Jacquelyn Greene has spent her much of her career focused on youth and child advocacy, but in different public interest practice areas. Students may often wonder (and wrestle) with the decision of doing direct legal work vs. doing policy work. Jacquelyn’s career has taken her through both arenas. Read about Jacquelyn’s career path and how it’s often important to focus on your passion to help you figure out your next steps.
When Jacquelyn Greene ‘98 witnessed a legal aid lawyer get a teen mother and her baby back into an apartment they had been evicted from, she thought “I want to be the person who can do that.” Jacquelyn, who at this time was fresh out of college working as a Family Services Social Worker for the Jesuit Volunteer Core, had been trying to help this young mother get back on her feet for weeks and, as Jacquelyn described it, “after one phone call at legal aid they turned her lights back on and forgave the arrears and it was in that moment that I decided I wanted to go to law school.”
It was through this context she entered HLS. Jacquelyn knew she wanted to do public interest work, and stuck to her agenda by using her time to work in the Family Law Clinic (now the Family and Domestic Violence Law Clinic at the Legal Services Center) and closely working with the Office of Public Interest Advising to receive a Skadden Fellowship. Jacquelyn reflects that for her, “the biggest thing that helped me get the Skadden was actually the connection with a former fellow and I really only got to connect with him because of the people at OPIA.” That connection was Skadden and Wasserstein Fellow Kevin Ryan, the President and CEO of Covenant House, an organization that provides shelters and transitional living options for runaway and homeless youth across the country.
Jacquelyn’s first two years of legal practice through her Skadden Fellowship proved to be the foundational years of work she needed, but also quite challenging. Jacquelyn worked at the Covenant House in New Jersey, providing legal services to the children and young adults ranging from areas such as housing, child welfare, public benefits, employment, and low level municipal court representation. She worked side-by- side with her clients, as her office was located inside the shelter. Feeling somewhat drained after two years of this intensive work, Jacquelyn decided to change course a bit and left Covenant House for an opportunity in Albany, NY to do state policy work. Jacquelyn says “in retrospect I think I could’ve done that work longer if I had built a stronger network of peers”. Jacquelyn noted that this has been critical as her career has progressed, and advises young lawyers to develop and foster a supportive community wherever they go.
Jacquelyn spent the next six years working at the New York State Assembly as Counsel to the Committee on Children and Families and the Committee on Social Services, where she was able to use her experience at Covenant House to inform policy work around child welfare issues, public benefits issues, and juvenile justice issues. During this time, Jacquelyn was still able to direct client work, as she represented children in Family Court working on the Law Guardian Panel which provides representation to children who are the subject of proceedings in Family Court. For those interested in policy, Jacquelyn recommends pursuing direct service work first, as she finds “the policy world can get really lost in itself and it’s very easy to lose track of the lives that you’re trying to help.”
Jacquelyn’s policy work continued to serve her well through on the government level: In 2007 with the election of Governor Eliot Spitzer, Jacquelyn was selected to work in the executive branch as Assistant Deputy Counsel to the New York State Office of Children and Family Services, which operates New York’s state-run juvenile justice facilities and oversees other locally-operated juvenile justice facilities as well as the child welfare and child care systems. After about a year and a half, Jacquelyn moved into a newly created position: the Director of Juvenile Justice Policy at the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. In this position, Jacquelyn collaborated with the Juvenile Justice Advisory Group, a board of juvenile justice experts, to restructure the federal juvenile justice funding provided to the State to create strategic, systemic change throughout New York’s juvenile justice system. Jacquelyn also worked as the lead negotiator on a major systems reform called “Close to Home,” an initiative to shift kids from New York City housed in state-operated non-secure juvenile justice facilities in upstate New York back to small, evidence-informed residential programs near their home communities. Jacquelyn found challenges during her time working in government, noting that “in the world of high-level state government policy making it is very hard to feel like you have really an adequate work/life balance, especially as a working mother… I was definitely tied to a blackberry and people felt free to use it twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.”
In 2015, an opportunity arose at the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice, a branch of the Policy Research Associates which focuses on improving policies and programs for youth with behavioral health disorders who are involved in the juvenile justice system. Jacquelyn decided to pursue it to achieve a better work/life balance while continuing to develop impactful policy within the juvenile justice system. As she describes, “it was an opportunity for me to take all of my state level policy making experience and help states across the country as they look to improve their juvenile justice systems.” Today, she works with states to improve their response to children with behavioral health needs who are becoming involved in the juvenile justice system. Her main projects are centered on school-based diversion from referral to the juvenile justice system and improving the capacity of all child-serving systems, such as juvenile justice, child welfare, public health, and education, to respond to the needs of children struggling with trauma as a result of their exposure to violence.
Jacquelyn advises students interested in policy, government, or direct service work to explore all three. She finds “that people find a niche that works for them and stick with it.”