Annie McDermott ’21 entered law school with an enthusiasm for special education and disability law for low income people. As one of nine children raised by a single mother, including a brother with autism, McDermott experienced firsthand the many struggles of navigating the education, healthcare and disability services systems.
After completing her bachelor’s degree at Immaculata University, McDermott worked in special education for two years and was a legal writer for a forensic psychiatrist. “Writing for an expert witness solidified my desire to go into law, but my experience working as a teacher’s assistant and behavioral specialist at a special education school really triggered my passion,” said McDermott. “My eyes were opened to the many challenges children with disabilities face in education, including my own brother. I went to law school to help families like my own through special education law.”
Once at Villanova Law, McDermott has put her passion into practice. She is president of Street Law, a student organization that empowers Philadelphia-area children with legal and civic knowledge, co-president of the Juvenile Law Society, which focuses on juvenile justice reform and combatting the school-to-prison pipeline, and is the Development and Alumni Coordinator for the Public Interest Fellowship Program. She also volunteers with the Pro Bono Society at Face-to-Face Birth Certificate Clinics.
This year, McDermott was selected as a 2020 Rural Summer Legal Corps Student Fellow (RSLC) by Equal Justice Works, the nation’s largest facilitator of opportunities in public interest law, and the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), the nation’s largest funder of civil legal aid for low-income Americans. Chosen as one of only 35 Student Fellows out of 446 applications nationwide, McDermott joins the 2020 class of Rural Summer Legal Corps Fellows who are working at LSC-funded civil legal aid organizations across the country, providing legal assistance to people in rural areas.
McDermott was paired with California Rural Legal Assistance to provide legal advocacy to low-income students, parents and guardians with the goal of decreasing unlawful and disproportionate alternative school assignments and disciplinary actions. Through her fellowship, she hopes to learn legal strategies that provide equal access to a beneficial education for vulnerable children.
“I became interested in the RSLC because I want to better understand the challenges rural Americans face in accessing justice,” said McDermott. “My work will address the impact of the school-to-nowhere pipeline, a national trend wherein vulnerable children are funneled out of public schools and often enter juvenile and criminal justice systems.”
McDermott will also help to develop advocacy tools for parents throughout California to enforce their children’s rights to education during school suspensions, and she will analyze the implementation of new legal protections that guard minors from custodial interrogations without counsel.
McDermott held a previous public interest legal internship with the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project where she provided legal assistance to people institutionalized or incarcerated in Pennsylvania. She also worked in Villanova Law’s Clinic for Asylum, Refugee and Emigrant Services, and as a student intern in Villanova Law’s Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation.
McDermott is fully dedicated to being a lawyer who serves her community, and she credits Villanova Law’s values-driven education to transforming her into the type of lawyer she wants to become.