Law Students of the Year: Taylor Matook, Quinnipiac

Taylor Matook is a third-year law student at Quinnipiac University School of Law pursuing her passion for public interest work.

During her first year of law school, she collaborated with a group of faculty, students, and administrators to create a free training program for hotel employees on spotting and responding to signs of sex and labor trafficking. This collaboration has evolved to be known as the Human Trafficking Prevention Project (HTPP). The HTPP training responds directly to Connecticut Public Act 16-71, which mandates just this sort of training for all hospitality and lodging workers in the state. During the 2017-2018 school year, Matook and her collaborators not only offered the training at the law school, they also took their presentations on the road and traveled to a multitude of different hotels around the state in order to make the trainings more accessible.

In Matook's second year at Quinnipiac Law, HTPP hosted U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal and Matook engaged him in discussions about his proposed legislation to restrict human trafficking on internet sites. Now in her third year of law school, Taylor has been elected by her fellow students to serve as Executive Chair of HTPP.  While she continues to lead trainings with other HTPP members, she has also spent countless hours scheduling upcoming trainings and creating a training manual for use in other states.  Under Matook's leadership, HTPP is expanding its efforts to design human trafficking prevention trainings for new audiences, including hospital workers and employees of K-12 schools. 

Matook's approach to human trafficking prevention is not only grounded and practical, it is also scholarly.  Her student note, Escaping the Commercial Binds of Sex Trafficking Law: The Necessary Elimination of the Commercial Vice Requirement, will be published in the Spring 2019 volume of the Quinnipiac Law Review. 

Her work to combat human trafficking is consistent with her larger concern for vulnerable young people. Through Quinnipiac Law’s Civil Justice Clinic, Taylor has worked on a Special Immigration Juvenile Status and asylum case for unaccompanied minors seeking legal status in the United States. Her clients journeyed to the United States on foot in order to escape the threat of gang violence in their home country. Matook's work for these clients deepened her understanding of the forces that drive so many people to leave behind their homes and families – challenges her own ancestors faced so that she and future generations could enjoy peace and prosperity in a new country. Reflecting on the case, Matook wrote to a colleague, “My maternal great-grandparents were survivors of the Armenian Genocide and my paternal great-grandparents traveled from Lebanon and Syria for better opportunities in the United States. I am two generations removed from understanding first-hand the immense strength it takes to leave one’s home, and I stand here today benefitting from the sacrifices my family made years ago. The work I pursue is in their memory.”

In the summer of 2018, Taylor attended the Oxford Consortium on Human Rights in England, and then traveled to Lesvos, Greece, where she volunteered at refugee and community centers on the island. Lesvos is ground zero for the Syrian refugee crisis, as it is the closest island to Turkey, to which many refugees are fleeing. While Taylor was there, she supported projects focused on bringing refugee and Greek populations together.

Matook'spirit of service begins “at home,” within the Quinnipiac Law community.  For example, at the Ms. JD Honors Reception at the UCLA School of Law last April, the Women’s Law Society at Quinnipiac received the 2018 Ms. JD Honors Law School Chapter Award for the excellence of its chapter initiatives, programming, and recruitment. As one of WLS’s key members, Matook was among the delegation of Quinnipiac students who traveled to Los Angeles to receive the award. 

Carolyn Kaas, Associate Professor of Law and Director of Experiential Education at Quinnipiac Law, coordinated an externship for Taylor at a small firm in Connecticut. Kaas has been impressed with Taylor’s approach to her work there and says that she has taken to heart “the role of lawyers as public citizens…[which] applies to all lawyers in all practice settings.” As an example, Kaas recalled that Taylor “spoke so eloquently about the privilege of going with her externship supervisor (a small firm lawyer) to volunteer to oversee the count of absentee ballots in New Haven on Election Day.” Taylor understands that lawyers are not only counselors and advocates, they are also upholders democracy and the rule of law.

Shelley Sadin, associate dean for Professional and Career Development, was among the administrators who worked with Matook to develop the human trafficking prevention training.  Dean Sadin says, “Taylor Matook is extraordinary in the literal sense of that word:  she is ‘exceptional to a remarkable extent.’  She is not just a student here: She is a colleague, an activist, a teacher to her fellow students. But reading about Taylor’s achievements on paper cannot do her justice.  To appreciate all that she has done, not just as a participant, but as a leader in the host of activities in which she is involved at Quinnipiac (the Human Trafficking Prevention Project, Civil Justice Clinic, Public Interest Law Project, Society for Dispute Resolution and more) one really needs to talk to her.  The dedication, warmth, energy and – as young as she is – wisdom that Taylor brings to her many human rights focused causes comes across in person as it cannot do on paper.  Taylor is extraordinarily deserving of the Law Student of the Year honor.”

Upon graduation, Taylor plans to continue her work in the public interest. In the summers of 2017 and 2018, she interned for Special Assistant Attorney General Ania Zielinksi in the Child Abuse Unit of Office of the Rhode Island Attorney General Criminal Division.  Under Attorney Zielinksi’s supervision, Taylor drafted motions and memoranda, aided in jury selection, and prepared victims for trial. Taylor found the work emotionally challenging, as she dealt with “the worst of the worst” examples of violence against children. At the same time, the work gave her opportunities to empower survivors of molestation, abuse, and rape and help them find their voices.  Although Taylor hopes to continue working with the Rhode Island AG’s Office following graduation, she is also open to the possibility of working internationally in the field of human rights.

Matook describes her work on immigration in this way: “It puts into perspective that while my biggest struggle is completing my legal studies, others are forced to leave behind their homes and families due to forces completely outside of their control….It reminds me that I have the power to impact others for the better, and I cannot idly sit by without trying.”