Name: Ashley Loyke
Class Year: 2011
Title: Cuyahoga County Assistant Public Defender, Felony Division
Organization Name: Cuyahoga County Public Defender
1. In one sentence, what does your job entail?
I provide competent, quality legal representation to indigent individuals charged with felonies in Cuyahoga County, who cannot afford an attorney but still maintain a right to one, as promised by the Constitution and Gideon v. Wainwright
2. What planned and unplanned events connected you to your industry and your first employer after Holy Cross? How did you learn/decide it was a good fit for you?
I always wanted to be a lawyer, although I don’t know why. I was accepted into Ohio State Law, and I was first hired by the Franklin County Public Defender, because I told the interviewers that I had been vomited on as an RA at Holy Cross. I didn’t even really know what public defenders did, and I was hired into the municipal division where I handled DUIs, thefts, assaults, domestic violences, and child endangering cases. It was chaos, but, fortunately, I have yet to be vomited on (I did have a client vomit in court).
The Public Defender’s office is a unique place for an attorney–we all have a certain amount of ruggedness, but also passion for fighting the power, listening to those who ordinary folks would walk past, and giving humanity to individuals that society would prefer to be locked away behind bars without giving them another look. We don’t wear the fanciest suits, and we don’t have the ability to hire the best investigators, or slash and burn in courtrooms, because we have to be in the same courtroom again, tomorrow. We have way too many clients and not enough time. We spend a lot of time in jail visiting clients. We see the dirty, weak, and broken of our society. And we give them a voice. That’s how I knew I was home.
3. What were you involved in when you were on campus?
I was an RA for two years and also a head RA my senior year albeit a terrible one. I played on the men’s club volleyball team, and ballroom danced. I did SPUD weekly at the Friendly House afterschool program, went on immersion trips, went on and led Manresa retreats, was a Eucharistic Minister, was a member of Alpha Sigma Nu and Eta Sigma Phi honors societies. I also generally made a good amount of trouble.
4. What was your major and how did it affect your career decisions?
I was a Classics major with a minor in philosophy. I always loved tangling with difficult texts and esoteric concepts. That would have made me a terrific commercial property lawyer, but I think Professor Cahoone’s voice teaching me Kant’s categorical imperative stuck with me a little too much–we aren’t the sum of our actions, and rightness and wrongness don’t necessarily depend on the outcome of actions, but the fulfillment of duty. Classics trained my brain, and philosophy trained my heart.
5. What are one or two skills that you developed at Holy Cross that you use in your work?
Ethics and a sense of duty. I could have gotten a good education anywhere. But Holy Cross taught me the importance of fighting for the right cause, standing up for your beliefs, and fighting for your convictions in a way that fair and equitable. I would not have had the strong desire to help the poor if I hadn’t taken Father Reiser’s courses and learned the importance of caring for the lowly and downtrodden. Professor Kendy Hess’s ethics class taught me that ethics means more than just doing the right thing, but doing the right thing for the right reasons. And while the courses I took taught me the theories of being a good person in the world, my campus experience solidified it. Being around so many like-minded, socially-conscious individuals cemented the importance of caring for others in my mind and heart.
I also learned the importance of attention to detail and hard work. Classics is nuanced, and if you miss a verb or noun ending, you completely misunderstood the entire passage you’re reading. All of my Classics professors taught me the importance of slowing down, reading carefully, digesting what you’re taking in, and then making a decision about the importance or significance thereof.
6. What advice do you have for students on campus today?
Live with a true, burning heart. Find your passion and throw yourself headlong into it, but don’t take life too seriously. Be a good person. Be kind and gentle with others. Find the activities that make your heart sing. Don’t be afraid to look silly or take a stance that others don’t; we all look silly eventually. Don’t stress about the right career, or the right spouse, or the right house, or the right graduate school. What you choose will be right, because it’s your choice. Above all, if you find something worth fighting for, fight like hell for it.
Additional advice for students interested in law:
Indeed, choosing a specialty within the law is incredibly difficult. For this reason, most law schools provide summer internship opportunities and work-study programs which give real-life exposure to different areas of practice. The day-to-day of a public defender looks VERY different from the day-to-day life of, for example, a patent attorney or an estate-planning attorney or an immigration lawyer. In short, there’s no way a 21-year old could possibly know what area of law sparks their interest immediately upon leaving Holy Cross.
That said, the area of law is exciting because it suits well any individual who enjoys reading, writing, talking to others, problem solving, and engaging with difficult concepts. As a classics major, this made my heart sing–Latin and Greek is a set of rules (grammar, syntax, meter, and vocabulary) that apply to different circumstances (Plato, Cicero, Hesiod). It’s exactly like the law. The laws govern, but must be applied to circumstances. You have to do mental gymnastics to make the rules fit your facts. This is also why it’s an adversarial process: two people can come to two different conclusions about how the law applies.
All this is a long-winded way of saying: don’t worry about not knowing exactly what you want to do with your law degree. Take a class in law at Holy Cross to see if you even like engaging with the law, and case studies, and applying case law to different circumstances. if you want to punch a hole in the drywall, don’t torture yourself! But if you find law fascinating, if you enjoy mind puzzles, if you don’t mind listening to people talk about their problems and try to find ways to solve them… you’ll love the law.