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Public Interest Support at St. John’s Law Helps Allie Cabibbo ’19 Fulfill Her Dreams

Allie Cabibbo
Thursday, April 19, 2018

Two years ago, Allie Cabibbo sat at her computer, staring at the blank page that would become her personal statement in support of her application to St. John’s Law. “I vividly recall grappling with how to convey who I am and why I wanted to attend St. John’s Law through that keyboard,” she says. “Words didn’t come to mind. But images did.”

Here’s what Cabibbo wrote, in part:

“I see myself as a 13-year-old girl, volunteering at the Town of Hempstead ANCHOR Program for the developmentally disabled, dismissing invitations to go to the beach with friends because Keith, the 51-year-old man I was assigned to assist, would never go to the beach if not for the program and its volunteers. I see myself as an 18-year-old in college, heading up to rural Maine with Habitat for Humanity while my friends headed off to Punta Cana during spring break. I see myself at 21, shipping off to the Peace Corps after graduation as my friends shipped off to Wall Street. I see myself during Peace Corps service, on the hour-long walk in the blazing desert sun to the school where I taught how to fight the 26 percent HIV prevalence rate in our rural village. I see myself last week, walking into the homeless shelter where I work and being asked ‘can I get you a coffee?’ by a resident who has $12.75 to his name, yet is ready to share.

I was first drawn to St. John’s by its roots in the Vincentian tradition. I attended Providence College, a Dominican school, because I believe an institution built on morality and in the context of faith provides the strongest foundation for education. I was convinced that my attending St. John’s would be mutually auspicious, for institution and student, while researching the Public Interest Center. The Center aligns with my career plan and serves populations I have been working with for years. Here I would learn how to carry on the Vincentian ideals as a lawyer. All my life, all my career, saturated by public service, has led to this law school application.”

True to her words—and to the sincere convictions they depicted so beautifully—since arriving at St. John’s Law on a full-tuition St. Thomas More Scholarship, Cabibbo has pursued a career in the public interest with laser focus.

As a 1L, she trained to volunteer with the Civil Legal Advice and Resources Office (CLARO), to support its mission of assisting low-income New Yorkers being sued by debt collectors. She also earned a position on the executive board of the Law School’s Public Interest Center, which offers St. John’s Law students and alumni opportunities to help the underserved in and around New York City.

Along with other students affiliated with the Center, Cabibbo worked on its signature event: the annual Public Interest Auction, which raises significant funds to support the Summer Public Interest Fellowship Program and other public service initiatives at the Law School. She was also a beneficiary of the event’s fundraising success when she received one of several co-funded Summer 2017 Catalyst Public Service Fellowships awarded to St. John’s Law students.

“The fellowship enabled me to spend the summer after my 1L year as a legal intern with the Urban Justice Center’s Mental Health Project,” Cabibbo says. “I gained invaluable experience independently representing clients in administrative fair hearings; interviewing clients and facilitating the intake process; conducting legal research and writing briefs, memos, and various legal documents; managing client files and following their cases through legal proceedings; and supporting attorneys in class action lawsuits and in systemic reform and impact litigation work.”

As a 2L, Cabibbo has broadened her public interest experience and skillset as a participant in the Queens Civil Court Volunteer Lawyer for the Day Program coordinated through the Law School. And, as a student advocate in the Law School’s full-year Criminal Defense Clinic, she works at the Legal Aid Society in Queens representing clients accused of committing misdemeanor and other minor offenses.

“I love my clinic work,” Cabibbo shares. “I carry my own caseload pursuant to a Student Practice Order that allows me to represent clients in criminal court. I have all the duties of a criminal defense lawyer and handle all aspects of my clients’ cases, including: the initial client interview, representation at arraignment, bail applications and hearings, case investigations, discovery, writing, filing and arguing motions on behalf of the client, conducting pre-trial hearings, plea negotiations, and representing the client at all court appearances, including any trial on the charges.”

Taking on the Public Interest Center Executive Board role of director of service trips, last month Cabibbo organized four Spring break service trips to serve victims of natural disaster in Puerto Rico and Houston; to help women and children asylum seekers detained near San Antonio; and to support New Orleans residents in need of pro bono legal assistance. She also helped to organize this year’s Public Interest Auction, which, together with related efforts, raised about $120K for summer public interest fellowships, annual service trips, and other public interest activities at the Law School.

As she looks forward to continuing with Legal Aid as a Summer Public Interest Fellow, Cabibbo is grateful for the support she’s received on her professional path. “St. John’s Law is committed to serving the greater good through the Public Interest Center and its programs,” she says. “For me, nothing is more worthwhile than being part of the Center, it’s been the most important part of my law school experience. I appreciate the opportunities I’ve been given thanks to the Center and the generous alumni, faculty, and students who support it. I will make the most of them as I pursue my dream of using my law degree to uplift others.”

With the success of this year’s Public Interest Auction, the Law School recently announced its 2018 Summer Public Interest Fellows, as well as the recipients of the New York Council of Defense Lawyers Sam Dawson Summer Fellowship (Sharlene Disla ’19, Legal Aid Society) and Summer 2018 Catalyst Public Service Fellowships (Adenola Adedigba '20, Legal Aid Society; Ashland Bernard '20, Westchester DA; Barbara Irala '20, Safe Passage Project; and Elise Sosa '20, Legal Aid Society). The Law School’s 2018 Summer Public Interest Fellows are:

  • Romerlyns Alberic '20 (Brooklyn Legal Services)
  • Christina Borges '19 (Bronx DA)
  • Allie Cabibbo '19 (Legal Aid Society)
  • Melissa Cecere '20 (NYS Attorney General)
  • Shannon Dempsey '19 (NYS Attorney General)
  • Gabby DeRosa '19 (Suffolk DA)
  • Devin Fairrow '20 (ABA Rule of Law Initiative)
  • Jillian Gardner '20 (Hudson County Public Defender’s Office)
  • Jacob Heric '20 (Bronx DA)
  • Rachel Hunter '20 (Administration for Children’s Services)
  • Thomas Mosczczynski '19 (Queens DA)
  • Tyler Mulvaney '19 (Bronx DA)
  • Adam Myren '19 (Brooklyn Defender Services)
  • Daniela Nauffal '20 (American Civil Liberties Union)
  • Moise Andre Oge '20 (U.S. Attorney, EDNY)
  • Angela Pena '20 (Queens DA)
  • Grace Peters '20 (Administration for Children’s Services)
  • Allyson Rivard '20 (Queens Legal Services)
  • Mariam Shafik '19 (Legal Aid Society)
  • Maia Smith '19 (Nassau DA)

The collective 25 fellowships will provide over $120K in summer employment funding for these deserving St. John’s Law students.