Now serving Chief Justice Chase Rogers, Brignol will join Holland & Knight following his clerkship.
Jean-Phillip Brignol (’15) majored in political science at Yale University, but his interest in the law wasn’t solidified until he was teaching science at a public high school in Lawrence, Massachusetts. He noticed that many of his students—the population of Lawrence is heavily Latino—came from families of Dominican immigrants contending with legal issues ranging from immigration to education. “I felt that in a certain way, I couldn’t help my students just by being a teacher,” Brignol says. “I had special education students who had attorneys, and who had people who were supposed to be providing services for them, but they weren’t necessarily getting those services. That motivated me to go to law school.”
Brignol enrolled at Boston University School of Law with the intention of exploring education and immigration law. Since then, his interests have expanded: Now, Brignol speaks of a strong interest in pursuing criminal law. He’s currently a law clerk for Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers (’83) of the Connecticut Supreme Court. When his clerkship ends, Brignol will return to Boston to work in the general litigation practice at Holland & Knight, which also has a strong white-collar defense and investigations practice area.
“As I was learning about contracts and constitutional law, I found myself drawn to criminal law and to constitutional issues related to criminal law,” Brignol says. “A lot of the time, those issues are linked to immigration consequences. That’s where my interest in criminal law came from. Contracts really interested me as well, which is where my interest in corporate law came from. Working at a law firm that will allow me to do white-collar crime and also general litigation work was interesting to me. I also hope to work on education and immigration issues.”
Brignol took advantage of BU Law’s clinical offerings in his pursuit of his interest in criminal law. He participated in the school’s Criminal Litigation Program’s Public Defender Program. He became Rule 3:03 certified and began representing clients, scheduling interviews, drafting discovery motions and arguing those motions in court. “I felt that kind of hands-on experience would be important if I wanted to take on any pro bono matters, or if I wanted to practice in the courtroom,” Brignol says. “I wanted to get that experience right off the bat.”
Brignol also engaged with real-world litigation outside of the clinical setting. He volunteered to staff the information telephone hotline at Boston’s GLBTQ Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) offices, which allowed him to use his skills to identify issues and relevant facts while building a case; he also participated in spring break pro bono trips to New Orleans during his first and second years, where he volunteered at the Orleans Public Defenders Office. In addition, Brignol found time to serve as co-president of Outlaw and the Black Law Students Association, and work as a note editor for the International Law Journal.
There’s a connection, Brignol says, between his engaging with smaller communities that work within a larger system, and his interest in representing underserved populations in criminal cases. “I’m working on a lot of criminal cases and habeas cases now in the [CT] Supreme Court,” he says. “A lot of those cases deal with the ‘reasonable person’ standard, but really, what does ‘reasonable person’ mean? It usually means a white male with certain class and education privileges who understands his rights. Giving somebody else a voice there, whether on the prosecution side or the defense side, could, I hope, help the system be more fair and accurate. It might help communities that haven’t been treated fairly by the law in all instances.”
Brignol knows that he’s getting an advantage by clerking before he dives into life at Holland & Knight. “Now, my skills are honed in a way that will be helpful to the firm,” he says. “I’m much more adept at saying, ‘This is the answer, and I have the evidence and the law to back it up.’ I can walk into my judge’s chambers and tell her I disagree with her and have those productive discussions with her; I think that’s a trait that’s hard to bring in to your first day of work at a law firm if you’re not confident in your skills.”
Reported by Rebecca Binder (’06).