Why We Do What We Do

This week my former Penn State Law student Courtney Kiehl appeared on HLN sharing her experience as a child sexual abuse survivor. Courtney was sexually abused by her gymnastics coach for years as a young girl. Like many other courageous abuse survivors, Courtney’s resilience galvanized into a career path to law school. Advocating for other victims of sexual and family violence is her sole ambition, and she does it remarkably well for a woman who never wanted to be a lawyer. During college at UCLA, Courtney planned to work in public policy or direct victim services as soon as she graduated. Law school was never in the picture.  She has shared with me numerous times, though, her light-bulb moment while working with abuse victims frustrated with the legal system that often re-traumatizes them.  “I thought, oh, crap,” Courtney says, “I guess I have to go to law school.” And when the Sandusky tragedy unfolded at Penn State in 2011, she knew where she needed to be.

I met Courtney in 2012 as a 1L who explained her story and her career goals. She struck me as a typically green 1L with an atypical tenacity and motivation. She enrolled in my clinic, where she represented domestic violence survivors. The greenness ripened, and the tenacity and motivation fueled her growth into a highly engaged advocate. She became my research assistant, then my post-graduate fellow, then my research team‘s project manager. Courtney blossomed into a confident, capable contributor to our law and policy projects in academia. I urged her to stay on at Penn State, or elsewhere in legal education, or in any academic setting. She reminded me she went to law school to represent survivors. She returned to California when her grad fellowship ended.  I sent her countless job announcements for junior positions with law school clinics and policy shops in California. She reminded me she went to law school to represent survivors. We convinced her to stay on the research project working remotely for a year.  And when that year ended, she reminded us she went to law school to represent survivors.  She sought out, and found, a job with a highly regarded attorney who represents child sex abuse survivors. She lived her truth. She continues to speak out. And she reminds me every day, by living that truth, why we do what we do as legal educators.

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