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A Nontraditional Path to Law School


By Candace M. Ruocco.

Suzanne Quinn was not a typical child.

The daughter of two community activists, Quinn frequented peaceful demonstrations and even marched for causes in Washington, D.C. Schooled by her parents in concepts of peace and activism, she carries her “family’s social justice background” with her all over the world.

Quinn’s self-described “nontraditional” path to law school led her to war-torn countries, new democracies on the brink of elections, and deep inside the United States’s own domestic violence prevention front.

“I’ve always been interested in law, but I focused more immediately on advocacy, social activism, and social justice work––which finally led me to law school,” she says. “While working with victim rights groups I saw a need for legal advocacy. Legal education was a natural extension of the causes I worked with.”

Before college, Quinn spent two years working for humanitarian aid organizations in Mozambique, a nation recovering from 25 years of war.

“I was able to see transformative change in the country, and it taught me a lot about the political process,” she says. “I watched Mozambique’s president run for democratic election and saw him speak to communities in the capitol’s formal settings as well as the country’s rural settings. Although he used different languages to communicate his platform, it was the same message of hope.”

“It was really inspirational. I actually wrote about him in my law school application.”

Quinn enrolled at Wayne State University as a political science and peace and conflict studies double major. She simultaneously began her three-year tenure as a full-time program director at Detroit’s Freedom House Refugee Shelter. In 1997, Quinn served as an international elections supervisor for the US State Department in Bosnia.

Her international experiences offer a unique insight into the American paradigm.

“We must be thankful for the right to vote and must exercise it,” she says. “In Mozambique and Bosnia, people lined around the block and voting hours were extended.”

Although those nations have unique democratic perspectives, Quinn says she noticed “a common spirit between young Americans and young [foreigners].”

After graduating with honors in 1999, Quinn spent 33 months working for AmeriCorps’ Youth Leadership Development Program.

“[It] is like an urban Peace Corps,” she says. “While there, I coordinated community development programs in Detroit and Johannesburg, South Africa.”

Next, Quinn moved to Miami and worked for the International Rescue Committee’s Human Trafficking Program. She obtained her Masters of International Administration from the University of Miami in 2004.

During her graduate years, Quinn also served as a community liaison to the university’s Partnership for the Study and Prevention of Violence. In November 2007, she became the deputy director of Victim Response, Inc./The Lodge, an organization providing shelter, advocacy, and counseling services to domestic violence and sexual assault victims.

Her work experience gives her a well-rounded awareness of domestic violence, which she says she considers an often misunderstood issue.

“There must be a coordinated response to domestic violence,” she says. “Shelter, courts, or law enforcement cannot [independently] effectively protect victims.”

After promoting human rights on three continents, Quinn is now a 2L at Wayne State University Law School, where she is pursuing a certificate in dispute resolution and works as an Asylum and Immigration Law Clinic intern and research assistant.

Quinn says she will not limit herself or reveal any secrets about future projects. She has “no firm plans” after law school, though she is interested in mediation and litigation.

“I try not to stress out about what the future holds,” she says “I’m building my path as I go.”

Suzanne After Class

  • On your bucket list: To publish a novel
  • Latest interesting thing read: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
  • One thing you can’t study without: My favorite hoodie
  • Words you live by: “Well behaved women rarely make history.”—Laurel Thatcher Ulrich


Vol. 40 No. 4

Candace M. Ruocco, Saint Louis School of Law.

Student Lawyer Student Lawyer magazine provides guidance on educational, career, and related issues for ABA Law Student Division members and other subscribers. It is published four times a year by the Law Student Division of the American Bar Association. Student Lawyer is available online to members of the ABA Law Student Division and to print subscribers.

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