Law School: SUNY Buffalo Law School
Undergraduate: B.A. in Political Science cum laude (minor: African-American Studies), SUNY at Buffalo
Home City/State: Buffalo, New York
This has already been a banner year for Sarah Marie Draper, a 2L at SUNY Buffalo Law School. The Buffalo native and single mother of 6-year-old Ashanti won a string of distinctions, among them the John L. Hargrave Law Student Award from the Minority Bar Association of Western New York; a position in the law school’s Pro Se Practicum, which provides free legal assistance to pro se litigants in Erie County Family Court and in federal District Court in the Western District of New York, and a place as a competitor in the Frederick Douglass Moot Court contest (2014-15).
The latest gemstone in her crown is the Cole Schotz Diversity Scholarship, a $5,000 educational grant awarded to a second-year law student who epitomizes academic achievement, involvement in community service, strong leadership abilities and the advancement of diversity in the legal profession.
“Sarah met and exceeded the expectations of a winning applicant in so many ways,” said Wendy Berger, co-chair of the Cole Schotz Diversity Committee. “She performs in the classroom; she leads student associations; she engages in pro bono work for meaningful organizations, and her life story is an inspiration to anyone in pursuit of academic and professional goals.”
Draper is the first member of her family to pursue a professional degree, and the second to have attended college. She currently serves as president of the Black Law Students Association (BLSA) at SUNY Buffalo Law School and does pro bono work for the Buffalo Urban League of Young Professionals and for the Minority Bar Association of Western New York.
“Many attorneys are skilled writers and thinkers, but Sarah is a true leader and has a bright future in law because of her innate leadership abilities,” said Edward Sun Kiel, co-chair with Berger of the Diversity Committee.
In an interview, Draper said, “There was never an ‘ah-ha’ moment when I knew I wanted to go to law school.” Rather, as a political science major, she said that she gradually realized that she liked learning about the law and reading case studies. “I recognized that I love the type of thinking that requires and that in the practice of law I’d be able to apply so much of what I learn,” she said.
As a young woman who has never been deterred by life’s challenges – including the cost of education and the time and energy required to maintain a part-time job, a full slate of classes and raising a family – Draper said she’s grateful to her mentors over the years and wants to pay it forward.
“I plan to use my legal education to ensure that I can be a mentor and resource for future law students,” she said. “The minority mentors I have met this past year have been a huge resource for me. I cannot imagine going through my first year of law school and first summer associate position without them.”
LAWDRAGON: What were key factors you used to choose a law school?
SARAH MARIE DRAPER: I decided to attend SUNY Buffalo Law School because I was born and raised in Buffalo, N.Y., and was very much aware of the law school’s prestige and reputation in New York State. It’s local, allowing me to remain close to my family and friends while pursuing my juris doctor degree. The law school has a collegial environment, and it offers vast opportunities for externships, internships, practicums and clinics. I realized that I would be able to gain extensive practical experience outside the classroom.
LD: What has been your most valuable law school experience?
SMD: My most valuable experience in law school thus far has been in my Pro Se Practicum, where I help attorneys provide free legal advice to pro se litigants – these are people representing themselves – in Erie County Family Court and in the U.S. District Court in the Western District of New York. I’m a 2L and I’ve already handled client intake; debriefed attorneys on clients’ legal issues, and listened in on the legal advice that the attorneys provide to clients.
In essence, I’ve gained practical experience – and honed skills I know I’ll use as a newly qualified lawyer – while pursuing fieldwork in the Buffalo community. I can’t tell you how good it feels knowing that I’ve assisted litigants who, without volunteer attorneys, wouldn’t be able to afford or otherwise have access to any legal services or guidance.
LD: How about your most memorable experience?
SMD: Serving as president of the Black Law Students Association (BLSA) at SUNY-Buffalo Law School for this academic school year. The position has allowed me to become involved as a student leader within the law school. I have been able to engage with the entire student body as well as with the law school’s administration.
I work closely with my executive board, the student body and the administration to plan events, community service opportunities, fundraisers, networking opportunities and academic workshops and trainings. As president, I also collaborate with the presidents of the Latin American Law Student Association and the Asian-Pacific American Law Students Association to ensure a more cohesive alliance as students of color.
LD: Is there anything you wish you had known before attending law school?
SMD: Time management and how important it would be and is to my success in law school and in my work life. I include in my definition of time management the skill set involving the ability to figure out what is important and needs to be dealt with in what order of priority, and what needs to be let go.
LD: What do you plan to do with your law degree?
SMD: I would like to practice litigation, labor and employment law, or estates and trusts. It’s interesting to see that my plans have changed since starting law school. Before coming here, I wasn’t interested in litigation and thought I wanted to pursue more transactional work.
At SUNY Buffalo Law School, every first year must complete an oral argument before a panel of local attorneys and judges as part of the Legal Analysis, Research and Writing (LAWR) course. After this experience in the spring of last year, I realized I had a passion for litigation and trial work as opposed to transactional work.
My LAWR professor had told my class that after our oral arguments, a few of us would realize we wanted to pursue litigation and some of us would know that we never wanted to step foot in a courtroom. My professor was right, and you can see on which side of the divide I landed. As a result of my oral argument, I also decided to participate in moot court, and will be in the Frederick Douglass Moot Court competition later in the academic year.
Contact Margot Slade at (646) 722-2623 or firstname.lastname@example.org.