client and his family escaped religious and ethnic genocide in their home country of Myanmar (formerly Burma); however, his family is still in a refugee camp in Asia, and he has not seen them in a few years. We expect to spend 100 hours helping him to collect the evidence he needs to file his petition.
In June 2019, I participated in a University of Connecticut School of Law service trip to an immigration detention center in Pennsylvania. We spent a week working with asylum seekers to help them prepare for their “credible fear interviews.” These interviews are crucial in establishing that the immigrants fear persecution or torture in their home countries and can lead to them being granted safe places to stay in the United States.
I returned home this summer to intern in Newburgh at Legal Services of the Hudson Valley, which offers free civil law representation to low-income clients who would otherwise be unable to afford an attorney.
According to their website, clients are twice as likely to win a housing case and two and one half times as likely to win a domestic violence case when they have an attorney to help represent them. One in five Americans qualify for free legal assistance, and when a crisis strikes, they need lawyers who will work tirelessly to help them by providing free civil representation. The outcome of a civil case has the ability to dramatically change a client’s life for better or worse, and having an attorney to help navigate the complex system can make a vital difference in the future health and safety of the client.
My specific role at LSHV was to help veterans secure housing, safe domestic situations, and public benefits. I look forward to building my professional identity as a lawyer who works hard to close the “justice gap.”
I believe the best way to fix problems in the Hudson Valley and beyond is to help others voice their experiences and needs. Whether it is a child in foster care, a refugee fleeing genocide, or an American veteran, I plan to spend my career helping others tell their unique stories, in the hope that sharing these stories will result in more understanding, and, in turn, more justice.
*Name has been changed for confidentiality reasons
Mainetti & Mainetti P.C. is a Kingston and Poughkeepsie-based personal injury law firm that pushes back against insurance companies to obtain the maximum possible compensation for accident victims. If you’ve been sustained injuries in an accident that was caused by another party, give us a call at 845-600-0000 to schedule a free consultation.