“Regardless of the path we choose, it is important for us to give back. We are agents of change and we must ‘Defend the Land’ for everyone.”
2017 Cleveland-Marshall College of Law graduate Elissa Schooler delivered that message, reshaping the Cleveland Cavaliers playoff slogan to one that focuses on the greater Cleveland community and its underserved citizens, while addressing her fellow classmates at C|M|LAW’s commencement ceremony.
“Great changes are resulting from Cleveland’s renaissance, but sadly not everyone is benefiting from this revival. There are struggling communities that truly need us to “Defend the Land,” said Schooler, expanding upon the timely themed message. “During my time in college and law school working with at-risk communities, I have witnessed the inability to trust the legal system. As lawyers, it will be up to us to advocate for individuals who have no voice or whose voice is not heard. It will be up to us to ensure justice is not only for people who can pay for it.”
Schooler was delivering the commencement speech as a recipient of the Dean’s Learn Law. Live Justice. Award. The honor is given each year to a student or students who have been academically successful in learning law, as well as learning what it means to live justice ─ to be committed to making clients’ lives better and our communities stronger.
This was not the first time Schooler has been honored for her extensive community service work. She is also a two-time recipient of the Dean's Community Service Award and a recipient of the Ohio State Bar Association Public Service Internship Initiative Award.
The ‘Defend the Land’ message comes from a place of great importance for Schooler. The Solon, Ohio native decided as a senior in high school that she wanted to pursue a legal education, following a shadowing project with the Cleveland Housing Court. Her interest in the law has always come from a desire to effect change, and she decided to attend Cleveland-Marshall specifically because she felt it would give her the best opportunity to produce change in her hometown.
In the larger Cleveland community, Schooler is an active volunteer with a special interest in programs for at-risk youths. She volunteers with OhioGuidestone's workforce development program where she teaches GED, problem-solving, and professional development classes twice a week to young adults. She has also volunteered with the Anti-Defamation League's Young Leadership Institute After-School All-Stars, Big Brothers Big Sisters and Salvation Army’s Harbor Light Shelter.
During her time in law school, Schooler has worked in several legal-based positions that have had positive impacts on the community. She served refugee and undocumented immigrant populations during her time as a law clerk at Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Services and at the U.S. Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration Review. In addition, she was a contributing member of the ACLU of Ohio legal team during the litigation surrounding the Republication National Convention.
Schooler has shifted her career focus toward criminal law and public defense work after clerking at both the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the Northern District of Ohio and the Cuyahoga County Public Defender, Juvenile Division. She will return to the Cuyahoga County Public Defender’s Office this fall in a post-graduate position and hopes to work in the juvenile division for the long-term.
“You can just see that these kids are hurting so much and to give them the opportunity at a second chance makes me feel really good when I leave work,” said Schooler. “It is very emotional and trying work, but they need someone to advocate for them and someone on their side.”