A passion for pro bono work: New graduate Alessandra Amato pays it forward

May 16, 2024 | Students

by Lindsay Wilcox

Alessandra Amato, a young Italian woman with curly, shoulder-length brown hair wearing a black blazerBorn and raised in Italy, Alessandra Amato moved to the United States when she was 17 to study abroad and has been living here ever since. After earning a bachelor’s degree in sociology with a minor in French from Westminster University, Amato worked in social services for seven years with newly resettled refugees and later with human trafficking survivors.

“My clients were some of the bravest and most inspiring individuals I have ever met. When I began to experience the criminal justice system through some of them, I decided to go to law school to become a criminal defense attorney. I doubted myself, and finding the courage to commit to law school wasn’t easy. My clients’ strength and resilience inspired me to apply,” Amato says. “This year marks my 17th year living in this country, and I couldn’t be happier to celebrate it by graduating from the S.J. Quinney College of Law.”

Since Amato liked the small classroom experience at Westminster University, also in Salt Lake City, she wanted a similar experience in law school.

“S.J. Quinney’s small classes and practicum experience repertoire were the strongest features of the law school for me,” Amato recalls. “I also came to law school knowing where I wanted to be after, so through the practical experiences offered through SJQ, I was able to create the path that led me to my goal.”

Noting that S.J. Quinney has an incredible community, Amato says that the professors, deans and staff know each student personally.

“Looking back, I see all the people who helped me get here. Professor Morrison was instrumental in the success of my practicum experiences, making my dreams come true. During my 1L year, Professor Andersen Jones and my Constitutional Law I class surprised me with a celebration when I became a U.S. citizen,” she says. “I feel lucky to be part of the SJQ community.”

Amato was recently awarded the Pro Bono Publico Student of the Year Award by the Utah State Bar, which she says she was honored to receive.

“When I came to the United States at 17 without my family, I relied on the support and kindness of many individuals who guided and mentored me. It’s important to me to pay that forward and offer others the same support I once relied on,” Amato expresses. “Becoming involved with the Pro Bono Initiative (PBI) was one of my best decisions during law school. The PBI program provided a unique opportunity to engage in community building and work directly with clients, which was crucial for me to do while in school. Our director, Dr. Caisa Royer, is a skilled and empowering leader, and learning from her has been an incredible experience.”

As the Rocky Regnlie Fellow during her last year of law school, Amato served as the student director for two new PBI sites at The Road Home (a shelter for families experiencing homelessness) and the Volunteers of America’s Youth Resource Center, in addition to the expungement and justice law site, at which she became student director when she finished her 1L year.

“I [previously] worked with many clients with criminal records, and through their experiences, I witnessed the consequences of having a criminal record. It limits people’s ability to find stable housing, pursue education, and gain employment—all necessary to achieve self-sufficiency and a prosperous life,” Amato explains. “The expungement process is long and intimidating, and I felt compelled to contribute to increasing access to legal resources for expunging criminal records.”

While taking Professor Jensie Anderson‘s Post-Conviction Remedies class, Amato wrote a manual for pro-se litigants on preparing their post-conviction relief petition, which she said she is most proud of during her time at S.J. Quinney College of Law.

“Through the class, I learned that there was a shortage of attorneys specializing in this area and, more importantly, that there is no right to counsel in post-conviction proceedings. Utah’s best PCRA expert attorneys are currently vetting the manual, and I am excited to see what use we can make of it in our community,” Amato says.

Now that Amato has graduated from law school, she is excited to join the Salt Lake Legal Defender Association after passing the bar.

“What I love most about the field of law is that it allows me to pursue a career that aligns with my morals while also urging personal growth,” she says. “Representing clients that face criminal charges demands mastery of the law, refinement of rhetorical skills, and the ability to be tactical, innovative, and adaptable. I find all that thrilling and deeply meaningful.”