"We prepare students to engage in the world that is and to help bring about a world that ought to be."
Reda Woodcock ’98
“If you are poor, you’re more likely to get arrested and have interactions with police that well-to-do people never would.” Reda Woodcock ’98, staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society, has worked as a Brooklyn-based public defender since 2007. “[As a public defender], you’re the only connection to the whole legal system for your clients.”
After his first year of law school, Reda interned at the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which reviews police misconduct. “The whole job is fielding complaints about the horrible things police did to people, everything from racial slurs to violence. It really upset me and it was then that I decided to go the public defender route.” This early experience deeply informed his career. He later interned at the Legal Aid Society, where he currently works, now serving 100 clients at a given time.
With such a large caseload, it is essential for Reda to remain hyper-organized and document every conversation. But creating a relationship where clients open up presents a different kind of challenge. “There is remarkable difficulty in earning your own client’s trust. In my experience, the way to do it is to be as real and as honest as possible.” Inevitably there is an emotional toll to working for disadvantaged clients. “There is a very large burnout rate on this job, like any high intensity job. You’re dealing with people’s lives and often it doesn’t end great.” Reda displays an obvious sense of justice and strong moral compass that seems to drive his work and fuel his stamina. “When people always need your help, you just do what you have to do. You do it because you have to, because people depend on you.”
Reda cites Friends as an important influence on the work he does today. “I think all of the Quaker values really helped me see what I thought was wrong about the way the system was marginalizing and criminalizing people. I don’t think I would have had that without Friends.” The critical thinking skills developed at Friends influence his ability to approach each client and each case rationally, considering multiple perspectives. He further cites the humanitarian focus at Friends as having a tremendous impact on his worldview. “The required community service we did, working at a soup kitchen—my clients go to that soup kitchen. Having that positive interaction at a young age is super informative and instructive. You can’t look at people as a number and a game to be played with when you’ve worked with them, and for them, as you grew up.”
Bringing about a world that ought to be happens in ways large and small. Being a public defender is about working on the level of the individual. While his work may not influence wide, sweeping policy change, Reda seeks to prioritize humanity in his day-to-day work. “It might not be changing the world but it’s changing people’s worlds one at a time, hopefully, as much as we can.”