Clarissa Gaff ’00 is the executive director at Land of Lincoln Legal Aid, which provides free civil legal assistance to low income individuals in St. Louis, Missouri.
She was an English major at Goshen College.
“I work for Land of Lincoln Legal Aid, which provides free civil legal assistance to low income individuals in 65 Illinois counties. I have often said that we practice in the emergency room of law. People come to us in crisis, seeking help protecting their livelihoods, their homes, their children, themselves and their rights. The justice system is scary with a lawyer, let alone without a lawyer, particularly when the most important things in your life are on the line.
Goshen College’s emphasis of service to others inevitably led to my career in legal aid. But more importantly, my GC education instilled a deep wellspring of empathy — cultivated on SST, in my studies of literature and history, through rich relationships with my classmates and professors, and a deeper connection to my Mennonite faith.
Demonstrating empathy and connecting with clients is one of the most important attributes you can have as a legal aid attorney. Because so many of our clients have been consistently mistreated by institutions and systems in their lives, they have no reason to trust you — since you work in a seemingly unfair and biased system and are therefore seen as part of it. If you gain your client’s trust by meaningfully connecting with them, you can be a much stronger advocate. GC provided me with a sound foundation to be a passionate and caring attorney.”