Joy Purcell and Kevin Roach
Deciding on a law school and making it through three years of intense study is challenging for everyone. For Joy Purcell and Kevin Roach, 2008 Miami Law graduates and married couple, both the decision and the experience were made easier by being together. They met in junior high school, were a couple by prom, and attended undergrad together at New York University. Both Latin American Studies majors, they came to Miami Law because they were “drawn to the international community.”
Once on campus, the couple quickly became active in public interest programs. Purcell began by volunteering with Books and Buddies. Both she and Roach applied and were selected for the Summer Public Interest Fellowship Program their 1L summer. Purcell interned with the Dade County Bar Association and that experience cemented her commitment to public interest law, specifically direct legal services.
Roach spent that first summer at Legal Services of Greater Miami. “It was such a formative experience not just because I was finally doing practical work, but also because it provided the opportunity to gain a greater understanding of the chronic issues facing underserved communities across the country,” he said.
Serving underserved communities became a theme of the rest of their law school experience with both participating in clinics during their 2L and 3L years – Purcell in the Health Rights Clinic and Roach in the Children and Youth Law Clinic.
“I think working in a clinic is one of the most important parts of a legal education for the guided experience that you get,” said Roach. “Bernie Perlmutter and Kele Stewart were really topnotch teachers and mentors to me and the other students in that regard.”
The couple continued to use their summers to be of service to communities and to gain experience. Purcell spent her 2L summer as a HOPE Fellow with the Harlem Community Law Office of the Legal Aid Society in New York while Roach spent it at the Environmental Defense Fund.
Roach’s interest in the intersection of law and science led him to take as many environmental classes as he could. Ultimately, that interest led him to the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission where he has been an attorney for over six years. He explained that the environmental practice drew him to the job and is a substantial part of his day-to-day work. His position also entails preparing experts for hearings in front of the NRC’s administrative judges.
“It's very gratifying to have technical experts, many of whom have Ph.Ds. in their disciplines, tell me after a hearing that they were thankful for all of the preparation that I made them do because they felt that I helped them succeed,” said Roach. The preparation is necessary because “it's important to realize how unfamiliar and uncomfortable a court room can be to non-lawyers.”
Purcell’s work led her to the Children’s Law Center where she spent six years working with children and families to seek out educational opportunities they had a legal right to, but had been denied. One such student was seventeen and functioning on a 3rd grade level when she took on his fight for special education services. Her determined work on his behalf resulted not only in his enrollment in a culinary program, where he’s learning practical skills and receiving the special education assistance he needs, but a return of his self-esteem and confidence.
Recently, Purcell took on a new position at the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. Her new position entails working to enforce several civil rights laws to ensure that students are not discriminated against on account of race, color, national origin, gender, age, or disability.
When asked what words they would use to describe a great lawyer they said, “tenacious, creative, flexible, passionate” and “curious, patient, and creative.” It is clear from their careers so far that they embody all of these qualities.