Alumni Spotlight: Samantha Brooks

March 27, 2023

Samantha Brooks

My first year, post college, has exceeded my expectations in several ways. I have a front row seat on the delivery of justice, seeing inherent challenges for our country as well as opportunities. As one can glean from national news broadcasts, literally every day for me is filled with unique experiences and issues that can affect each of us, as Americans. Even today, as I write this, I am bearing witness to the product of excellent lawyering applied to a case I worked on as an intern in college.

GW certainly prepared me for these experiences. I was attracted to GW by the opportunity to major in criminal justice in the context of the Nation’s Capital. The criminal justice professors within the sociology department provided me with the educational experience necessary to seamlessly move from my undergraduate experience into a full-time job in New York, merging my passion for social justice with the law.

There was never a moment in my time at GW where I did not feel supported, heard, or challenged. I was particularly influenced by my Criminal Justice Senior Seminar, led by Dr. Fran Buntman, in which I was exposed to material that expanded my knowledge of sociological theories applicable to criminal justice issues nationally and even globally. The round-table discussions, weekly readings, and paper-responses developed and challenged my perspective, reinforced my voice, and shaped my attention to detail. Little did I know that I would find myself at the epicenter of American politics and most importantly, criminal law. Thanks to GW, I was prepared for the whirlwind that would come.

A component of my senior seminar course included an out-of-classroom internship for part of each week. I worked with the non-profit, public interest legal group, Phillips Black, in Philadelphia. I reviewed files, prepared evidence summaries, actively participated in meetings with investigators and their senior attorneys and interacted directly with clients. The criminal case from that internship experience that will likely be forever seared in my consciousness, involved a death row inmate by the name of Steven Lazar. Mr. Lazar is a Philadelphia resident who was wrongly accused of second-degree murder and robbery and was serving a life sentence. Just last week, I received a call from my former supervisor, informing me that Mr. Lazar had won his habeas corpus motion. Just last week, he was officially exonerated and released after spending 16 years in a maximum-security prison. 

Mr. Lazar’s case has inspired me ever since I began working on it, as has he. He never gave up and he never lost faith in the legal system, nor in himself. Mr. Lazar and his case have informed me of what I want to do and the professional I want to be. I would not have been exposed to this individual, nor his case and its outcome—the product of good and very diligent lawyering—had it not been for GW and the school’s unique curriculum. This internship experience, along with what I learned as a criminal justice major in the classroom, have helped me in my current position as a trial preparation assistant in the Special Victims Bureau of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. In this role I assist in interviewing inmates from Rikers Island, speak to witnesses, draft subpoenas and affirmations, and observe and learn from extremely talented attorneys.

The practical experience that I have gained in my current position, in addition to the theoretical applications of criminal justice and the law that I learned as a GW undergraduate student have been invaluable. I am certain I will be well prepared for law school in the near future and I am so thankful to GW, my professors in the Sociology Department, and especially to Professor Buntman for her mentorship.