Each month, the alumni newsletter features a Q&A with a student. Meet rising 3L CJ Connolly.
Q: What led you to pursue a law degree?
A: I have known I wanted to be a lawyer since the fourth grade. Prior to that, I wanted to be a teacher. But then, everyone around me said I was “loud and bossy” (aka a female leader) and suggested that I become a lawyer. I’ve never looked back since! I have always been passionate about advocating for others and using my voice to help break down barriers and lift up communities. I have also always had a knack for public speaking, so pursuing a career in law seemed like the perfect avenue for melding my passions and skills. No one in my family was in the legal field, nor did they graduate from a four-year university, so everything I learned was on my own and with the assistance of Google. In high school, I competed on and led the Mock Trial team and absolutely loved the battles we had in the imaginary courtroom. At UC Berkeley, I took a step back from law-related extra-curriculars and dove into higher education housing services as a Resident Assistant and by hosting a conference for student leaders across the Pacific region. In these roles, I realized my love of youth and education and my excitement for a law career could become one! So I applied to UC Hastings in hopes of pursuing a career in youth advocacy law.
Q: What experience have you appreciated the most since starting at UC Hastings?
A: I have had two experiences that I appreciate most since starting UC Hastings. The first is the opportunity to join and lead the Hastings Association of Youth Advocates (HAYA). When I joined HAYA as a 1L, I was able to quickly surrounded myself in a community of people with a common interest. I exposed myself to many of the areas of youth advocacy from juvenile justice to education law. Being able to participate in the many activities HAYA offered affirmed my love of youth advocacy. Serving as the President of HAYA during my 2L allowed me to give back to that community and be a leader for 1Ls who were just as hopeful to pursue a career in youth advocacy as I was! The second experience I have appreciated while at Hastings is being on the Moot Court team. I had not realized how much I missed competing in high school and working on a case that challenged me by exposing me to a new area of the law. Additionally, the members of the Moot Court team were extremely welcoming, giving me another support system and community in law school that I will forever cherish. I was lucky to compete both semesters of my 2L year and become a National Champion in my spring semester at the Evan A. Evans Constitutional Law competition in Madison, WI. I will be on the team again next year and continue to compete because Moot Court makes law school FUN!
Q: If you could choose any job after graduation, what job would you choose?
A: My dream job right out of law school would be to work as a dependency attorney with an emphasis on special education. A dependency attorney (also known as a child welfare attorney) works with youth in the foster care system, advocating for their rights, stability and safety. I fell in love with child welfare law in my 1L summer internship at East Bay Children’s Law Office. I loved the fast-paced environment from conducting home visits to being in the courtroom to participating in meetings. My degree in Psychology with a focus on child development allowed me to fully embrace the holistic approach to child welfare law. I continued to pursue youth advocacy last fall at Legal Services for Children’s Lawyering for Children clinic on their education team and will be interning at Disability Rights California in their Youth Practice Group this summer. All of these incredible organizations have fueled my love of youth advocacy and my dream to uplift children so that they can thrive, succeed, and be happy.
Q: Who would you have dinner with if you could choose anyone (dead or alive)?
A: I would love to have dinner with Beyoncé. Not only have I always loved her music but for as long as I can remember I have admired her for her ability to advocate for what she believes in. Her hard work to uplift the black community and be a strong role model to women everywhere has encouraged me to be a leader for minorities and women. As a mixed race woman, growing up there were few people I could look up to that looked even remotely like me. Beyoncé was always someone I could depend on. I would listen to her music in times of sorrow, happiness, or whenever I needed motivation, and it always worked! Sitting across the table from her at dinner would be a dream. I could ask her about her opinions on things happening in the world and be able to sit in her brilliance.
I would also love to have dinner with Bryan Stevenson, director of the Equal Justice Initiative and author of “Just Mercy.” I recently read his book for my Social Justice Lawyering concentration and admire his passion for justice and work ethic. His advocacy for his clients and his dedication to their cases is inspiring. I would love to talk to him about how he was able to dream so big and accomplish so much for so many people on both an individual and policy level.