Tarra Simmons

Tarra Simmons

Class of 2017

BS, Nursing
Pacific Lutheran University

What did you do before law school, and what led to you pursue a law degree?

After overcoming obstacles in my adolescence, including becoming a mother at the age of 15, I earned a bachelor's degree in nursing and became an RN. I was a RN for 11 years but still suffered with the effects of a dysfunctional childhood. In order to cope with depression after the loss of my father, I became addicted to drugs. I abused drugs for 10 months and ended up incarcerated as a result.

Returning to the free world after incarceration was challenging. Despite the fact that I was able to keep my RN license, I was unable to find employment because of my conviction record. Through this journey I met many others who also struggle with barriers of reintegration after incarceration. These barriers include finding employment, housing, reunifying with their families, and paying off the overwhelming debt imposed as part of a conviction. I decided to go to law school to learn how to help myself and others in overcoming legal barriers to re-entry.

What activities are you involved in at the law school or in the community?

Since I started law school I have been on the Board of the Incarcerated Mother's Advocacy Project. This project has been very personal for me because it was the project's visits to the prison which inspired me to apply for law school after I was released.

In the community, I have enjoyed internships and externships with both Disability Rights Washington and the ACLU of Washington. However, my favorite activities in the community have been around bringing awareness about addiction and re-entry through my work with Civil Survival.

What have you found most valuable during your law school education?

Taking Professor Dean Spade's classes have been very valuable to me because it has changed the way I approach advocacy. His classes have helped me develop a better analysis and critique of the populations I plan to serve through my desire to be a community lawyer and/or public interest lawyer.

In addition, the Legal Writing Program has helped me build skills that are transferable to any position I pursue in the legal field.

I also have found my professors to be supportive of me personally which has helped me stay engaged in my education.

What advice would you offer a prospective law student?

The same advice my lawyer mentor gave me: Devote yourself to your studies the first year. Try not to take on too many commitments because the learning curve is high in the first year. After the first year, you have developed the basic skills needed to be successful academically. You will have plenty of time to join student organizations and get busy with additional obligations in subsequent years.

Take the time to meet with attorneys and learn what kind of lawyer you want to be. It is very helpful when you choose internships/externships and elective classes that you can show your pattern of interest.

Read more student stories