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Skadden Winner Determined to Be Heard

Law School Alumna Janet Stocco ’03 found her future calling while teaching in a Houston inner-city school under Teach for America, a program that places outstanding college graduates in low-income rural and urban communities. Leaving her doctoral work in genetics at Harvard behind for two years, she discovered she loved teaching, but to her dismay found that teachers are given little respect outside and sometimes even inside the classroom. More importantly, teachers can not make substantive policy-based decisions that affect a broad swath of students. But “people pay attention when you have ‘J.D.’ after your name,” she said — and she wanted people to pay attention to what she had to say.

A few years, an M.A., and J.D. later, policymakers’ ears better perk up. Stocco was recently awarded the Skadden Fellowship, one of just 25 given each year by law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom to graduating law students and outgoing law clerks, which she will use to work for the Education Law Center in Philadelphia on issues affecting Pennsylvania’s foster children. The Fellowship was established to honor public service work and offers fellows $37,500 plus benefits for one year, with the expectation that it will be renewed for a second year.

Past fellows have provided legal services to the poor, elderly, homeless, and disabled; fought for human rights and civil rights; and worked on economic development and community renewal, according to the firm.

Stocco, currently a law clerk for the Honorable Carolyn Dineen King, Chief Judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, said she was amazed she received the award, and excited to begin her work at the Center in the fall. “I’m going to continue working on education issues, but from a lawyer’s perspective,” she said.

The Education Law Center works to promote children’s access to education rights, protect rights to special education, and find solutions to education issues affecting low-income students. As a law student Stocco researched for the Center on a pro bono basis, but as a Skadden Fellow she will directly advocate for clients, something the policy think tank doesn’t usually have the staff for. “This does require one person at a time to help each kid out,” she said. Her advocacy experience will likely inform the Center’s policy work as well. “They’ll have information on where the kinks in the system are that need to be worked out,” she said.

Stocco once considered specializing in patent law because of her background in genetics, but “I had a strong desire to become a child advocate before coming to law school … [and] working in the Child Advocacy Clinic really cemented my goals.” She recalled one heart-rending case close to graduation that weighed on her decision to pursue a public service career — one of her clients was put into foster care, and there was a dispute over her special education needs, but the mother had moved away and couldn’t advocate for her child. After taking the clinic, “thinking of doing anything else was just depressing.”

Stocco, a former Virginia Law Review Executive Editor, credits Public Service Center Director Kimberly Emery ’91 for supporting her goals and telling her about the Virginia Loan Forgiveness Plan, which pays off loans for those working in public service. “You can actually be a child advocate and not go bankrupt,” she said.
• Reported by M. Wood

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