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Aubre Dean L'20: Advocating for Social Justice and Committed to Service

Posted on Monday 9/13/2021
Aubre Dean L'20

During her first year at the Syracuse University College of Law, Aubre Dean L’20 was selected for a prestigious internship working for a federal district court judge. Though unsure how she would pay for a summer living in New York City, she accepted the offer. An alumni-funded grant through the Syracuse Public Interest Network in the College of Law provided the solution. 

Dean, who grew up in Texas, relished the energy in Manhattan and vowed to return there to work after graduation. She also gained invaluable legal experience and met one of her role models, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

A Culture of Support

The alumni support that made her internship possible is representative of the culture that drew Dean to Syracuse University. “At Syracuse Law, there’s an emphasis not only on learning but also on giving back to the community and to those who need assistance,” she says. Dean, a first-generation college student, credits the scholarships she received for making her graduate education attainable, and the supportive atmosphere at the College of Law for helping her learn the ropes and thrive. “There were so many incredible benefits that I got from being at Syracuse that I don’t think I would have had at another law school. And I am definitely still feeling those benefits now,” she says.

Dean also appreciated how the service-oriented culture extended to community engagement. “Whether through the clinical programs, the outreach events or the pro bono work, the opportunities I had to work in the community really fit with my own belief system,” she says. Dean volunteered at the College of Law’s Veterans Legal Clinic, lending her expertise to members of the military community as they navigated complex paperwork and procedures. She also contributed to a wide range of student organizations and causes, including as class president, in a leadership role with the Women’s Law Student Association, and as a member of OutLaw, an LGBTQ law and policy student organization.

Setting the Stage for Her Career

One of the most rewarding experiences of Dean’s academic journey was competing in moot courts with the Travis H.D. Lewin Advocacy Honor Society. In moot courts, students develop arguments based on research and legal precedent, then present their cases while facing challenges and questions from scholars and legal professionals. In these competitions, Dean tackled complex issues such as undocumented immigrants and First Amendment rights, and protections for individuals identified as LGBTQ in jury selection. Dean and her classmates Shannon Bausinger L’21 and Joseph Tantillo L’21, coached by Professor Emily Brown L’09 and David Katz L’17, won in regional competitions and joined the top 28 teams from around the country for the national competition in New York City, where they made it to octofinals.

Participating in simulated courts helped Dean clarify her long-term goals. “Gaining a greater understanding of the Constitution and the protections it affords each individual was a highlight of my academic experience at Syracuse,” Dean says.

Paying It Forward and Giving Back

At the College of Law, Dean discovered a supportive community of faculty and peers, and her passion for civil rights law.

Soon after Dean graduated, she passed the bar exam and joined Warshaw Burstein LLC, a full-service law firm in New York City. She and her partner, Erika Simonson L’19, and their two dogs moved to an apartment in midtown Manhattan, and she enjoys living in the city she fell in love with during her years at Syracuse.

Dean is now gaining litigation experience in a wide range of areas of law. She has particularly appreciated being able to assist clients with their Title VII and Title IX lawsuits, handling cases involving discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion or sex.

Another area drawing Dean’s attention is fairness and equality in the law profession itself—particularly the historical practices that make the study of law prohibitive to many who would bring diversity to the field. “I believe that, for the legal profession to become as inclusive as it can be, it needs to better reflect the communities we serve,” she says. “It’s become a goal of mine to make not only the law more accessible, but the legal profession more accessible as well.”

One way Dean is working toward this goal is through her commitment to mentoring first-year and first-generation law students. She recently sat on a panel of College of Law alumni speaking on issues of diversity in the field and on the strengths that can be drawn from the challenges of being a first-generation student. “The adaptability and grit it takes to navigate an academic environment that is wholly unfamiliar are qualities that can make you a better attorney,” she explains.

Dean attributes much of her development as an attorney to alumni who recommended professional opportunities and mentored her. “Now that I am an alum, I want to give back as much as I feel I received from the Syracuse alumni network when I was a student,” she says. “I was really supported, and I want to make sure that the current students feel that same support.”