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Lisa Vigilante: The Importance of Giving Back
2L student Lisa Vigilante posing for a photo
Pictured above: Law student Lisa Vigilante ’25.

From a very young age, Lisa Vigilante was taught the importance of giving back. This idea was reinforced during her many years of attending Catholic school, a time during which she often took part in community service opportunities. However, it wasn’t until she was a sophomore at Cornell University, when she took a labor law class with Professor Kate Griffith, that she realized “giving back” might actually be her calling.

Taking that class really changed her, Vigilante notes, especially the day Professor Griffith, senior associate dean for academic affairs, diversity, and faculty development, uttered a phrase that would stick with her: “law touches on every aspect of life.” “I really credit the ILR School (School of Industrial and Labor Relations) with helping me figure out my path in life,” said Vigilante.

In her junior year, Vigilante secured a legal internship with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). This was the first time she was able to take what she had learned and apply it to real-life scenarios. “My opportunity with the EEOC helped me see the impact my actions can have,” said Vigilante. .“I was able to put faces to the names of the people whose stories I was reading and whose lives I was helping, rather than just crossing names off a list and doing mindless tasks, not knowing if you actually made any substantive change.”

At this point in time, Vigilante had an “awakening” after seeing an intriguing post on LinkedIn by a fellow Cornell student who had gotten into something called the 3+3 program. She didn’t know it then, but this program was about to change her life in a dramatic way and swiftly propel her academic and professional career.

Vigilante learned how the 3+3 program gives Cornell University undergraduate students the chance to study as a 1L at Cornell Law School during what would have been their senior year, allowing them to receive their bachelor’s and Juris Doctor degrees in six years, rather than seven. Captivated, she emailed the pre-law advisor to set up a meeting to get more information.

As a student with a 4.0 GPA, Vigilante was determined more than ever to matriculate into the program and obtain her law degree. After developing the narrative for her application, she applied in December of her junior year and found out she got accepted in February.

“I immediately ran out of class to call my parents; it was one of the best moments of my life and I was really excited. I didn’t have any idea that what I had done was such a crazy feat, but now I am two years in, and I understand just how incredible this opportunity has been,” said Vigilante.

As a 1L, a student’s schedule is mostly comprised of general classes that are not lawyering courses. Students are able to take one elective course that allows them the opportunity to sample a specialization before they have to commit to one.

“I had no idea what I had an interest in. It’s very hard to decide after your first year because you’re just taking doctrinal courses, which are all super theoretical. You’re not doing any type of substantive or technical work to develop any interests yet. That doesn’t really come to you until your second year,” said Vigilante.

Vigilante, who is almost done with her 2L year, hopes to go into bankruptcy law. “I have 100 percent realized that I enjoy subjects and courses that are code based, so I am leaning towards a career in bankruptcy law, and I plan on taking a course on it this upcoming semester (fall 2024),” said Vigilante. “I have developed this interest because while bankruptcy is code based and primarily transactional, it also has a prominent litigation aspect compared to other transactional sectors of law.”

Being a 3+3 student can have some drawbacks, Vigilante pointed out, as she reflected on the highs and lows of her law school journey thus far. For example, she has wrestled with imposter syndrome because she is so much younger than most of her fellow students. She also notes that being on such an accelerated academic path means you may miss out on things that your former peers are enjoying.

“I think because 1L is so hard,  probably the hardest academic year of my life, I really valued being able to be in this entirely new academic space, but then coming home to my same college apartment, with my same college friends [from undergrad]…it was like a little escape from being a 1L student, and I felt like a senior again,” said Vigilante, “because I’m not going to deny that it was so hard to give up my senior year, that’s definitely the biggest drawback, and it was intimidating because everyone here is older than me, with more life experiences and education.”

Entering the 3+3 program, Vigilante was one of fourteen students, which is less than 10 percent of the Class of 2025. Entrance into this program is no small achievement, and having the support of her family made it all the better.

“After doing one year here, they saw the interviews that I got, and the opportunities that came from coming here. They think it’s the best thing I ever did, and they are so proud of me and so incredibly grateful that I was awarded this opportunity,” said Vigilante, about her family.

Vigilante is headed into her 3L year this upcoming fall semester, and is an active member of the Women’s Law Coalition and the International Law Journal, and is a teaching assistant for the undergraduate and graduate students’ labor law courses. She is also a student in the Tenants Advocacy Practicum, where she engages in giving back by advocating on behalf of tenants in upstate New York who may be facing eviction.

“I give a lot of credit to ILR school, I was their biggest critic at first, because I just didn’t see the potential this major has,” said Vigilante. “I feel like I have such a well-rounded education because of that school, and I truly felt more prepared than some of my peers because of the education and training that the ILR school gave me.”

When asked if she would change anything about her experience at Cornell Law, Vigilante said “I wouldn’t change a thing. Ithaca was where I was meant to be.”

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