SCHOOL OF LAW
Hometown: Claremont, California
Major: Juris Doctor
Expected date of graduation: 2022
Sarah Free is an exemplary legal scholar and fierce advocate for vulnerable young people. Not only has Sarah been a Civitas ChildLaw Fellow at Loyola, she’s also helped conduct research in Loyola’s Center for Criminal Justice Research, Policy, and Practice as well as participated in countless other meaningful student law organizations.
Sarah has also taken her knowledge outside of Loyola to help young people who are incarcerated across the city and state by working at the Office of the State Appellate Defender (OSAD). In everything she does, Sarah has the Jesuit mission at heart, making sure her work honors, respects, and protects vulnerable communities.
Here, Sarah shares her vision for her future and explains how her experiences at Loyola helped her build that vision.
Are you involved in any community service or extracurricular activities? What have those experiences meant to you?
One of the best parts of law school for me has been student organizations, volunteer work, and just other efforts on campus. One of the biggest and most meaningful experiences for me was during my first semester of my second year when I was an extern at OSAD. There, we represented people who were challenging convictions or their sentences, sometimes both.
I did that for a semester while getting school credit, but I loved the work so much that I continued on the next semester in a role that was unpaid and where I wasn’t getting any credits because I felt like it put me in a position to tackle some really difficult questions. There are questions of the moral and ethical issues of jails, prisons, and the criminal legal system as a whole. I felt like I was in a position where I was doing work that was moving the needle of justice a little bit further.
As a student, it can be difficult to be in a position where you can actually see tangible results of your efforts. At OSAD, there were a number of cases, and we lost a lot of them. That work is really, really hard to win. But there were some cases where I found out much after the fact that we’d won re-sentencing hearings and had some convictions overturned outright, which has been incredible. That experience was incredibly meaningful for me.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from your time at Loyola?
I think a lot of us come into law school having been sold this idea of the hero lawyer, and I think one of the most important lessons that I’ve learned is that sort of person doesn’t necessarily exist because to do this work well, you have to do it with other people. To do it with other people requires things like vulnerability and community and gentleness and room to make mistakes. In various student leadership positions, I’ve certainly made mistakes, and I’ve been in situations where people I really care for have helped hold me accountable. This can be uncomfortable sometimes, but it requires the willingness to really be human and be vulnerable with one another. In a field that I think really values seriousness and sometimes detached emotions, doing good work requires being human with other people.
What are you planning to do with your degree? How has Loyola prepared you for your future goals?
My hope is to provide direct representation for folks who are currently incarcerated in the Illinois Department of Corrections. I feel that a lot of my experience, at least in law school, has led me in that direction. This kind of work has been the most meaningful for me, and that’s what I hope to dedicate my career to. In a perfect world, that kind of work isn’t even necessary, but while these issues still exist, I think that’s something that I certainly want to be involved in.