Faculty Spotlight: Cheryl Bratt

Many of us attend law school to help our communities, whether through policy work, representing marginalized clients, or integrating pro bono work into our practice. However, it’s very easy for our doctrinal classes to feel removed from our ultimate purposes.

As a Law Practice Professor, Professor Bratt teaches students the skills they will use in practice, like conducting legal research, writing predictive memoranda, and drafting motions to a court. Professor Bratt–no surprise to those who know her–goes above and beyond her responsibilities as a Law Practice Professor. Not only is she a thoughtful, caring professor, but she also works with Lawyers Clearinghouse to give 1Ls discrete opportunities to assist marginalized clients with their legal issues. Professor Bratt creates opportunities for students to work with clients in need of legal services. This experience was the highlight of my 1L year, and it made me feel like I had more to offer the world and my new community in Boston.

I sat down with Professor Bratt to discuss the opportunities that lead her to her dream job, what brought her to teach Law Practice at BC Law and to get to know her beyond the classroom.

Could you tell me why you wanted to go to law school or if there’s an experience that crystallized that for you?

When I was around 8 years old, my younger sister, who was in elementary school learning cursive writing, wrote my signature in permanent marker on my parents’ bedspread. My father grounded me, disbelieving that someone else would sign my name. I was livid. So, I devised a plan. One day at the kitchen table, I remarked to my younger sister how beautiful her cursive writing was, and I convinced her to write my name in script. She did. And I took that piece of paper and showed the similarity of the signatures between that and the bedspread, and I won my case. That was a very satisfying moment for me. I think I’ve always identified as advocating for fairness—especially as a middle child.

From that moment of proving your innocence, can you tell me more about your journey to law school?

My father was a lawyer. He began his career at the SEC and then he opened a solo practice in our town. So I had some exposure to what a lawyer was. But, he passed away when I was a teenager, and so I never really had the opportunity to engage with him meaningfully about his work. 

After college, I joined Teach For America and taught English Language Arts in New Orleans. I stayed on for four years and while I enjoyed being in education, I was growing frustrated with the different challenges that my students were facing, the inefficiencies in the way the district was run, and the disparities between my students and the students in wealthier districts.

I decided to take the LSAT and apply to law school. Meanwhile, I learned from a friend about an opportunity to work as a paralegal for the government of Eritrea. I applied and got the position, and so I moved to Asmara, Eritrea for six months. There, I worked with Eritrean lawyers, interviewing witnesses and fact-gathering in border villages to assess the damages from the 1998 Eritrean-Ethiopian war. It was really exciting and made me feel more confident in my decision to apply to law school.

And after all of this, what made you choose to teach at BC?

I casually thought about becoming a professor while in law school, and it remained in the back of my mind until I decided to leave WilmerHale to pursue it. I taught at a few different schools in different capacities—the University of Michigan Law School and Harvard Law School before applying to BC Law. 

In all honesty, I almost didn’t come here. I had a screening interview for the Law Practice position and was having an off day. I wasn’t on my game and I didn’t make it past that initial round. A few months later, though, I was invited back because one of the other candidates had withdrawn from the process. How lucky was I! During my day-long interview I got to meet with various cohorts of faculty, give a job talk about my academic writing and interests, and connect with students. And I loved my day at BC. I felt this intellectual curiosity and support here that was so refreshing. It also didn’t hurt that I live near the law school. When I got the position, I accepted it right away. 

Have the characteristics that originally brought you to BC come to life within the BC community since you’ve been here?

Absolutely. BC has this rich intellectual life among the faculty. We have different round tables and workshops where people can present a draft of a paper, or just the idea of a paper, and get feedback from colleagues. And the students are just fantastic. They are brilliant and curious and so impressive. I feel so lucky to get to work with them.   

Tell me more about your campus involvement.

I’m one of the faculty advisors for LAMBDA and the Law Review, and I co-chair of the Clerkship Committee. I had wonderful and incredibly formative clerking experiences, and I’m really excited to help students think about those opportunities. I am also one of the core faculty members who designed (and redesigned) the Critical Perspectives 1L course.

I also run this side gig of introducing live client experiences to 1Ls. I distinctly remember being a 1L and coming into law school with this dream of doing really important advocacy work and then sitting in these doctrinal classes not connecting to my purpose for being in law school. There was a lot of cognitive dissonance around it all–it was disillusioning–and I questioned why I was there. I think that’s a common story, and so one of the things I wanted to do was bridge that gap and help 1Ls see beyond the confines of their classrooms.

I also want to note that participating in the Lawyers Clearinghouse CORI Clinic was my favorite experience of 1L. Working with two other attorneys made me feel like I belonged in the profession and helped me to remember that law school is a transition to my dream career. It was also a great way to see how easy it was to help my community with a law degree without having to focus specifically on a social justice practice, and in this way opened a lot of doors for what I considered to be possible career avenues. How did you start this for BC Law students?

I was talking to a former WilmerHale colleague one day and she told me about the work she does with Lawyer’s Clearinghouse, an organization that connects law firms and in-house lawyers with pro bono opportunities. It struck me as an amazing opportunity for students to get involved in a very discrete way. 1Ls are super overwhelmed and overburdened with work, but multiple benefits flow from a discrete live-client experience. Students get to practice their skills, work with real people experiencing real hardship, and perhaps connect to why they went to law school in the first place–to help marginalized people access legal assistance. It is also a great way to network authentically with lawyers in the Boston Area. 

There are two different clinics–the CORI sealing clinic where individuals with criminal records are counseled on their options for sealing their records, and a general legal clinic where clients are interviewed and then represented in whatever litigation ensues. Law students partner with one or two lawyers to assist with the initial meetings for both clinics. Students don’t take on additional work beyond the initial interview, and the workload is contained to just one week. Although it requires time and effort, students have overwhelmingly found it to be a highlight of their 1L year.

Finally, tell me about what you like to do outside of law?

I have a six-year-old and an almost three-year-old, so I have little time to myself. But, my guilty pleasure is reading mass-market crime dramas–the low-brow stuff, like James Patterson, where there’s a spunky female police detective or private investigator out to right the wrongs. I poured over Shakespeare and Milton in college, so I’m sure my younger self is judging me.  But these books offer short chapters and no emotional investment, and are just downright fun.

Reilly Doak is a second-year student at BC Law. Contact her at doaka@bc.edu.

One thought on “Faculty Spotlight: Cheryl Bratt

  1. Pingback: 5 Professor Personalities That Make BC Law Great | BC Law: Impact

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