Virtual Awards Ceremony Highlights Grit and Service

The coronavirus could not stop Suffolk Law from celebrating the service and scholarship of its student leaders. The student honorees, many of them with family members gathered around in their living-rooms, received virtual honors at the Law School’s first all-Zoom awards ceremony on May 18, 2020.

Link to the video here.

Mallory Ursul on Zoom receiving award
Mallory Ursul, JD '20, receiving an award from Dean Andrew Perlman

Their legal efforts on behalf of the community ran the gamut: from bankruptcy and eviction cases to consumer fraud, domestic violence, asylum, and many more.  The heartfelt congratulations for their work and scholarship came over video. The award hardware—bowls and plaques—will come by mail.

“We didn’t want to let COVID-19 stop us from celebrating the incredible resilience and spirit of our student leaders and needed a way to thank them publicly for the example they set,” says Dean Andrew Perlman.

Brandon DeAvilla on Zoom receiving award
Brandon DeAvilla, JD '20, receiving an award from Dean Perlman

The school invited honorees to join a Zoom call that brought them together to receive their awards and also offered faculty and staff a chance to congratulate the winners in real time.

A Marine veteran gives back to fellow veterans

“The school administrators did a great job making the day special in spite of the circumstances,” says Brandon DeAvilla, JD ’20, who won awards for his pro bono service and his clinical work through Suffolk’s Juvenile Defenders program. “We weren’t told which award we would receive, so there was a shock factor during the ceremony,” he says.

DeAvilla, who provided 300 hours of pro bono service while at Suffolk, served in the Marines from 2010 to 2014, deploying to Afghanistan for seven months in 2013. Back in the U.S., he noticed that some fellow veterans caught up in the justice system had lost the focus and sense of clear purpose that military service had provided; that lack of direction, and other traumas, he says, sometimes led to bad decisions. This insight and his military experience guided his Suffolk pro bono service.

In 2018, DeAvilla served as a judicial intern for District Court Judge Mary Hogan Sullivan in the Veterans’ Treatment Court in Dedham, Mass. The special court handles criminal cases through a coordinated effort among the veterans’ services delivery system, community-based providers, and the court.

During the internship, he discussed treatment options with all of the players involved: the client, judge, prosecutor, defense attorney, Veterans Administration personnel and other court officials. He also worked as a student advocate for Veterans Legal Services’ weekly walk-in legal clinic.

This fall, DeAvilla will begin serving as an assistant district attorney in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office. 

Helping people face the complex courts

Mallory Ursul, JD ‘20, who won an award for excellence in professional responsibility, served in the Health Law Clinic and as a Legal Innovation and Technology Fellow in that clinic. Through her work helping clients with guardianship matters, she saw the potentially overwhelming complexities of the process to become a legal guardian—jargon-filled paper-work and serpentine processes, for example. 

“Perhaps you’re trying to become the guardian of an 18-year old with developmental disabilities. This is a person you need to communicate for, feed, house, and watch over, and then, on top of that, face this complex guardianship process,” Ursul says. Her solution? Working with a team at Suffolk to build an online app that walks users through the court forms step by step, simplifying legal language and allowing users to generate court-ready documents.

Ursul, who has been hired as an associate at Ropes & Gray, worked last summer as part of the firm’s Project Validate, assisting people seeking name changes after changing their gender.

Live, from the dean of student’s living room

Suffolk Law Dean of Students Laura Ferrari asked the audience to “please accept our apologies in advance for any barking dogs or other work-from-home disruptions.  Hopefully, this won’t be an issue. But no matter what happens, we hope that we can still capture a spirit of celebration for these wonderful students who have persevered and thrived, despite having their final semester so upended.” 

Ferrari jokingly called the Zoom event Suffolk’s version of the NFL draft, which also was held online this year due to the pandemic.

The  ceremony brought the audience into the award-winning students’ homes, showing stairwells, bookcases, kids entering and departing the frame, and hugs from partners, brothers and sisters, and grandparents.

The first video ceremony also brought an inevitable anxious delay while new awardees unmuted their audio and came to the center of the screen. “Was their video working?” one had to wonder. But after a few seconds a smiling face appeared. All of that brought a special intimacy to the proceedings.

Special thanks to the event organizers: Dean Ferrari, Assistant Dean of Academic Services Lorraine Cove, Associate Dean of Students Ann Santos, Director of Student Engagement & Inclusion Cherina Wright, and Dean of Students Office Coordinator Rosa Ureña.

Awards List

Outstanding Students
Margaret Stratton, Day
Eugenia Sims, Evening

Public Citizenship Awards
Kishahnica Rajendran, Day
Sunny Lyu, Evening

Pro Bono Awards
Ally Colton and Brandon DeAvilla, Day
Sunny Lyu and Anuphab Phraewphanarai, Evening

Clinical Legal Education Outstanding Student Award
Brandon DeAvilla

Wyman Award
Michael Anderson

The Daniel J. Fern Award 
(Highest cumulative scholastic average while in law school)
Day Division: Margaret Stratton,
Evening Division: John Spangenberger, 

The Lindsay R. Breed Bankruptcy Award 
Joseph Masciangioli 

The Amy E. Wells Family Law Award 
Margaret Stratton 

The Carlton Sellers Advanced Legal Writing Award 
Colin McKenzie

The Judge Harry Kalus Massachusetts Practice Award 
John Spangenberger

The Justice Benjamin Kaplan Copyright Law Award 
John Spagenberger

The Professor Alexander J. Cella Administrative Law Award
Joseph Masciangioli 

The Seymour Schneider Prize for Excellence in Constitutional Rights 
Margaret Stratton 

The Violet Esta Bishop Book Award for Academic Excellence in Contracts 
Margaret Stratton 

The Rehnquist Award for Excellence in Professional Responsibility
Mallory Ursul

The Stanley W. Sokoloff Intellectual Property Award 
Nathan Harrison

The Foley Hoag LLP Labor and Employment Law Award 
Christine Swider

John E. Fenton, Jr. Public Service Awards
Michael Anderson
Kishahnica Rajendran
Emily Mary Smith
Alma Vasquez 

Student Bar Association Leaders
Megan Lucey, SBA President 19-20
Keli Chang, SBA Vice President 18-19 
Paul Knapp, SBA Treasurer 19-20
Richard Pizzano, SBA Chief of Staff 19-20
Sam Faisal, New Student Orientation Leader/BLSA President 19-20