Serving The Public Interest

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St. John’s Law Magazine | Serving The Public Interest

Since arriving at St. John’s Law on a St. Thomas More Scholarship, Allie Cabibbo has pursued a career in the public interest with laser-like focus.

As a 1L, she volunteered with the Civil Legal Advice and Resources Office to support its mission of assisting low-income New Yorkers being sued by debt collectors. She also earned a position on the executive board of the Law School’s Public Interest Center, which offers St. John’s Law students and alumni opportunities to help the underserved in and around New York City.

Receiving one of several Catalyst Public Service Fellowships awarded to St. John’s Law students, Cabibbo spent her 1L summer as a legal intern at the Urban Justice Center’s Mental Health Project. Then, during her second year at St. John’s, she broadened her public interest experience as a student advocate in the full-year Criminal Defense Clinic, assigned to The Legal Aid Society in Queens.

“I loved the work,” Cabibbo says. “Pursuant to a Student Practice Order, I carried my own caseload representing clients accused of misdemeanors and other minor offenses. I had all the duties of a criminal defense attorney, including client intake, arraignment, bail proceedings, discovery and motion practice, court appearances, hearings, plea negotiations, and trials.” As she navigated the hands-on learning at Legal Aid, Cabibbo had steadfast mentors. One was St. John’s Law alumna Maria Martinez, a staff attorney in the office’s Criminal Defense Practice.

Like Cabibbo, Martinez grew up in New York and, from an early age, was drawn to work in the public interest. “As far back as I can remember, I was interested in criminal law,” she says. “In high school, I attended a summer law program where we received a case file and prepared for a mock trial. I’ve been hooked on trial work ever since. When it came time to apply to law school, St. John’s was a natural choice. Its Vincentian mission is consistent with my personal philosophy of helping those who are poor, marginalized, and struggle to access justice.”

Also, like Cabibbo, Martinez participated in the Law School’s Criminal Defense Clinic and found it a formative experience. “Had it not been for the Clinic, I don’t think I would be where I am today,” she says. “The curriculum was comprehensive and engaging, and weekly lectures helped us connect what we were studying in class to real world law practice. In fact, I found my Clinic work so rewarding that I’ve basically been at Legal Aid ever since.”

As a Legal Aid staff attorney, Martinez provides holistic, client-centered representation to low-income New Yorkers facing misdemeanor, felony, and homicide charges. “I handle matters from arraignments through hearings and trials, working closely with other units in our office to help mitigate any collateral consequences my clients could face due to their arrest or conviction,” she explains. When presented with an opportunity to support Cabibbo during her time in the Criminal Defense Practice, Martinez didn’t hesitate.

“Mentoring Allie was one of my most rewarding experiences at Legal Aid to date,” she says. “She was high energy and always ready, willing, and able to dive into the work. She spent countless hours at arraignments with me, including Saturday nights. I may have given Allie some practical tools, but she sure put them to good use. Through her perseverance and amazing advocacy, she gained the trust and respect of her clients and the attorneys in our office. I consider her a colleague, and I know our connection— as lawyers in the public interest and as representatives of St. John’s Law—will remain strong.”

The connection to Martinez also endures for Cabibbo, who, as a St. John’s Law Summer Public Interest Fellow, returned to Legal Aid this past summer to work in its Consumer Law Project in Jamaica, Queens. “What I enjoyed most about Maria’s mentorship during my year in the Clinic was feeling comfortable being confused, confident in my representation despite being such a novice, and being able to be candid with my questions,” she says. “I always felt like my input mattered, and that I was part of the Legal Aid team.”

Cabibbo also appreciates that she and Martinez have St. John’s Law in common. “Alumni mentors are vital because law school can feel very abstract and legal practice can feel like a misty, distant shore,” she observes. “Getting to know an attorney, delving into their day-to-day work, and understanding their role in the immense legal community makes your own career feel more tangible and less mysterious. I don’t know how anyone could choose a career path without a mentor in the field, and I’m very grateful for Maria’s guidance as I chart mine.