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Part-time Students, Full-time Stars in the Class of 2011

Each year about 25 percent of the Rutgers School of Law–Newark graduating class consists of students who have attended evening classes while holding a full-time job for most if not all of their four years. To succeed, evening students who juggle full-time employment depend on accommodating bosses and caring co-workers as well as especially supportive family and friends. To participate in law school life beyond the classroom – on journals and moot court teams, in the clinical program, and in student organizations, they often sacrifice time with children, the opportunity for career advancement or overtime pay, lunch breaks and vacation days, hobbies – not to mention sleep. Three members of the Class of 2011 exemplify the special determination, strong support network, and absolute commitment of our evening students.

Michael Coco     
Michael Coco ’11
“Law school has been a long and difficult road,” acknowledged Michael Coco, who in September will begin a clerkship with the Honorable Virginia Long ’66 of the Supreme Court of New Jersey.

Coco received his J.D. magna cum laude and was awarded the Philip Kravitz Memorial Prize as the part-time student with the highest academic average. He was a member of the Rutgers Law Review, a Saul Tischler Scholar, a student in the Urban Legal Clinic, a Minority Student Program legal skills study group facilitator, and a member of the Labor and Employment Law Association and the Evening Students Association.

Coco earned a B.S. magna cum laude in biology from York College of Pennsylvania and then a B.S. in nursing from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, graduating first in the class. Since 2006 he has worked as an emergency room staff nurse at Jersey City Medical Center. Interested in the law for as long as he can remember, Coco, besides treating patients, has served as a standing member of the hospital’s policies and procedures committee and professional practice committee. In addition, as an Urban Legal Clinic student during his final law school semester, he handled Social Security issues, bringing his medical background to address legal issues. 

Ideally, he’d like to combine his nursing background and legal training, working in a law firm representing hospitals or for a hospital in its risk management department. 

For Rachel Rodriguez, it was her job as a probation officer that piqued an interest in law school. She joined the Ocean County Superior Court Criminal Division in 2003 after receiving a B.A. in psychology with honors from Rutgers University. “I got hired right out of college during a bad economy,” she explained, “and thought I would stay a while until I figured out what I wanted to do . . . and somewhere along the way, I fell in love with the criminal justice system.”

Rather than the traditional probation officer’s role of supervising clients, she wrote pre-sentence investigation reports and handled applications to the pretrial intervention program. Most of the time, her defendants’ plea agreements were well-tailored to their individual situations and judges substantially abided by them at sentencing. Occasionally, some fact or circumstance uncovered during the pre-sentence investigation would “make a real difference in the final outcome of a case.” Those moments were key in her decision to go to law school. “I saw that even as a probation officer, I could play a role in ensuring that justice is done,” she said, “and I knew that I could play an even greater role as an attorney.”
   Rachel Rodriguez  
  Rachel Rodriguez ’11

For the first three and a half years, Rodriguez drove 70 miles from her job to attend classes four nights a week, reducing to three nights a week only for her final semester. She was managing editor of the Rutgers Law Review and a Moot Court Board member, the only evening student from the Class of 2011 who did both. Her note, “The Sex Offender Under the Bridge: Has Megan’s Law Run Amok?” was published in 62 Rutgers L. Rev. 1023 (2010). She was also a Legal Research and Writing teaching associate.

Rodriguez became very good at time management, studying during lunch breaks and using vacation days for trial competition and Law Review print days. The encouragement of family, friends, and co-workers at the court was also critical. “Having their support throughout the past four years has been an unbelievable asset.” So was participation in the Minority Student Program, especially the first-year study groups. In her second year she facilitated a torts group, “trying to soften the blow of law school as my facilitators had done for me.”

Her best experience? “My absolute favorite class was Appellate Advocacy with Professor Judy Russell — she puts so much into the class and is genuinely supportive of evening students.” Rodriguez was assigned to argue as defense counsel to a sex offender, an assignment that she later learned was deliberate, “to make sure I would get the experience working from that side. Difficult as it was, it was gratifying to discover that I could do it, and do it well.”

Rodriguez began law school thinking she wanted to be a prosecutor, or at least work in criminal law, but open to the possibility of finding another area she would enjoy more. “That never happened. I found I came most alive in any class that involved criminal matters, and as it turned out, my trial/appellate briefs for LRW, the journal write-on, and the problems for my trial advocacy and appellate advocacy classes were all criminal law problems. It’s my passion, no denying it. Four years later, I still want to be a prosecutor. 

“Perhaps it is naïve,” she added, “but I still truly believe in justice — and by that, I do not mean incarceration for all or obtaining a conviction at any cost. Sometimes justice means knowing when to step away from a prosecution.”

Rodriguez, who was a Dean’s Merit Scholar and Gugig Family Scholar and who graduated cum laude, will clerk for the Honorable Barry T. Albin of the Supreme Court of New Jersey.

Eric Sposito and family   
Eric Sposito ’11 with wife, Ruth, and their son, Jacob
Eric B. Sposito
, the father of 26-year-old Sean, a journalist, 23-year-old Joseph, a CPA, and Jacob, a toddler whom he and his wife adopted at the beginning of his third year of law school, saw getting his J.D. as “a natural extension of who I was and what I wanted to do with the second half of my life.” He worked for more than 30 years as a printing pressman for the New York Times until accepting a severance offer in late 2010 and was for many years an elected union representative.

Selected for a field attorney assignment in the highly competitive National Labor Relations Board Honors Program, Sposito could not have captured a more ideal post-graduation job. “Union is in my blood. I get no greater satisfaction than when I advocate for workers, union or not.” His maternal grandfather was an officer in the hat makers local in New York during and after the Depression and his father was a representative with the New York Newspaper Printing Pressmen’s Union.

Sposito has been juggling family, school, work, and commuting for several years. While employed full-time and serving as vice president of his local, he earned a B.A. in 2007 in union leadership and administration, largely through classes at the Cornell Industrial Labor Relations School in Manhattan. He made the decision to attend law school during his last two years as an undergraduate. “I enjoy representing workers, negotiating and mediating labor issues,” he explained, “and the practice of law has always been in my field of interest.” Rutgers’ reputation for faculty excellence in labor and employment law made his decision to come to Newark an easy one.

His favorite classes? Contracts with Professor Paul Tractenberg, Employment Discrimination with Adjunct Professor Michael DiChiara, and Alternative Dispute Resolution with Adjunct Professor A.S. Cohen.

That Sposito likes to keep busy outside of work – competitive and long-distance cycling is among his interests – is clear. He served as associate editor and then senior notes editor of the Rutgers Law Record, associate editor and then managing editor of the Rutgers Conflict Resolution Law Journal, and captain of the Moot Court Team for the ABA Labor and Employment Law Trial Advocacy Competition. His proudest accomplishment? The three papers published while in law school, in particular “14 Penn Plaza v. Pyett: Into the Abyss Between Judicial Process and Collectively Bargained Agreements to Arbitrate Statutory Claims,” which has been included in the Rutgers School of Law–Newark Legal Studies Research Paper Series on SSRN.

Sposito readily credits his wife with much of his law school success. “If not for her support and hard work, I would not have been able to maintain the pace.”

In addition to personal grit and supportive family and friends, evening students quickly come to rely on the special camaraderie that exists among their classmates to make it through those 8:10 – 9:40 pm classes. As Michael Coco said: “My best experience has been getting to know and working with my fellow night students. Their dedication to their families, school work, and careers has been an inspiration.”