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My Law School Story: Kaneesha Dukes and Xena Robinson, Giving Back While Preparing for the Future
Xena Robinson, Kaneesha Dukes

Xena Robinson explains CORI sealing


Sample CORI used in trainings


Xena Robinson and Kaneesha Dukes wrap up CORI Initiative training

Plenty of students come to law school passionate about social justice issues, even though they may not want to pursue a full-time career in, say, public interest law. Luckily, one of the best things about law school is that you can get involved, give back, and help others, no matter what your legal interests.

Just ask Kaneesha Dukes and Xena Robinson, students at New England Law | Boston.

As co-managers of the school’s CORI Initiative, Robinson and Dukes take leading roles in lifting the burden of a criminal record from eligible individuals. Many people in Massachusetts have a CORI (Criminal Offender Record Information) file that qualifies for sealing. A sealed record can open up employment, housing, and financial opportunities—and gives individuals a chance to get their lives back on track. But many people need help navigating the legal process. That’s where the CORI Initiative steps in, connecting New England Law student volunteers with qualified clients to complete the sealing process.

After volunteering with the group throughout law school, Robinson and Dukes took over co-managing the CORI Initiative their final (3L) year. In addition to assisting clients in sealing their criminal records, they oversee operations and train their fellow New England Law students. “We teach them which documents are essential for sealing, how to draft the documents necessary for sealing, how to communicate with clients and conduct client interviews, and how to navigate and use our resources,” Robinson said.

They also teach other lawyers the ins and outs of criminal record sealing. Recently, Robinson and Dukes spent a morning at Rosie’s Place, a sanctuary for poor and homeless women in Boston, training fifteen lawyers from the law firm of Ropes & Gray, who provide a monthly CORI clinic at the shelter.

The CORI Initiative is supervised by Professor David Siegel, who also participated in the training at Rosie’s Place. “Kaneesha and Xena have a combined six years of CORI practice experience, and their expert guidance was extremely useful for the lawyers, said Siegel. “They could describe specific situations involving difficult cases and strategies they developed for everything from double-checking each client’s contact information at every encounter to crafting effective affidavits for sealing petitions.”

“The CORI Initiative has been critical to the development of the CORI assistance clinics at Rosie’s Place,” said Jennifer Howard, Director of Legal Programs at the shelter. “Kaneesha and Xena demonstrated total command of the subject matter and were easily able to answer questions and help training participants think through difficult questions. They presented as organized, confident, and commanded the room like they’d been practicing lawyers for years. The whole presentation spoke volumes of the value of their experiences with the Initiative.”

Both Dukes and Robinson began volunteering for the CORI Initiative as first-year (1L) students. “I was motivated by the opportunity to perform legal work at the start of my law school journey,” Dukes said. “It seemed like a great way to not only reach my pro bono hours for my state's bar requirements but to also get some legal experience right away.” Robinson echoes her sentiment: “As a 1L, the idea of being part of a ‘student-run’ law firm was intriguing. Knowing that I was gaining real legal experience and the chance to interact with clients was really exciting.”

While the CORI Initiative provides a valuable public service and pro bono experience in law school, it also teaches law students the practical skills they’ll need for their future career. “I did not have a legal background before law school and had never had the chance to perform any legal work,” Robinson said. “Once I joined the CORI Initiative, I actually began developing foundational legal skills and felt I was finally in a position to compete and market myself when searching for internships.”

After graduating law school, Dukes hopes to practice business law for a large firm or corporation, or perhaps work in-house for an investment management company practicing securities law. She said the CORI Initiative gave her the experience she needs to succeed. “The CORI Initiative teaches and heightens practical legal skills,” she said. “Interacting with clients, critical thinking, problem solving, drafting legal documents, and court procedural practices are all crucial.” Dukes is also gaining experience through New England Law’s clinical law program as a law clerk for the Massachusetts Appellate Tax Board.

Exploring her legal interests through the CORI Initiative and other law school activities also helped Robinson hone her professional plans. “I started out strictly interested in immigration law but was advised to explore other areas of the law before making a final decision,” she said. So she took varied classes, attended speaker panels, joined student groups, went to bar association events, and spoke with practicing attorneys in different areas. “This helped me eliminate what areas I didn’t like and focus on what I thought was appealing.” She finally found her niche in employment law. Working as a law clerk at Liberty Mutual helped solidify her decision to follow this path, and she said the CORI Initiative was a major reason why she got that job. “My plan is to hopefully work in-house as an employment attorney one day,” Robinson said. “I believe working on the management side will give me the chance to prevent serious problems in the workplace.”

Both women are excited about their futures in corporate law—and both agree that the CORI Initiative has prepared them for the work and taught them lessons they’ll carry for the rest of their lives. “It has made me realize that I would like to continue to do pro bono work in the future, and maybe CORI sealing will be part of that,” Dukes said.

“The CORI Initiative has given me the strong foundation I need to be confident in my work,” Robinson said. “I never had a fear of asking questions at work or asking for clarity on an assignment. The CORI Initiative taught me how to remain organized, properly maintain my case files, and always update my case notes, which are essential in legal settings, regardless of practice area.”

Robinson’s advice for other law students? “Just get involved,” she said. “Look for an organization or project that you are interested in and dedicate some time. Whether you are getting practical legal experience or networking, it will all pay off.

Learn more about the CORI Initiative and other criminal justice projects.