Junior Anelisa Gamiz wants to be a public defender, a good one. She decided on this career when she was just eight years old and saw a TV character lose a case because he couldn't afford a private lawyer. Gamiz decided then that the courtroom would be her place to make a difference.
To help her reach that goal, she took LAW-030: Preparation for the LSAT, the no-credit course in which students take practice tests and learn study habits and tips for life in law school and beyond.
Chancie Ferris Booth Professor of Political Science and Pre-Law Advisor Lane Sunderland, a past United States Supreme Court Fellow, started this preparatory course when he came to Knox in 1972. He's spent the last several decades making it an increasingly effective tool for students dedicated to careers in law. Not only does the course offer preparation that would otherwise cost hundreds of dollars in a commercial course, but Sunderland works with the Pre-Law Club to bring in successful alumni who share their wisdom with current students and make professional connections.
"One of the scariest things for me is actually getting into law school and then what it will be like when I get there," Gamiz said. "The most helpful events have been the ones where [the Pre-Law Club and preparation course] bring in people from law schools to talk to us."
Beyond the course, Sunderland said that much of the pre-law program's success is founded on the active community of Knox and Galesburg. Internships with the State's Attorney, public defenders, and the Knox County Courthouse are all common for Knox students.
The Knox County Courthouse also offers opportunities for students through the Illinois JusticeCorps program. Through the program, students volunteer for 300 hours in the courthouse, conveniently right across the street from Sunderland's office in George Davis Hall.
"Students can't give legal advice, obviously, but when someone comes into the courthouse and doesn't really know what they're doing, they help them out. For example, if someone needs to fill out an order of protection, this 43-page form can be a little daunting. So our students help them with that," Sunderland said.
He described how, through reading the journals the Knox students have kept about their work with the JusticeCorps, he's learned that the program is a transformative experience. "Some of the accounts are quite touching. The students are exposed to a slice of the populace they haven't always been exposed to," he said.
According to Gamiz, helping students help other people is a big part of Sunderland's focus as a professor. Sunderland, who once turned down a job offer from the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court so that he could get back to teaching, wouldn't disagree.
"When I visited Knox, I set up a time to meet with Professor Sunderland. After that meeting, my mother told me that I just needed to come here and learn all that I could from him. I knew that's what I needed to do," Gamiz said. "I want to be the best lawyer and defend those who cannot defend themselves."