The Barrier Falls
Learning a new language helped Annabel Rodriguez JD'16 advocate for her family. A legal education enabled her to speak for her clients.
By Alyssa Giacobbe / Photo by Mark Wilson
Annabel Rodriguez JD ’16 was raised in East Boston by her Dominican-born single mother, Miguelina, who spoke only Spanish, and wasn’t integrated into an English-speaking classroom until the fourth grade. “I was reading below grade level,” she remembers. But it sparked in her a certain determination to practice English as often as she could, not only to catch up, but to excel. At home, she and her younger brother, Gany, spoke only English to each other. She developed a mild obsession with watching Judge Judy—an excellent English language tutorial that also, she says, helped foster her interest in the law, public service and social justice.
Within a few years, Rodriguez’s English was good enough to allow her to begin acting as her mother’s translator, helping her with household paperwork and accompanying her to appointments. “I was a support system,” says Rodriguez. “She always joked and called me her ‘little lawyer.’”
The joke stuck. After college at Boston University, during which she spent a summer interning with U.S. District Court Judge Denise Casper as part of the court’s highly selective Lindsay Fellowship Program, Rodriguez chose Suffolk for law school. She liked the school’s proximity to the East Boston home she shares with Miguelina and Gany—just three stops away on the Blue Line—and also its diversity and opportunities to get involved.
“Academics are very important to me, but I wanted the whole experience,” says Rodriguez, whose work with Judge Casper, as well as her experience advocating for her mother, had encouraged an interest in litigation. In her second year, she applied for and was offered a spot on Suffolk Law’s Moot Court Honor Board (MCHB). The MCHB also publishes the Suffolk Journal of Trial & Appellate Advocacy, a biannual journal containing analyses of legal issues relating to trial and appellate practice, written by faculty, students and outside attorneys. “I love writing, and I love researching, so the Journal was a great fit for me,” says Rodriguez, who became editor-in-chief of the Journal her third year, overseeing 40 other student editors. “But the best part was really the people. Moot Court and the Journal is a tight and strong community. People told me before starting law school that it was a cutthroat environment, but I never saw any of that at Suffolk.”
At least some credit for that goes to Rodriguez, who faculty and classmates say makes encouragement of others a priority. “She listened when critiqued and was thankful, which you don’t always get, and was clearly respected by her peers for her kindness and generosity of spirit,” says Ann Santos, Suffolk Law’s associate dean of students, who taught Rodriguez in her first-year “Legal Practice Skills” course and has worked closely with her since. “She’s clearly embraced by a great group of smart women who support and root for one another, which, from a female attorney’s perspective, is amazing to see, since it’s not always the case.”
Kassandra Tat JD ’16, who worked as a Journal staff editor under Rodriguez, echoes the sentiment. “Annabel is someone who is able to connect with people, and who has a dedication to the law and to her clients,” she says. “Everyone on staff admired her for the things she did but also who she was. She’s very human and very smart, a mentor and also an incredible friend.”
Tat also collaborated with Rodriguez in the Suffolk Law Family Advocacy Clinic, where they worked with victims of domestic violence seeking legal help with divorce, child support and custody. She recalls how seriously Rodriguez took her work. “She’d make sure she met with her client every single week without fail, even if it had to be on a Saturday, even when it was snowing,” says Tat. “She has an immense sense of responsibility. She’ll show up even if she’s sick, and she will sit there and engage.” As Santos says, “She knows what she wants to accomplish, and that makes for a successful law student and attorney.”
Rodriguez is well on her way. During an internship in the Appeals Division of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office last summer, she argued—and won—a case involving an alleged illegal search and seizure, which served to further cement her interest in litigation. After spending the summer studying for the Massachusetts bar exam, she has clerkships lined up until 2018. The first will be with Associate Justice Mary T. Sullivan in the Massachusetts Appeals Court, and the second, which she’ll begin in the fall of 2017, is with Judge William G. Young in the U.S. District Court—both extremely competitive assignments.