Read my story

Don’t go to law school, more than one lawyer warned Elise McNamara ’12.

It’s a harsh place, they told her, full of competitive students vying to work in big, corporate firms. And then she learned about an altogether different approach at Northeastern. “I wanted to be surrounded by people who shared my values and would inspire me,” says Elise. “In Northeastern, I found exactly what I was looking for.”

Elise believes that improved access to education and positive role models would keep many people out of prison, and she’s determined to help level the playing field. Says Elise, “Our system disproportionally charges and convicts low-income people of color, and my role as a public defender is to provide a voice for people in communities that are often overlooked.” 

Co-op 1

The Capital Appeals Project, New Orleans

On her first co-op, Elise gained a thorough understanding of the appellate process and the mistakes trial lawyers can make. 


  • Cooperative Income Sharing Program (co-chair)
  • National Lawyers Guild
  • Ending the Prison Industrial Complex

Co-op 2

San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, San Francisco

Elise performed a variety of tasks to assist the deputy public defender in representing indigent clients, from preparing cases for preliminary hearings to writing motions to dismiss charges.


  • Advanced Criminal Procedure
  • Criminal Trial Practice
  • Human Rights and the Global Economy
  • Immigration
  • Sustainable Income Development

Co-op 3

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, San Francisco

Elise worked side by side with staff attorneys, negotiating for clients who faced life-changing convictions.


Prisoners’ Rights

Elise represented a client serving a second-degree life sentence at a parole hearing, preparing them for rigorous cross-examination and conducting factual investigations and witness interviews. 

Co-op 4

Law Offices of Howard Friedman, Boston

Working with the federal court system for the first time, Elise participated in mediation for civil rights cases and helped draft complaints and discovery requests. 

After Graduation

Attorney, Contra Costa Public Defender’s Office, Contra Costa, California


A public defender who provides a voice for the underserved.