Getting the most out of her education brought Leslie A. Saint '07 to Cornell Law School, and has inspired in her a desire to encourage today's youth to seek out and make the most of their educational opportunities. In an article for her undergraduate magazine, she was quoted as saying, "I hope to become an individual with the power to initiate change."
Ms. Saint grew up in New Jersey, with one older and one younger brother. Her father runs his own auto repair business; her mother works as a computer analyst in the medical field. From a very early age, Ms. Saint's family instilled in her the importance and value of education. After attending elementary public schools and beginning her secondary education at a parochial high school, she had the opportunity to attend Garrison Forest, an independent all-girls day and boarding school in Maryland, for her final two years of high school. There, she says, "I sought out leadership opportunities to curb my homesickness." Eventually she became a prefect, or residential assistant (R.A.). "That was one of the highlights of my experience at Garrison because it gave me the chance to play a role in shaping other girls' boarding experience by making our community feel like their family away from home," Ms. Saint recalls.
When Lafayette College recruited on the Garrison campus, Ms. Saint says, it seemed like the perfect place for her. "It was a nice size, so I wouldn't feel lost in the shuffle and I could interact with my professors. I could quickly become involved in the campus community, and even do independent research," she explains. Drawing on her experience from boarding school, she also worked as an R.A. at Lafayette, eventually becoming the coordinator.
Lafayette provides externships through which students can shadow an alumnus for several weeks. Prior to the beginning of her second semester, Ms. Saint observed the day-to-day duties of counselors at a drug treatment center for men recently released from prison. "As a first-year student, I valued the opportunity to observe group counseling sessions, the interaction, and the clients," she says. The experience solidified her desire to major in psychology and Africana studies, and eventually to find a way to initiate change in communities.
Her next educational opportunity came through INROADS, a nonprofit organization that trains and develops talented minority students for professional careers in business and industry. "For two weekends during the early spring, you attend workshops introducing you to corporate America," explains Ms. Saint. "Then you are matched with several companies, based on your interests. The companies that you are matched with are interested in interviewing you for a summer internship as well as measuring your 'fit' within the company for a potential full-time job opportunity upon graduation." She ended up working in the human resources department at National Starch and Chemical Company, designing a Web portal with information about interviewing and recruiting. The company invited her back for the following summer.
By then, Ms. Saint had considered teaching but decided to take on the challenge of law school instead. So she asked National Starch if she could work with their general counsel. Her project was to design an orientation program for new employees, and the general counsel shared with her a firsthand perspective on what to expect in law school and the overall value of obtaining a legal education. "It was the best summer I spent as an undergraduate," recalls Ms. Saint.
Her adviser encouraged Ms. Saint to apply to Cornell, and although schools in Washington, D.C., beckoned—"that's where I hope to practice later in my career," Ms. Saint says—she chose Cornell after talking with law professor Winnie F. Taylor about research opportunities when she visited Cornell during an admitted students' event.
As a result of that conversation, Ms. Saint worked with Risa L. Lieberwitz, a professor at Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, to develop her undergraduate thesis into an article for the New York State Bar Association’s Dr. Emanuel Stein Memorial Law Student Writing Competition. Her article, “Wage Discrimination and the Double-Helix of Comparable Worth and Unionism,” appeared in the Spring 2007 issue of the New York State bar’s L&E Newsletter.
At Cornell, Ms. Saint focused on employment law. “Work is something everyone has in common,” she explains. “We all have a job, or we’re seeking one. In addition, there are countless issues that arise solely because of the nature of the workplace and the interactions between workers. While the issues can be sensitive in nature, at the end of the day, you hope that your efforts will benefit both individual employees and management.”
Ms. Saint joined the Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy, becoming editor-in-chief in her third year. “Working with peers in a management role is a lesson for the workplace,” she says. “You learn how to explain things to managers, and how to understand and respect the different approaches each person has for a task: their individual style. You have to trust people, because you can’t do everything and still be effective at the top.” During her time at Cornell, Ms. Saint also served as vice president of the Black Law Students Association, where she continued to develop their mentoring program for undergraduate minority students interested in law school.
After her first year, Ms. Saint clerked for the Union County Prosecutor’s Office, not too far from where she grew up. “I was able to second chair two trials,” she says. “It was very encouraging to know that the prosecutors trusted my observations, especially considering that I had only finished one year of law school.” During her second summer, she served as a summer associate at a New Jersey based firm, Schenck, Price, Smith, and King, where she completed assignments in the firm’s litigation department. Not surprisingly, she found her niche in the projects she worked on with members of the firm’s labor and employment and education practice groups. She returned to work for the firm after graduation.
One thing Ms. Saint missed while at the Law School is volunteering with the local community. Although there were opportunities for short-term volunteering here at Cornell, she prefers a longer-term involvement where she can develop strong mentor relationships. “I look forward to giving back to those organizations whose support has shaped the person that I am today, and I think it will be a fulfilling balance alongside practicing law,” she says. For recreation while at Cornell, she attended seminars and speakers available on campus, because, she explains, “You don’t know when you’ll have that kind of opportunity again.” Ms. Saint also regularly attended the African American Worship Service at Anabel Taylor Hall. “My faith has always defined how I look at life. It empowers me to see the positive in every circumstance, even when the positive is difficult to see,” she says. “I found my faith to be especially helpful in learning to ‘think like a lawyer,’ and I am sure that it will be just as helpful as I learn to integrate this thinking into the practice of law.” In her final semester at the Law School, Ms. Saint took Barbara J. Holden-Smith’s seminar on African Americans and the Supreme Court. “In one of our later classes, I commented that the materials we read can make you pessimistic about the law and how one can use it to effectively initiate change, even though I’m not a pessimistic person,” Ms. Saint says. “Professor Holden-Smith said that she hoped that we would leave the class feeling empowered with both the knowledge and tools that we have learned in law school.”
“It was a fulfilling class to leave law school with,” Ms. Saint concludes, “because it provided a chance to reflect on the legal strides that have been made in society, while at the same time recognizing that complacency is not an option because there is still much to be done.”
~ Judith Pratt