Kristen M. Stanley '07 works for the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the Middle District of Tennessee in the Capital Habeas Unit. She finds her work very rewarding.
"It's an honor having the opportunity to work with clients and their families," says Stanley. "You learn virtually everything about their lives, every terrible thing that happened, every shameful experience."
But not everything is negative. "I'm inspired by the way they have persevered and endured some pretty horrific things. I've certainly learned from my clients. It's amazing how grace can pop up in unexpected places."
In the Capital Habeas Unit, Stanley represents people sentenced to capital crimes in the last round of their appeals. Before beginning work there in August 2009, she worked for the Capital Post-Conviction Project of Louisiana, where she also represented death-sentenced individuals.
While at Cornell Law School, Stanley enrolled in the Death Penalty Clinic to get hands-on experience with the law. "I was certainly interested in death penalty issues before I participated in the clinic," she says, "but I didn't know what it would entail. As soon as I started the work, I knew that was what I wanted to do."
Stanley recommends participating in the clinic for those considering work in this field. "It gives you a chance to go out and do some of the work that you'd be doing, and to listen to people who have done it; learn what works for them."
That learning continued as she entered law practice. "As a recent grad, so much of what you have to do is get used to how things actually work, get to know the players," she explains.
For Stanley, a lot of her interests meet in death penalty work.
"The legal issues are interesting and very important, and there's a lot of interaction with people," she says. "Before I went to law school, I worked at a domestic violence and sex abuse agency where I worked with victims of trauma. I see my work now as a continuation of that, but in a different capacity. So many of our clients have trauma in their lives. And morally it's one of the..."
She pauses for a moment, then continues: "Race, class, poverty, education, social justice, all are at the core of my work. Death penalty cases show what happens when we as a society don't take care of each other."