Litigation vocation: Dual J.D. law student focuses on civil/corporate law career


By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

With an interest in politics and law from a young age, Canadian native Amanda Di Gesù Iarusso earned a joint honors degree in public administration and political science at the University of Ottawa. Throughout her studies, she worked full time on Parliament Hill: first, as legislative assistant for the Member of Parliament from Ottawa-Orleans and then as special assistant to the federal Minister of Labour.

She selected the Dual J.D. program at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law and the University of Windsor Faculty of Law for the literacy in two legal systems, the Socratic method of teaching at Detroit Mercy Law, and the challenges of managing two degrees—as well as the convenient location near her hometown of LaSalle, Ontario.

The dual program also doubles the opportunities to moot. Iarusso has been the winner and best oralist at the Patrick A. Keenan Appellate Advocacy Moot Competition in Detroit; a semi-finalist at the New York City Bar Moot Competition in Cleveland; and winner and second place oralist at the Warren K. Winkler Class Actions Moot Competition in Toronto.

“I can’t describe the thrill I get every time I stand behind the podium, defend my case, and tackle challenging questions from the judges,” she says. “Most importantly, the experience of mooting and studying in the U.S. has been extremely valuable to my legal career in Canada. I’ve been told that my approach to advocacy, both written and oral, is more aligned with American litigation culture. I appreciated the opportunity to find my voice and litigation style—certainly a confident, outspoken, and audacious one.”

As a teaching assistant for two years, she taught four sections of the first-year writing course at Detroit Mercy Law, and enjoyed meeting and helping many 1L students.

“Because I have such a passion for advocacy and litigation, it’s been very fulfilling and rewarding getting to impart that knowledge on other students, and assist them in a meaningful way,” she says. “I always get excited meeting younger students who have that same thirst for advocacy, and develop those skills.”

A three-month internship in 2015 for Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Christopher Murray in Detroit has been one of her most rewarding law school experiences.

“Judge Murray took the time to mentor me each day—he taught me things about legal research and writing, and the judicial system, that you simply don’t learn in the classroom,” she says. “He’s an absolute all-star from Detroit Mercy Law that is so kind and down-to-earth.”

With a primary focus in civil/corporate litigation, Iarusso spent last summer at McCarthy Tétrault in Toronto, one of the leading full-service firms in Canada and also known as a “Seven Sister firm.” Rotating in the General Litigation Group and International Trade and Finance Group, she worked with some of the leading litigators in Canada—“Advocates who regularly appear before the Supreme Court of Canada and who have litigated some of the most important cases in Canadian jurisprudence,” she says. “I look forward to returning after graduation to complete my articling requirement for Ontario, and to build my career with them.”

Vowing in her 2L year to reinvigorate the Windsor Italian Law Association that had been dormant for nearly two years, she now is president of one of the largest clubs at the law school.

“I selected a team of eight other students in all years and programs to help ensure this year would be a success, and to help share our love of Italian food, language, culture and art,” she says.

As president, she has planned and hosted numerous well-attended events, including a guest lecture by Rocco Galati, an Italian-born Canadian lawyer who specializes in cases involving constitutional law and terrorism suspects; a restaurant tour in Via Italia; bocce tournament; masquerade for Venetian Carnival; soccer tournament against the Hellenic Students of Windsor Law; and a wine event with the Jewish Students’ Association.

“I’m confident this club will continue to thrive and connect Canadian-Italian students studying at Windsor Law,” she says.

Iarusso served as a 1L representative for the Windsor Law High School Outreach Program, a chapter of the Ontario Justice Education Network that facilitates a four-week mock trial in various secondary schools across Windsor-Essex. She then became a classroom facilitator, single-handedly expanding the program two-fold so it took place not only in city schools, but also count schools.

“As a result, over 200 more secondary students in the region have access to this program, which will hopefully spark their interest in learning about criminal law and the judicial system, and encourage them to pursue a legal education,” says Iarusso, who this year is coordinator of the entire program.

At her home in LaSalle, she serves as a board member, Youth Exchange Chair, and Public Relations Officer in the Rotary Club of LaSalle Centennial.

“My proudest achievement has been creating and spearheading an annual Youth Leadership Conference, which brings together over 60 secondary students from rural areas in Essex County to execute a campaign or initiative that benefits a local or international charity,” she says.

She has taken a leadership role in the Community Committee by co-chairing and emceeing signature events; helping organize the annual Golf Tournament to raise funds for community projects; helping implement new Little Free Libraries across LaSalle to promote literacy; spearheading media and social media resulting in two District awards this past year; participating in the annual Holiday Hope Basket initiative to bring food pantries to local families; and much more.

Iarusso’s parents immigrated from Italy to Canada in their teens and her family members each hold dual Canadian/Italian citizenship.

“I come from a very harmonious and supportive family, with both parents and twin sisters who are my best friends,” she says.

Before law school, Iarusso lived in Italy for nearly two years, teaching English in a British Institute in Rome.

“That experience made me have a new appreciation for life and a thirst to travel, meet new people, and try new things,” she says. “It showed me how adaptable and comfortable with myself I really am.”