Cleveland-Marshall College of Law 3L student Brandilyn Cook gazed at the clouds below as she traveled to an altitude of 13,000 feet. It was the summer of 2013 and she had recently completed her undergraduate studies at Ohio State University, earning a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and Psychology. There was nothing but possibilities ahead for Cook, but at that moment it was nothing but blue sky in her sights.
Cook developed an extreme fear of heights at a young age and was conquering that fear in the most extreme way possible – by skydiving. She had recently read Lean In, a book by Sheryl Sandberg on the ways women are held back and the ways women hold themselves back. Cook decided she was not going to let the fear of heights debilitate her any longer. When the plane reached its peak altitude, she took one final deep breath, staring her fears in the face, and jumped.
While heights were the most outward fear Cook was experiencing at that time, it was not the only one. She was considering attending law school, but there was some intimidation after hearing stories of the challenges of the LSAT and law school. Empowered by her newfound confidence, Cook sought an internship with a local criminal defense attorney to gain first-hand knowledge of the field, completed her LSAT, and decided to attend Cleveland-Marshall, a law school she recognized historically as the first in Ohio to admit women.
Cook is interested in the rapidly growing area of “crimmigration” ─ the intersection of criminal law and immigration law. As a first-generation immigrant of Honduran descent, and with many close friends who are also first-generation immigrants, the area of law is personally significant. She is a strong champion of protecting multicultural communities.
“Everything would be so boring if we were all the same and did not have any cultural differences,” said Cook, president of C|M|LAW’s Hispanic Law Student Association. “This is what I love about America. It truly is a melting-pot and it is a better country because of it.”
This summer, Cook is working as an intern with the Harvard Law School's Immigration & Refugee Clinic. The opportunity was made possible as a recipient of a Gilbert Fellowship, and she learned about the position from Adjunct Professor Phil Eichorn, who taught her Immigration & Nationality Law course last fall.
During her internship, Cook has been working alongside another intern and three clinic attorneys on the first publicly declared sanctuary case in Massachusetts. In addition to legal work on the case, she has been successful in reaching out to several high-ranking public officials and securing commitments to write letters of support. She has also been tasked with researching new law and editing a crimmigration manual for the Public Defender’s office in New Orleans.
“I’m really impressed with how the hands-on clinic allows its students to be with clients, such as conducting solo client interviews,” explained Cook. “I had previous experience with briefing legal arguments and filing forms, but this internship has helped with my soft skills in interacting with clients and with my approach when conducting interviews.”
Cook’s previous legal experience includes an externship in Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, working on the Ohio Public Health Bench Book Project as a law clerk to Judges John Russo ’92 and Peter Corrigan ’96. She also worked as a law clerk for Richard H. Drucker LPA, and has volunteered through C|M|LAW’s Pro Bono Clinic for the Legal Aid Free Advice Clinics at the West Side Catholic Center and Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court Child Support Clinics.
Growing up as the daughter of a police officer and later homicide detective, Cook believes our laws were built to protect the people in an intrinsic manner. Immigration law is one of the practice areas that would satisfy her desire to serve that belief.
“Working in the legal field is a pretty high-stakes business,” said Cook. “It is definitely crushing to get an adverse decision in a case, especially when people’s lives and liberties are on the line, but in those cases that you do win, it is deeply rewarding when you are able to keep families together or give some resolve to someone going through some of the worst times of their lives. That is why I wanted to become a lawyer.”
Cook plans to graduate in the spring of 2018 and will take the Ohio Bar Exam. Once that is successfully completed, she intends to fulfill a plan she made prior to entering law school – to go skydiving for a second time.