Becoming a Superhero

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By Lucy Shephard ’23

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.

That is how I started my summer Law Clerk position at the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of New York. Taking my Oath of Office was exhilarating. It was also terrifying. Thousands of doubts raced through my mind as I tried to remember the words that I was supposed to be repeating after the United States Attorney and University at Buffalo School of Law Alumnus, J.P. Kennedy. Did I remember anything from my 1L year on Zoom? Did I really know how to use Westlaw and Lexis? Would my work result in a wrongful conviction? There was no time to wallow in my insecurities. I was quickly thrown into the gallows of criminal law and assigned to two Assistant United States Attorneys in the Narcotics and Organized Crime Unit and the White Collar Crimes Unit.

Child exploitation and drug trafficking became the focus of my summer. I drafted motions, appeared before federal judges, sat second chair in the courtroom, rappelled off a four-story apparatus, shot an AR-15 rifle, calmed an inmate in handcuffs having an anxiety attack, and listened to a three-year-old’s testimony on being molested by his guardian. Nothing about this summer was expected and everything about this summer was an adventure. I fell in love with the law and fell deeper in love with public service. I also decided that I want to become a modern-day superhero.

After a couple weeks on the job, I interviewed an Assistant United States Attorney about why and how he became a federal prosecutor. I quickly learned that he was a Marvel fanatic and that I knew close to nothing about Marvel. As I thought we were going down the rabbit hole and wondering if he had even heard my question correctly, he shared, “I became a prosecutor because I wanted to be a superhero. As a prosecutor, I get to be a superhero every day.” As Edna Mode from The Incredibles would say though, he is a superhero with “no cape.” 

This summer I worked with real life superheroes that fight crime every day. These individuals are humble, compassionate, strong, and funny. These superheroes are prosecutors; special agents at the FBI, Customs Border Patrol, Homeland Security Investigations, EPA, and DEA; officers at the Erie County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team, judges, public defenders, and probation officers. These individuals only make up a small portion of the total superhero population. These individuals serve their country and communities without anyone even noticing or thanking them. These individuals keep us safe every day. 

In a world plagued by the COVID-19 pandemic, deeply-rooted racism and sexism, poverty, and environmental disasters, there is a lot of work for superheroes to tackle. This summer, I saw young children who were molested and grew up to become sexual predators themselves. I saw teenagers born into poverty-stricken neighborhoods turning to the streets to make a living in drugs and quickly facing murder charges due to overdoses. A disproportionate population grows up prepped to battle the criminal justice system. I want to be a superhero that breaks this cycle and fixes our system so that it provides opportunities for everyone. Stay tuned for the next Marvel character coming your way, a superhero of the law and public service. 

My full experience at the United States Attorney’s Office would not have been realized  without receiving the 2021 Charles E. Mann Award/ BPILP Public Interest Fellowship. I am incredibly grateful to the Buffalo Public Interest Law Program and the University at Buffalo School of Law Summer Public Interest Funding & Fellowship Program and all of the donors who invested in me and my legal career this summer. I look forward to sharing my journey and contributing to the fellowship program in the future, so that students can continue to explore their interests and live their dreams.

Name: Lucy Shephard ’23

Name of Fellowship: Charles E. Mann Award/ BPILP Public Interest Fellowship

Placement: United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of New York 

Location: Buffalo, NY

One important lesson I have learned from this fellowship: “In a world plagued by the COVID-19 pandemic, deeply-rooted racism and sexism, poverty, and environmental disasters, there is a lot of work for superheroes to tackle.