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Pursuing justice

Mary Frances Dennis is interning with the U.S. Attorney’s office in Greenville during her senior year.

Law school was little more than an idea four years ago. But last month, Mary Frances Dennis ’18 accepted an offer – and a significant merit scholarship – from the University of Georgia School of Law.

This fall she will launch her studies in social justice, a passion she discovered through her academic and internship experiences at Furman.

“The law schools undoubtedly noticed Mary Frances’ commitment to service,” said Maya Russell, Furman’s pre-law adviser.

But the internships, both of which focused on public service, didn’t just make Dennis appealing to law schools. They also helped her develop a confidence in her own objectives.

“It was the turning point in my college career that solidified my interest in pursing a law degree for this purpose –  civil and social justice,” Dennis said.

The law was simply “a cool idea” during her early months of college, when classes such as freshman sociology began to open her eyes to the cycles of poverty.

“I thought maybe I could do something about it,” she said.

A series of firsts introduced her to the people behind the statistics: In 2017, Dennis was the first intern with South Carolina’s first Medical Legal Partnership (MLP), which is also the nation’s first program to connect medical and legal partners like Greenville Health System and South Carolina Legal Services with an undergraduate institution like Furman.

“I saw the struggles and dynamic issues and understood it even more,” Dennis said. “It drove me to advocate for their rights.”

Now, as she finishes her senior year, Dennis is interning with the U.S. Attorney’s office in Greenville. Her work has primarily supported prosecution of human trafficking.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Carrie Fisher Sherard is the human trafficking coordinator for the district of South Carolina and supervises Dennis and other interns. She said Dennis walked in the door ready for her assignments, proving she “functions outside of the classroom and in the field.”

Experience in the field is becoming increasingly important to law schools when considering applicants, Russell said. A holistic view takes into account more than just excellent grades and high LSAT scores, but work ethic and leadership as well.

“They want students who are going to come in driven to jump in,” she said. “Having the exposure in the undergraduate years gives them [students] the confidence to know they can do this.”

Dennis is guessing many students mention wanting to make a difference in their law school applications. She’s already tasted that in the real world and is hungry for more.

“This is my story and it’s why I want to go to law school,” she said.

Kirby Mitchell ’90 is a senior litigation attorney with South Carolina Legal Services and is designated fulltime to the MLP, where he worked with Dennis during her internship.

Her experience “shows the value of hard work,” Mitchell said. “Clearly something got lit on fire. She earned it.”

Dennis said she is prepared and excited for her next step.

“Everything I’ve learned in these last few years is tying together.”

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