Matter of choice: Yale graduate finds her niche in law school


– Photo by Paul Janczewski

Amy Marino, who just earned her law degree after a successful career at Cooley Law School, studies for the state bar examination.

By Paul Janczewski

Legal News

Amy Marino always had a passion for fairness and justice, and was drawn to people who were struggling, or needed a helping hand, or were caught up on the wrong side of a societal power imbalance.

And after obtaining her undergraduate degree in psychology from Yale University, Marino worked as a counselor for children with severe problems, and later at a juvenile treatment facility for mentally ill young men who were convicted of sex offenses.

But after more than three years performing that type of work, Marino came to a crossroad in her life.

She could either get advanced education in her field, or switch gears and try something else that allowed her to maintain her passion for fairness and justice.

After some intense soul-searching, Marino decided that choosing another career path could satisfy that need — she would go to law school.

“I always had this interest in justice and fairness, but it never coalesced into the idea of being an attorney until later in life,” she said.

Starting over in law school was not just a whim.

“I weighed a few different options, but my decision was a very purposeful one.”

Marino, 35, was born in Clearfield, Pa., “a small town in the middle of nowhere.”

Her supportive parents taught her two important things — be a life-long learner, and be true to yourself.

The advice from her mother, Debbie, now a retired school teacher and former president of the teachers union, and her father, Pete, a retired insurance agent, stuck with the young girl.

“As a teen-ager, I wanted to learn as much as I could about American social and cultural history, and I was always willing to debate someone about political issues,” Marino said.

That strong sense of justice and fairness was beginning to take root, and it would only grow deeper as she aged.

After high school, she moved to New Haven, Conn. to attend Yale, and graduated in 2002 with a bachelor of arts degree in psychology, with a concentration in
behavioral science.

Besides several internships there, Marino also found time to land a gig as a percussionist in the Yale marching band.

Marino also witnessed inner-city poverty and homelessness for the first time, and performed some volunteer work revolving around social and environmental justice with a goal of helping people improve their lives and their communities.

Her degree took her to Erie, Pa. for the next seven years for work as a counselor for troubled children. Her work took her into homes and schools, providing one-on-one counseling with the children. Later, working with young mentally ill men, Marino called the experience satisfying “and exciting.”

“It was fun work, it was exciting, it was hard work, and it was always different,” she said.

“But after three-and-a-half years, I was ready for a change.”

Marino took the LSAT, but continued working for a few years before “I finally just decided to go for it.” She had never been to Michigan before, but decided on Cooley Law School because she was offered a full honor scholarship and flexible scheduling.

“It would allow me to tailor my studies just how I wanted,” she said. “So I resigned from my position, moved here in 2009, and basically started over.”

It didn’t take long for Marino to know she made the right choice.

“Law school became a passion for me,” she said. “I was excited about the change, and when I started here, I just took off. I did very well from the beginning and everything just fell into place, so it kind of felt magical.”

Marino took advantage of Cooley’s excellent professors, the many opportunities it offered students, and the real-life aspect of some courses.

Marino served on the Board of Editors for the Law Review, took notes for students with disabilities, participated in moot court and negotiation competitions, was a teaching assistant in three different courses, and served as team leader for Cooley’s “Just the Beginning Foundation Summer Legal Institute. ”

In addition, she served as lead student coordinator for an all-day seminar called “From Redlining to White Flight,” which addressed the impact on housing discrimination in Detroit, and served internships for Genesee Circuit Judge Joseph Farah and U.S. District Judge David Lawson.

In addition to winning several academic awards, Marino also found time to perform pro bono work, volunteering for the Legal Aid and Defender Association and the State Appellate Defender Office.

She made the dean’s list every term and worked with high school students in a federal court program to introduce underrepresented populations to careers in the legal field.

On top of all that, Marino graduated recently magna cum laude and ranked ninth in a class of 437 in Cooley’s 40th year.

“Cooley has enormous reach in Michigan legal circles, and I’ve met state Supreme Court justices and more, and had a chance to network in legal circles,” she said. “I’m pleased to be part of the 40th year graduating class. As far as reputation and prestige, it’s what you do with it and how you apply it.”

Marino is now studying for the bar exam and has decided to remain here. She is looking for a job in Southeastern Michigan, but would explore other areas of the state if the right opportunity presented itself.

“I like it here very much, and I have decided to make Michigan my new home state,” she said. “Really, I’m open for everything as long as it inspires me and draws on my interest.”

Marino said someday in the future, she would like to teach law.

“But I’ll always find a way to do some kind of community work and public service,” she said.

She is somewhat flattered by the attention this story might bring, but also mindful that a similar story could have been written on any number of Cooley graduates.
“Cooley focuses on developing us as lawyers, and as whole people,” she said.