Lise Daniels, JD 2010
It brought the reality of law into the law school. I got to do the real thing—and got to realize I’m good at the real thing.”
BS, Behavioral Science, Granite State College
Career Before Law School:
Stay-at-home mom, crisis counselor, sales clerk, sleep researcher, and tax advisor
The first and most obvious question to ask law student Lise Daniels is: How does she do it?
In addition to grueling second-year legal studies, she has shares responsibility with her husband of a household, four children ages 7 to 14, and seven pets. She lives in Canaan, N.H., so commutes two hours a day to classes, returning home in time to chauffeur her kids to after-school events and occasionally oversee the delivery of a litter of kittens. And-as if that weren't enough-she started a free legal resources center near her home where she works at least ten hours a week.
"Technically, it's impossible what I'm doing, but I just keep going full-speed ahead," she says. "I'm stubborn more than anything. It's really what I want to do."
Throughout it all, Vermont Law School has backed her up-by letting her select midday classes, by allowing her a lighter course load initially, and by being a place where "professors that care so much you can hop into their office and be heard-I've been through enough bureaucracies to recognize that this is pretty golden," she says. Not to mention providing classes stimulating enough to keep her fully awake in her sleep-challenged state: "If I had had to sit through droning, horrible lectures, it would have done me in," she says.
In the beginning it was hard to find the right balance. In the first semester, she veered back and forth from straight-A student to super-Mom-at the ultimate expense of both. "If my kids got these grades, I'd say, ‘Are you doing drugs?'" she moaned one day to Academic Vice Dean Stephanie Willbanks. "These grades mean you're being a mother as well," replied Dean Willbanks. "If you were getting straight As, I would wonder what's going on in your family." Says Lise now: "Those words were a gift."
Happily, she has received the support she needs at home: a husband who willingly takes on cooking, vacuuming, and childcare, an ex-husband who cares for her three oldest children half the week, and children who boast to friends, "My mom knows a lot!" and "My mom helps people without charging money!"
She knew for sure she had made the right choice when she saw her first clients as an intern in the South Royalton Legal Clinic, a VLS program that allows students, under the guidance of experienced attorneys, to represent clients in state and federal courts and administrative hearings. The skills Lise had learned in her past jobs-as a crisis counselor, a sales clerk, a sleep researcher, and a tax advisor- swung into place when she combined them with her law-school training to help low-income clients negotiate wills and regain child custody. "It brought the reality of law into the law school," she says. "I got to do the real thing-and got to realize I'm good at the real thing." It's reinforced her desire to enter general practice law, a VLS strength.
In 2008, without hesitation, she applied for a prestigious Schweitzer Fellowship to set up a legal services clinic for low-income residents in the Mascoma Valley in New Hampshire. The $2,000 grant that she won only covered a small fraction of the cost of setting up the center, but moved by the needs of poor rural families-and not being one to go slow-she dipped into her home equity line of credit to cover initial expenses, including a year's office rent. With donated equipment, she now directs the Mascoma Legal Resources Center, helping people locate legal help for such issues as DUI, landlord-tenant disputes, and IRS problems-even providing high-speed internet access, phones and faxes for people without access to them.
"The fact that I get to go to law school is such a huge gift, given to me by so many people, so obviously I have to turn around and give back," she says. "That's the way it works. You're blessed, and you turn around and try to share that with others."