CARLISLE, Pa. — Third-year Dickinson Law student Erin Varley was named “Law Student of the Year” by The National Jurist for the Northeast region. Varley is one of 20 future lawyers recognized nationally and the only law student from Pennsylvania.
“I am so humbled to be named a Law Student of the Year,” said Varley. “This award is a testament to my time at Dickinson Law and to the people who I encountered during my time here. I learned the law from a top-rate faculty, developed my skills alongside brilliant classmates, and collaborated with a dedicated staff focused on my success. I had the pleasure of working for supremely talented legal supervisors, both at Dickinson Law and beyond, that allowed me to develop practical skills and, most importantly, pursue my passions. I owe this honor entirely to the people at Dickinson Law, and I could not be more grateful for their impact on my life.”
After earning dual undergraduate degrees in chemistry and exercise science, as well as a master of business administration degree from Shippensburg University, Varley chose to attend law school to fulfill her lifelong goal of serving those that are most vulnerable and to pursue a career in human rights law or public service.
“I enjoy working in human rights and public interest law because they allow me to improve an individual’s current situation while also creating a better world for future generations,” Varley said.
During her time at Dickinson Law, Varley has taken every chance possible to provide these life-changing opportunities for clients, victims and survivors.
Varley has worked as a legal fellow at MidPenn Legal Services in York helping individuals who would otherwise have been underrepresented; at Dickinson College’s Office of General Counsel, where she drafted a comprehensive nondiscrimination policy designed to protect all members of the college’s community; and at Shippensburg University’s Office of Social Equity, where she worked to extensively revamp the school's Title IX and sexual assault policies. She also spent time as a volunteer and Fellow at the Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center and completed an internship at the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape.
“As a student in three of my courses, Ms. Varley impressed me over my time as her instructor with her intelligence, diligence and insightful comments,” noted Professor of Law Dermot Groome. “She repeatedly demonstrated her thorough and nuanced understanding of legal principles. I invited her to be my research assistant, in which she has worked in that capacity for two years. In this role, Ms. Varley was one of the primary authors for a mock war crimes case used as part of an international trial advocacy course in the International Criminal Court in The Hague, having drafted many of the witness statements and created some of the documentary evidence. She also conducted direct and cross examinations of all the witnesses.”
Last spring, Varley — together with fellow classmates Robert Daniell, Lindsay Daniels, and Alexia Tomlinson — began an extensive project designed to create domestic legislation and an international convention against female genital mutilation (FGM), a human rights violation committed against 8,000 girls and women per day. The project is designed to draft and pass Pennsylvania legislation, an international convention, and sample legislation for other countries to adopt. Ideally, her work would improve enforcement mechanisms, foster greater international attention, and eventually lead to FGM cessation. In conjunction with the international convention’s presentation, Varley is hosting a conference on the topic in April.
Varley also is working to create a human trafficking program and victim assistance mechanism in Cumberland County. She has been researching the issue since last spring and is in the beginning stages of developing a mechanism proposal for the county’s top law enforcement officials that's designed to increase victim recognition, assess victim access to needed services, and address local trafficking.
Throughout law school, Varley has made it a goal to always have a pro bono case file on her desk. She has handled two case evaluations and one research project for the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, completed legal research for North Penn Legal Services about LGBTQ cohabitation rights, assisted a pro bono attorney with bankruptcy research, and researched and created presentations related to implicit bias and generational diversity for the Pennsylvania Bar Association — work that is currently being used to educate attorneys across the state on these issues. She also has participated in several immigration think tanks administered by the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition. Varley currently completes pro bono research for the American Bar Association’s Center for Human Rights. She also volunteers at the Bethesda Mission Legal Intake Clinic in Harrisburg, where she assesses legal issues and identifies clients’ next steps in remedying those issues, as well as at Women in Need in Chambersburg, where she is a certified legal intern, advocating in court on behalf of indigent women who have experienced domestic or sexual violence.
Varley has received numerous awards and recognition, including the Stanley Cohn/James Dorsett American Counsel Association Scholarship, Sidney Kline Sr. Memorial Scholarship, William F. Taylor, Esq. Scholarship, Public Interest Advocate, Pro Bono Advocate, Student Bar Association–Most Outstanding Leader, CALI Excellence for the Future Award–International Enforcement of Human Rights, CALI Excellence for the Future Award–Practicing Law in a Global World: Contexts, 1L Mock Trial–Top Scoring Defense Advocate (second place), and 1L Mock Trial–Top Scoring Defense Team (second place).
Varley is a member of the YWCA of Greater Harrisburg’s Junior Advisory Board, co-chair for the Public Interest Law Fund’s Auction, co-chair of the Trial Advocacy Board, and a Law Lion Ambassador. Last year, in addition to the roles already mentioned, she served as president of the Women’s Law Caucus and as a representative on Penn State’s Commission for Women.
After graduation, Varley wants to serve individuals that have endured gross human rights violations, experienced gender-based violence, or both.
“My time working on projects designed to improve lives has been the most rewarding component of my legal education,” she said. “I truly enjoy the work and its effects, and I cannot wait to start my career. I can easily visualize myself using the law to effect change every day and would gratefully accept any opportunity to allow me to achieve that goal.”