Shepard Broad Law Center
Bettering Oneself and the World
Jessica Chiappone is far from a typical law student.
Her mother left the family when she was 12 years old. She got into trouble with the law. She was in an abusive relationship. A roommate stole her identity. She dropped out of high school. And she became a single mom.
“I didn’t have self esteem and I didn’t care,” says the third-year law student at Nova Southeastern University’s Shepard Broad Law Center.
During the past decade, she turned her life around. The first person in her family to go to college, she earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from St. John’s University in Jamaica, New York, where she was on the Dean’s List.
At NSU, she is the American Bar Association (ABA) Law Student Division liaison for the Criminal Justice Section’s Juvenile Justice Committee for Broward County. She is also in the ABA Law Student Division Fifth Circuit Lieutenant Governor Prerelease Initiative Pro Bono Honors Program for Florida. In the prerelease program, she works with incarcerated parents, and her lesson plan includes teaching parents how their lives can negatively affect their children.
She also was elected vice president of three student groups: the Criminal Law Society, the Public Interest Law Society, and the Italian American Law School Association.
A legal intern for the Seventeenth Circuit’s Guardian ad Litem Program in Broward County, she drafts motions, responds to discovery requests, observes dependency hearings, creates timelines for case files, and logs court documents. The cases are heartbreaking, she says, but she wants to help the children so they don’t go down the wrong path.
“Everyone tells me I am crazy,” she said. “Why even go to law school? I’m a fighter, and I hope I will be a role model for someone else.”
Chiappone, who hopes to become a public defender, chose the NSU Law Center after her father was diagnosed with bladder cancer and they moved to South Florida for medical treatment. He is healthy now and helps take care of her two children while she goes to school two nights a week.
She also works as a research assistant for her two favorite law professors—Phyllis Coleman, J.D., and Michael Flynn, J.D. Coleman describes Chiappone as a goal-oriented hard worker who is focused on helping children.
“She is passionate about what she wants to do,” Coleman said. “A lot of people say they want to make a difference. I truly believe that Jessica wants to make the world a better place. She has a plan and I think she is going to follow through with it. She is a genuine person. She really does care.”
Flynn sees Chiappone as enthusiastic about learning.
“I think she has what appears to be two contradictory characteristics,” he said, explaining why she will make a good lawyer. “She is exceptionally tough, but she also is incredibly sensitive. This is a person who will be able to understand people and be tough-minded enough to follow through.”
It has been a rough battle to change her life, but her family keeps her motivated.“For them,” she says, pointing to photos of her sons, Anthony, nine years old, and Joey, three years old. “I know I made mistakes, and I can’t tell them not to make mistakes. I want to show them if you try, you can succeed. If I fail, how can I set an example for them?”