Emily C. Paavola '05 didn't come to law school to go into death penalty litigation.
"I had no interest in criminal law at all," she admits. "I always felt I was against the death penalty, but didn't have any specific information." She got that information in Professor Sheri Lynn Johnson's constitutional law class, and the following year she enrolled in Professor John H. Blume's criminal procedure class. Then she signed up for the Death Penalty Clinic.
"When I got involved, it was the only opportunity available to do some of the fact investigation in actual cases and interview witnesses," Paavola recalls. She advises law students interested in this area to try the clinic, or to work for a death penalty group. "It's the best time to find out, when you have the freedom to do things," she says. After graduation, Paavola continued with the Death Penalty Project as their first Project Fellow. Eventually, she returned to her home state of Indiana to serve as an associate in the Business Litigation Practice at Baker & Daniels in Indianapolis.
Then Blume asked if Paavola would become executive director of the South Carolina Death Penalty Resource and Defense Center-a job Blume had once held. Of course she said yes.
Many people ask Paavola if death penalty work is painful for her. "I don't really find it emotionally draining," she responds. "That's one way you know it's the right thing for you to do. I really get a lot of satisfaction feeling that I'm helping people. I like my clients. I like being a lawyer."
At the Center, Paavola is the only full-time lawyer. Support personnel, volunteers, and law students complete her staff. Most students come from the Cornell Death Penalty Clinic, the University of South Carolina, and the Charleston School of Law. Some work part-time during the year; others work full-time during summers.
And Blume is still a big part of the work, as is Johnson. "I think they are great teachers," Paavola says. "I consider them both great role models in my profession." Now they help her with most of the Center's litigation-as long as she can find the necessary funding.
"Capital cases cost a lot of money," she explains. "The stakes are very high, so my job is to get the funding the client needs." But money is in short supply, and like so many states, South Carolina has been forced to cut its budget.
"It would be nice if I could just focus on doing the work," Paavola says.