June 01, 2011

State bar to honor law student for public service

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The state's leading legal association will recognize a Southern Illinois University School of Law student for her commitment to public service law.
Angela Rollins will receive the 2011 Student Division Public Service Award from the Illinois State Bar Association during the organization’s 135th annual meeting. Rollins will receive the award June 17; the organization’s annual meeting is June 16-18.
“I’m very committed to public interest work so I was very honored to win this award,” said Rollins, who is from Royalton. “It’s an honor to receive this from the Illinois State Bar Association.”
In addition to a No. 2 ranking in a law school class of 120 students, Rollins’ current and recent work includes the Downstate Illinois Innocence Project, the law school’s Immigration Detention Project, the Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation, the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the Southern District of Illinois, and the law school’s Domestic Violence Clinic. She recently began work as a judicial extern for federal Judge J. Phil Gilbert.
“Angela isn’t a lawyer yet, but she has already accomplished a lifetime of important public service. Her achievements should be an inspiration to all law students and lawyers alike,” said Mark D. Hassakis of Mount Vernon, the 2010-2011 ISBA president.
Dean Cynthia L. Fountaine said the law school is “very proud” of Rollins’ selection.
“Her service exemplifies our law school's commitment to encourage students to recognize their responsibility to ‘give back’ to their communities, and we are delighted that her outstanding service has been recognized by the state bar,” Fountaine said. “Angela sets a positive example for other students and lawyers and exemplifies the positive values of public service and commitment to her community.”
Rollins, the daughter of Linda and Larry Reaney of Royalton, graduated from Christopher High School in 1997 and is a two-degree SIUC graduate. She earned bachelor’s degrees in classics in 2002, and in paralegal studies in 2006. She expects to earn her law degree, and a graduate certificate in Women’s Studies, in May 2012. She hopes to pursue work as a criminal defense attorney, possibly in a public defender’s office.
“Since I’ve come to the law school I’ve done everything I can in public interest work,” she said.
Rollins began working for Land of Lincoln as an administrative secretary in 2003, shortly after earning her first degree. It was there while assisting indigent clients with issues ranging from domestic violence to illegal evictions that her passion for public interest work began, she said.
“I just really fell in love with what I was doing,” she said.
While working at Land of Lincoln, Rollins pursued a paralegal degree, and upon graduation, worked three years as a paralegal for Walgreens Co., in Danville. While the company was fine, Rollins realized corporate law didn’t fit what she wanted to do.
“Working in corporate, I wasn’t able to help people, and I wanted to get back into public interest work,” she said.
A non-traditional student, Rollins chose the SIU School of Law because of its proximity to home, the educational opportunities, and emphasis on public service law.
Rollins and another student, Jennifer Donnelly, last fall began assisting the Downstate Illinois Innocence Project, an organization whose work is to not only assist wrongfully convicted prisoners prove their innocence, but also aims to reform the state’s criminal justice system. Four additional students are involved with the program through unpaid externships in the spring semester. Donnelly and another project participant graduated in May, but seven more students are involved, bringing the total to 11 SIU law students now involved.
“I knew there would be plenty of opportunities to pursue things like the Innocence Project,” she said. “If I were at a larger school I probably would not have been able to work with faculty, and have faculty who were responsive to forming the Innocence Project.”
Rollins is also working as a research assistant for William A. Schroeder, a professor at the law school. Schroeder, a co-director of SIUC students involved with the Innocence Project, said Rollins’ and Donnelly’s efforts started the law school’s involvement.
He is delighted to have her as a research assistant.
“She’s a really hard-working person,” Schroeder said. “She’s very diligent, thoughtful and organized. She does a lot of things and she does them well.” She takes the initiative and sees it through.”
Rollins believes being a student who returned to school after a few years outside the classroom has benefits. She believes she has “a better concept of what this means and what I can do,” and helped hone her skills with faculty members when pursing the Innocence Project.
Rollins also credits her family support, particularly her mother for helping care for Rollins’ two-year-old daughter Brooklyn while Rollins is studying for classes or working.
“I couldn’t do what I’m doing now without my mom,” she said. “I owe my life to my mom right now. I could make it, but I don’t think I would be able to do all this.”