Karen Southwick, L’04

      No Comments on Karen Southwick, L’04

Written By: Katie Ann Daley

Karen Southwick is currently a supervising attorney at Hiscock Legal Aid Society’s Immigration Department where she supervises a large team of attorneys and professionals. Karen, alongside her staff, represent clients in need of immigration services. Karen and her team also do community outreach.

Although Karen’s legal career is one marked by incredible success, law school initially was not on her radar while an undergrad at Ursinus College, a small liberal arts college outside Philadelphia. At the suggestion of a mentor, Karen sought out a judicial internship with an Ursinus College alum to learn if law school might be the right path. This inside view of a courthouse and operation of judicial chambers cemented Karen’s desire to attend law school. Karen notes that this valuable experience came as the result of seeking out an alum and advises other students to do the same. Karen found that many alumni are receptive to speaking with students and that reaching out is incredibly worthwhile.

Karen looked at several law schools but was drawn to Syracuse University and its beautiful campus. While standing in the quad, Karen remembers wondering what an undergraduate life at this picturesque campus would have been. Karen did not have to wonder for long though, as she soon thereafter decided to attend the College of Law. Also, despite many morning trudges through cold and snowy parking lots to get to class in Syracuse’s notorious winter weather, she says taking classes and studying in the beautiful old law school building (now Falk College) made it worthwhile.

During law school, Karen remembered Professor Thomas J. Maroney offering both unique and fascinating insight into the criminal justice system, having served as a United States Attorney. Karen appreciated how Professor Maroney showed his students the law’s application to real-world cases he worked on. His classes fostered Karen’s interest in reading opinions and prompted her to pursue a judicial clerkship. Karen adds her voice to those who recommend law students pursue judicial clerkships, describing her own as “invaluable.” Karen also recommends seeking out externships or similar experiences. Her 3L year included an externship at the United States Attorney’s Office, where she watched court proceedings, learned about the trial process, and worked on a trial team. Karen also interned at Legal Services of Central New York (her first exposure to non-profit legal work) and worked part-time at the New York State Attorney General’s office.

Karen also found her time on the Syracuse Law Review helped develop skills which increased her technical proficiency and translated well beyond law school. Karen specifically recounted her 2L year and its focus on citations and proofreading, as well as the benefits of learning to thoroughly and accurately research. Karen believes that her time on Law Review made her a better lawyer overall. During her 3L year, Karen continued her dedication to Law Review as a Lead Articles Editor. She enjoyed the journal’s comradery and spoke fondly of times spent reviewing article submissions and working with other editors.

Following graduation, Karen returned to her native Pennsylvania to clerk for a state trial court judge. She noted that while the county was small, the court was busy, and this clerkship proved to be a formative experience. It was there that Karen continued to find research and writing rewarding. When she thereafter decided to return to the Syracuse area, she continued to pursue clerkship opportunities. In federal court, Karen started as a pro se law clerk for the Northern District of New York and went on to become a staff attorney. Her final clerkship was with U.S. Magistrate Judge George H. Lowe.

Judge Lowe was and remains a strong proponent of providing pro bono services. In recognition of his efforts, the George H. Lowe Center for Justice in Syracuse was dedicated in 2015. The Center for Justice brings together multiple providers of free legal services under one roof. His dedication to providing pro bono services resonated with Karen and she has made service an important part of her legal career. After clerking, Karen entered private practice where she received several awards for her pro bono service, such as the New York State Bar Association National Pro Bono Access to Justice Award in 2015 and the New York State Bar Association Empire State Counsel Certificate for Pro Bono Service in 2014. In addition, she was named to the 2012–2014 Pro Bono Service Honor Roll for the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York. She notes the importance of recognizing people who give their time to service as it motivates people to continue serving and encourages others to join in.

Karen is currently with Hiscock Legal Aid Society (“HLA”), where she has been for more than five years. She was interested in immigration law and remembered her positive experiences working for a nonprofit legal service provider while in law school. Karen immediately clicked with the dedicated professionals within HLA’s immigration department and finds the work incredibly rewarding as it makes a direct positive impact on her clients’ lives. She has assisted clients with obtaining citizenship among other things. This past year Karen helped a client with severe disabilities obtain citizenship, an experience that reinforced her pursuits.

Karen suggests taking trial practice in law school and wishes she had been able to take advanced trial practice as well. Learning to think and advocate “on your feet” and learning to question witnesses are skills a law student can take anywhere, even if they are not interested in conducting trials. For students interested in immigration law, Karen recommends becoming familiar with The American Immigration Lawyers Association and volunteering or interning with a practicing immigration attorney. Volunteering with a refugee resettlement agency can also provide valuable insight and experience.

Karen’s advice to current Law Review members and law students is to get to know the legal community. If possible, get student memberships in local bar associations and attend events when you are able, as these offer great opportunities to meet future colleagues. Karen also advises students to, “discover what you find rewarding.” Karen Southwick is the embodiment of a dedicated professional striving to aid those in our communities who need it most.