Leaps of Faith
Braxton Medlin, RWU Class of 2019Juris Doctor
Braxton Medlin ’19 has a history of getting outside his comfort zone.
In 2017, the lifelong North Carolina resident took a chance and moved to Rhode Island – a place where he knew no one and had no connections – to attend RWU Law, when the Charlotte School of Law, where he’d begun his studies, closed down. Now that he’s graduated with a pocketful of honors and awards earned during an outstanding run here, he’s off to a new job with the Office of the Colorado State Public Defender.
And once again, it’s a leap of faith.
“I've never been there, I don’t know anybody who lives there,” Medlin shrugs. “So it’ll be a fun journey. I had two interviews with them and we connected; it was great. So when they extended an offer, I compared it against some other offers I’d received and theirs just seemed to be the best mix of everything that I was looking for. So – Colorado it is.”
He connected with the Colorado defenders through the Equal Justice Works public interest job fair in Washington, D.C. (which is also how he got his 2L summer internship with the Mecklenburg County Public Defender’s Office in Charlotte, N.C.). The event is an annual pilgrimage for public interest law students at Roger Williams – and just one of the benefits he enjoyed here.
“I came up to Rhode Island sight unseen,” he said. “But it’s been the best. I couldn’t have picked a better law school.”
A Passion for Public Interest
Indeed, it was precisely RWU Law’s public interest credentials that first caught Medlin’s eye.
“It all started for me when I did AmeriCorps for two years, in Greensboro, N.C.,” he said. As part of the program, Medlin – then a college senior – worked as a family support specialist at Centro La Comunidad, using his Spanish-language skills to advocate for indigent Latino populations.
“I knew going into law school that I wanted to work with people who didn’t have a whole lot of money, and who were struggling with access to justice,” he said. “So when I got my first internship following my 1L year” – at the Guilford County Public Defender’s Office in High Point, N.C. – “I realized, ‘Oh my God, this is where I want to be. Doing work on the ground.’”
He followed up throughout his career at RWU Law; for example, spending an Alternative Spring Break with the Federal Public Defender for the District of Delaware. Other experiences included assisting Dreamers who sought relief under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, even translating Spanish documents for Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) applications. And Medlin especially especially enjoyed his time in the Criminal Defense Clinic.
“It was an incredible experience,” he said. “I learned so much. Not just about how to be a trial attorney, but about how to actually impact the community that I'm living in, which has always been my goal.”
By the time he graduated, Medlin had secured the school’s 2019 Public Interest Award, was a Dean’s Scholar, and picked up the CALI Award for highest grade in Trial Advocacy – a recognition he’s particularly proud of.
“Trial skills are something that kind of come naturally to me,” he said during a phone interview as he drove back from court. “It’s also something I love doing – in fact, I’m just now coming from a hearing that went fantastically. I was able to get the judge on my side, and to advocate well for my client – so she’s happy; and my supervisor is happy, too, which feels great.”
Man of the People
The same gregarious, people-loving quality that helps make Medlin a success in the courtroom also enabled him make a home for himself at Roger Williams. He was an active member of the Black Law Students Association, participated on the school’s Trial Team, and served on the Student Committee for Faculty Hiring. Along the way, his classmates voted him president of the Student Bar Association.
“That was an incredibly rewarding, eye-opening experience,” he said. “I got access to a lot of different spaces. I got to really see some of the inner workings of my law school. And I think it really changed my worldview. You know, instead of just going to class and then going home, I had to be a leader. I had to ask, 'Why are things being done this way?' I learned to listen to the concerns of fellow students and make sure I was representing their voices effectively, while also carrying my own class load. It challenged me, but I think I’m definitely going to be a better attorney for having had the experience.”
It also won him a lot of friends.
“My parents always told me that I’ve never met a stranger,” he said. “I think that’s true. If I like what you’re wearing, I’m going to tell you so – and then I might ask you a couple of questions, and then, who knows? We might end up being friends. I was an only child, and my parents always encouraged me to be myself: ‘If you have something to say, say it. If you have a question, ask it. If you see something that’s interesting to you, learn about it.’”
And what has he learned about RWU Law?
“That it’s a great place to grow,” Medlin said. “It’s a great place to learn, not just about the law, but about yourself and about the world. I would say you should only come to Roger Williams if you’re interested in growing, in getting out of your comfort zone and becoming better – because the faculty and the staff and your classmates are going to require you to become the best student that you can be. They are going to help you to grow, to become a really good attorney, and to truly impact the world that you live in.”